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“Nyet” says Putin – and they listen

July 1, 2014

America and its European allies have been frustrated again and again by Russia’s chutzpah. Putin’s Russia took Crimea without firing a shot. Obama wondered out aloud that how could boundaries be redrawn in the 21st century. Putin showed them how. Crimea is now a Russian territory. Eastern Ukraine is boiling. Russia backed separatists who could well be Russian army regulars shot down a Ukrainian helicopter killing more than half a dozen. Its plausible that Eastern Ukraine cedes and merges with Russia. Will Obama again wonder as to how boundaries could be redrawn? If he does, the Russian president will again show him how! Russia has cut gas supplies to Ukraine over outstanding bills. While Europe is acting tough I will not be surprised if they cut a deal with Gazprom on the sly. Europe just cannot do without Russian gas especially in the winters. West through the Ukrainian leadership asks Russia to ‘return’ Crimea – its like baying at the moon. Putin unveils plans to develop Crimea, which was a resort during Soviet era, anyway.

West has been frustrated in Syria too. A protracted war resulted in little. Israel bombed parts of Syria as a last ditch attempt to overthrow the Alawite Bashr al-Assad regime. ‘Nyet’ said Putin again and they could not. The West concluded that the war in Syria could go on for decades without any real outcome. Assad mocked the West by conducting an election which was of course a farce but enough to give him some kind of legitimacy. West grimaced and looked the other way. It was not the elections per se that were important, it was the semblance of normalcy in Damascus and Homs that irritated the West like nothing did. Did Putin give Assad a thumbs up, I do not know but the fact that he still heads the Islamic State of Syria is reason enough for the West to squirm.

West realized that Syria was out of bounds so they looked East – to Iraq. The Shiite Nouri al-Maliki government had been facing insurgency from the minority Sunnites. They concluded that if al-Maliki government is overthrown that may weaken the Shiite influence over the Levant and they could then tackle Syria better. A phantom like organization emerged from nowhere called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with one shady character named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its head. Americans have put a bounty of a million dollars over al-Baghdadi’s head. Media has it that ISIS is better trained than the Iraqi army and it showed as they breezed past Iraqi forces moving from the West to East taking over towns and hamlets including Tikrit, the birth place of Saddam Hussein.

ISIS is not only very well trained but also very well armed. They have spanking new armoured vehicles and arms and ammunitions and rocket launchers. Where did they get all this from? They say they purchased it from money that they earned from oil fields they control in Eastern Syria. Then they looted a few banks, kidnapped some and raised money enough to buy sophisticated weaponry. It is also said that mercenaries from various countries including Australia are a part of this deadly force called the ISIS. Some of this may be true but this surely is not the whole story. I will not be surprised if there is a definite Saudi hand behind the ISIS with a subtle and perhaps not so subtle backing from the West. Are there Saudi and Emirates army regulars in the ISIS one can only guess, I will not be surprised if there are. I mean the logistics of such a force are a challenge by itself. It can’t be a self sustained ephemeral Sphinx rising from the deserts of the Levant.

The latest development where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared himself as a Caliph and the area he controls as a Caliphate has raised the hackles of many. It is a dangerous move they say. What does the US do? It prevaricates over sending fighter jets to halt the relentless march of the ISIS towards Baghdad. Instead it decides to send some 275 troops to safeguard its assets and another 300 ‘advisors’. US unleashed drones armed with Hellfire missiles which will never be fired. Secretary of State John Kerry descends on Baghdad in an attempt to convince Nouri al-Maliki to step down. Al-Maliki like any other Middle Eastern leader refuses. Remarkably Kerry has the courage to visit Baghdad when the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization –the ISIS is just 3 hours away from Baghdad.

Syria sends sorties of fighter jets to bomb ISIS in an attempt to check its advance towards Baghdad. Did Putin give Assad the idea? Maybe he did because soon after he sent Russian jets to help Al-Maliki government fight the ISIS. West’s plans to take over Iraq have again been check mated by Putin. Russian president says Nyet and they listen.

Israel does not condemn ISIS nor does it feel threatened by this world’s most dangerous Islamic terrorist organization – more deadly than the al-Qaeda. This is a tad out of place, is it not? For Tel Aviv Hamas is more dangerous. They fume over the death of three Israeli teenagers whom Hamas has apparently killed. They bomb 34 targets supposed to be Hamas hideouts! Israel’s angst at the murder of tennagers is understandable but what defies logic is Tel Aviv refusing to condemn or demand a halt on the world’s most dangerous Islamic terrorist organization – the ISIS. Is Israel okay with the emergence of such a terror outfit in its neighbourhood? Instead Bibi Netanyahu calls for the creation of a separate state of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. Why is Israel calling for the creation of Kurdistan at this juncture? Clearly, Israel is not comfortable with Shiite Iraq getting revenue from the oil rich northern parts which is dominated by Kurds. They reckon that if the royalties or claims by Baghdad cease Shiite Iraq will be weaker and more responsive to West’s demands.

Putin’s Russia has again put a spanner in West’s game plans. By sending fighter jets to Baghdad Putin has in effect proclaimed that the West cannot do as it wishes. The latest development is that Iraqi forces have taken over Tikrit from ISIS. After Syria, again in Iraq Putin has said Nyet, and they have no option but to listen.

Addendum: The situation in Ukraine is getting out of control. There is every possibility that Eastern Ukraine might cede and join Russia. Obama’s inaction in Ukraine could cost him his job. There is every likelihood that if Ukraine is truncated a US Congressional inquiry maybe instituted in the matter and the President maybe asked to depose. Unsatisfactory response could lead to further proceedings and I am not ruling out impeachment on charges of compromising national security. I know this sounds farfetched but this is not of of the realms of possibility.


Total Victory for NDA – and the nation breathes again!

May 18, 2014

Even the most optimistic of BJP workers did not anticipate such a massive victory. Narendra Modi in one of the interviews prior to the election results did say that he expected a decisive mandate short of the 1989 Rajiv Gandhi landslide but when the results actually poured in I presume they left even the articulate NaMo short of words. Bharatiya Janata Party has won an absolute majority on its own with 283 seats and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won more than 320 seats. Many Congress stalwarts have bitten the dust. Leaders like Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal, Sachin Pilot, Priya Dutt and Farooq Abdullah have all lost. It has been a veritable rout for the Congress. Even Rahul Gandhi just managed to scrape through. Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference lost for the first time.

Congress drew a blank in four vital states – Gujarat, Rajasthan Uttarakhand and Delhi. They lost heavily in their bastion state of Maharashtra. The BJP-ShivSena and their regional allies won a decisive 41 seats. Maharastra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackrey drew a blank. Aditya Thackrey, son of Udhav Thackrey is the new rising star in Maharashtra politics – the lad can communicate and has a presence. In Assam BJP got majority seven seats and Varun Gandhi’s hard work paid off – he was in charge of Assam. In Seemandhra TDP and BJP swept the polls. BJP and allies even opened their account in Tamil Nadu. In West Bengal too they surprised everyone by winning two seats. It was a veritable Modi mania.

It was UP and Bihar that sealed the fate of all other parties. In UP BJP won 71 seats – a record of sort. In Bihar too BJP and LJP combined won almost all the seats barring a couple for JD(U) and Lalu’s RJD. Political pundits who were giving Congress and UPA more than 150 seats had to eat their words. One small TV channel gave a prediction that was replica of the final results and its name is Chanakya Polls. They got it absolutely right. Rest were proved wrong and clearly have armchair critics and political analysts who have no clue of the ground reality.

The Big Takeaway

You can’t have a landslide like the one NDA has had now if there is not a decisive support, which means that the nation comes as one to support a party, a leader. Clearly, Narendra Modi’s development agenda struck a chord with all and sundry. The nation rose as one and all castes and class divisions were set aside by India. The much touted Muslim or minority vote did not matter. It was said that the Muslims voted tactically, but even if they did it did not work as the rest voted as one and such ‘tactical’ voting was marginalised.

The emphasis on ‘secularism’ which the BJP calls Muslim appeasement, by the Congress backfired. Rahul Gandhi, the star campaigner emphasized again and again how they had passed various bills to empower the weak and the poor. What he did not realize was that bills do not give food and clothing and shelter, jobs do. Modi’s message of a strong, vibrant India with an emphasis on development and job creation went through. Modi in his thank you speech post victory pointed out how his development agenda was the centre of the debate and that he thought was his biggest victory. This observation by the man who would be the PM makes me feel that there will be governance by the BJP led NDA government.

Contrast that with what Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi said post their defeat. They accepted the verdict (which they had to anyway) and hoped that the incumbent government would take along all sections of the society. This was arrogant from party chief whose party had been completely routed. Who was Sonia Gandhi pontificating to? The BJP led NDA has won more than 320 seats – does she mean to say that they won the landslide without taking along all sections of the society? Who is tutoring the mother-son duo? Were they sucking up to the minority vote-bank even after such a complete decimation? Remember Sonia Gandhi met Imam Bukhari of Jama Masjid to garner Muslim votes prior to the elections. There was no word of congratulation for BJP and Narendra Modi – she was as contemptuous as ever and that bemused me a bit. It is this arrogance that has brought the Congress to such a pass and the arrogance continues.

There won’t be a LOP

Congress has managed just 46 seats. Indian National Congress is a national party no more. To qualify as a national party one needs to have at least 10% of the total seats in the lower house that is the Lok Sabha. Congress is well short of the minimum required. Jayalalitha is the third largest party and Mamata’s Trinamool Congress the fourth largest. Clearly the Congress has been reduced to being a regional outfit except that they belong to no particular state. The few seats that Congress has won are not because of the party and the national leadership but because of the influence and goodwill of that particular candidate. While Sonia and Rahul said that they take full responsibility, it had little meaning as they refuse to resign.

That there will be no leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha is not a healthy development for democracy. Checks and balances such as a visible opposition are basic requisites for a healthy democracy. I am sure Narendra Modi will listen to all and sundry as the prime minister of the nation that is Bharat. Naveen Patnaik after winning both the state elections and a thumping performance in Lok Sabha polls observed that it will take the Congress a long time to get over this rout that were the 2014 general elections.

There was this Team Modi that worked as a unit. Rajnath Singh, the president of the party played a very critical role in the victory of the BJP and the NDA. His decision to project Narendra Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was a master stroke and he had the magnanimity to step aside and let Narendra Modi hog the limelight. Amit Shah, the quiet Humpty Dumpty of a man, and a close confidante of Modi was the in-charge of UP and how he managed to galvanize his cadre such that BJP swept the vital state is something that is hard to understand. The man was new to UP politics but Modi’s faith in him was proved right.
BJP led NDA went to the polls with almost 25 allies. If one were to look at the numbers BJP does not need their allies now. But I would be surprised if Modi will set them aside and give Cabinet berths only to his party-men. He will accommodate all his allies as this has been a victory of the NDA and that the BJP will not forget.

Global Impact

World leaders sent congratulatory messages to Narendra Modi. From US president Barack Obama to prime minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu to Tony Abbot of Australia, Nawaz Sharief of Pakistan all sent their note of congratulations with hope of working together in future. Sonia Gandhi did not show this basic courtesy of congratulating Mr. Modi. This was in poor taste.

The victory of the rightist BJP and allies will have global impact. Indian foreign policy will be more pro-active and India should pursue its place in the world theatre more aggressively. I will not be surprised if Narendra Modi makes an official visit to Israel. If he does, it will have impact on global geo-politics like nothing has in recent past. If indeed our PM visits Tel Aviv the West will begin to look at India differently. We will be taken more seriously and our opinions sought more frequently. Our relations with our neighbours will also improve and they will begin to view us as a pushover no more.
It is Modi’s economics that will be watched very closely. The one big question is – who will be the finance minister. Yashwant Sinha is the most obvious choice but I will not be surprised if Modi thinks out of the box and does something totally unexpected The Cabinet formation is being looked at very closely by everyone.

The one question that must be answered is – what led to such total decimation of the Congress? Who was really running the government? Everyone knows that Manmohan Singh had his hands and legs tied and his mouth gagged. Later it was also said that Sonia Gandhi vetted files. My hunch is that the real power rested with the National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi. This was a bunch of extreme Left ideologues who were ‘advising’ the government. Their word was a diktat. Communists are atheists. They saw the majority Hindu population as a nuisance and ‘dangerous’, their idea of ‘secularism’ was a negation of the Hindu faith. Chants like Har Har Modi were ‘communal’ and therefore censured by the Election Commission. Hema Malini was given a show-cause notice for having a meeting in a temple in Mathura! Baba Ramdev was hounded with hundreds of cases slapped on him, not to forget the merciless assault on his Yoga camp in Delhi a few years ago. The Swami had vowed to annihilate the Congress. The constant emphasis on secularism was not to keep India a non-religious state but to hound the majority Hindus. They had under their belt a controversial and demonic anti-Communal Violence Bill whose main purpose was to target majority Hindu community. Had the UPA returned to power they would have surely passed this bill in parliament.

The nation was not stifled socially but also economically. Projects just would not get clearances. Files would gather dust. India was sliding down economically – its economic potential stunted. There was no job creation and expensive doles were a burden the nation could ill-afford. The national Advisory Council was at the back of it all. They ensured such a complete and total mess that they by proxy became the best guarantors of Modi’s success. It would be a shame if Rajnath Singh and Modu do not throw a thank you party for them. The nation had no choice but look for a change. With the NDA in power the nation feels unshackled, we are free we can breathe again. As Narendra Modi said ‘Achhe din ane wale hain’. (Good days are coming).

BSE in a tizzy, billions at stake

April 25, 2014

The 2014 general elections in India are a watershed of sorts. It is the economics that is the issue in these elections. In that these are perhaps the most positive elections of all times in the history of modern India. The Congress led UPA is trying hard to throw in other issues like religion and secularism into the picture but Narendra Modi led NDA is keeping it pegged on the issue of development.

It is the economic policies of Narendra Modi that have excited the markets. People have seen what Modi has done in Gujarat on the economic front and they want it replicated on national scale. When Modi went to the people on the development plank many thought he had his priorities wrong. Yours truly felt too that the message won’t get through and the common illiterate Indian would not respond to the development agenda of NDA and Modi. From the looks of it, it seems that the message has gone through. How far people have understood Modi’s message – his clarion call to development, jobs, growth and infrastructure refurbishment and unambiguous march towards prosperity we will get to know on the 16th of May, 2014 – suffice to say that the response of the people has been very encouraging.

And it is this response of the people that has enthused investors in the markets. Nifty is at an all time high crossing the 22000 mark. Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex is also touching record high. People have invested billions of rupees in the stock markets in the hopes that a Modi win will see the Sensex go further up.

Mumbai has witnessed a 11% hike in voter turnout – from low 40’s to more than 50% which is a record in itself. While people are giving various reasons for this increased voter turnout my hunch is that so many people have invested in the stock market that they had no option but to go out and vote. It was more out of compulsion rather than any sense of responsibility that these lazy bones got out of the comforts of their homes and went out to vote.

One expert gave the thumb rule that one should multiply the number of seats won by NDA by 100 and that is where the Sensex will be post May 16th. So if the NDA wins somewhere around 220 seats on its own the markets will be around 22000 mark and if the NDA wins around 270 seats it will settle at around 27000 mark. I won’t quibble with this theory but suffice to say that an NDA win and government formation will see a surge in the markets. Lots of people are buying stocks in hopes that a Modi led government formation will see the stock market go berserk, which indeed it should. They are unmindful of the fact that most scripts have not given very encouraging results including such blue chip stocks like Maruti Suzuki, Cairns and ICICI bank etc.

The Ukrainian crisis and its fall outs

No stock market is a stand- alone entity. Markets react to global factors and there is a synergy in the way they react. Rarely would one find any one market surge or dip oblivious of the other markets. However it has happened before and it can happen again. I have a feeling that the Ukrainian crisis is getting out of hand and the smaller conflagrations could lead to a more intense conflict. Obama is trying hard to scale down the tension but Putin’s Russia seems to be in no mood to back off. Both the NATO and Russia are having military exercises on the Western and Eastern borders of Ukraine and that is adding to the tension.

The problem is that Russian oil and gas pipelines to Europe pass through Ukraine which makes it strategically very important. Sanctions from the West have begun to hurt Russia. Investors are fleeing Russia and Standard and Poor’s have downgraded Russia to a notch above junk status, making any loans that much dearer. Ukraine is a flash point and if there is a full scale war world markets could tumble.
The question is in case war breaks out in Ukraine and the world markets collapse would the Indian markets still be buoyant on the Modi factor alone? Will they touch record highs when world markets are in a free fall? Gas prices will increase and a spike in crude prices could see oil stocks rise while most other stocks will fall.

Investing in stock markets is a gamble. Sometimes one feels punting on horse racing a much safer bet. The run up to the May 16th election results is going to be very interesting. There are so, so many factors that could play. One investor said any small dip in the Indian markets is an opportunity to buy. I have a feeling that the real spike will not be on the day of the result but the day new government will be sworn in. Now don’t take my word for it. As I said there are so many factors at play. It’s best to keep ones’ eyes and ears open while investing. Make one’s own decisions.

And be ready for a scenario where an NDA led government is not happening and a Third Front led government or a UPA government takes charge. Where will the markets be headed then? India will lead the global markets in a sudden deep bearish run? I am off to the temple for a quick darshan!

Why West should welcome a Narendra Modi government

April 19, 2014

It is a Julian Assange observation which he later withdrew that raised a storm. Mr. Assange and his Wikileaks claimed that the West was wary of a Narendra Modi government because Mr. Modi is an honest man. This on the face of it an innocuous statement had larger ramifications. One – that the present UPA establishment is corrupt and that corruption is at the highest levels, which meant the first family of India – the Gandhis. Second, that the West prefers a corrupt and pliable establishment whom they can arm-twist and get their way to one that is honest, forthright and has a mind of its own. I don’t think Julian Assange realized he had opened a Pandora’s Box by making this statement. Later he hastily retracted what he had said.

There is a lot of truth in the assertion that a Modi government will be more decisive, active and transparent government than the present dispensation. The irony is that the West is not too enthused about a government that is proactive, responsive, decisive and a go getter. A bunch of Left Liberals have signed a petition saying that they fear a Modi government will bring in totalitarianism and will be a threat to democracy. Western media is also giving voice to such Liberals and invariably shut their ears to those who want a responsible, decisive government led by Narendra Modi.

If there is indeed a Modi government on the 16th of May, 2014 it should be the best news for the West. There are umpteen reasons why the West should not only welcome a Modi government but should celebrate a government that is overtly a friend of the West. Remarkably, that does not seem to be the case.
I must admit however that the US has eased out their ambassador in Delhi, Nancy Powell for being cold to BJP and to the inevitable change of guard. Ms. Powell did visit Gandhinagar and met Mr. Modi but it was too little too late.

It is the economics of Modi that most excites prospective investors within India and those from abroad. When the Japanese and other foreign investors felt they were being stone walled in other states they headed to Gujarat safe in the knowledge that if their investment made sense they would get clearance in no time. That is the basic idea of the so-called Gujarat model. The progressive forces have made foreign investment a bad word in the minds of Indians. They equate foreign investment as a ruse to fleece India as the East India Company did in the times past. This is petty and meaningless rhetoric in the 21st century. The world is doing all it can to attract foreign investment and here in India we shun them as pariahs! Modi understands the importance of rapid industrialization and that of creation of jobs. He is very clear that only such development can uplift people from poverty and give them basics like housing, healthcare and education. The Left Liberals find this an assault on Indian democracy!

India is a land of immense possibilities. Ask those who have invested in India and decided to stay put come what may. India has been a bonanza for them. But must companies and investors have to fight it out such that they resist eviction? With the present UPA dispensation that was the economic environment. Remember so many companies are fighting expensive and tiresome legal battle against taxes levied on a retrospective basis. Investors do not come to India to fight legal battles. They are here to create an enterprise that serves them well as well as is an asset to India and Indians. They feel unwanted here and that is just so distasteful.

President George W Bush rightly pointed out to the 400 million plus Indian middle class and their consumption needs as an opportunity not to be missed. This figure could double in the next ten years and then the consumption of India will skyrocket. This will happen only if there is a decisive, clear headed government with the right priorities. Foreign investment in basic industries, consumer goods, education and health care should make that radical shift that ordinary Indians are waiting to happen. Let me assure that were Modi to come to power and for some reason unable to come up to expectations of the people of India he will be as unceremoniously discarded as anyone else before him. People’s aspirations must be met and that is a given. And that is where the opportunity lies for foreign investors and companies. India is on an irreversible path to development and that cannot be wished away.

India and the West have had close strategic ties over the last decade. The Indo-US Civilian Nuclear deal that was signed was the paradigm shift in Indian foreign policy. True to form India has been slow on its implementation or shall we say that the deal has been put in the cold storage. A Modi government should change this and the parameters of the deal and what we envisage as the nuts and bolts of the new relationship will be refurbished. The West needs India and we need the West. India can be West’s outpost in the region. With US withdrawing from Afghanistan they will have a freer hand in dealing with situations in Asia in general and South Asia and the Far East in particular. A Modi government will be more aware of India’s stature in the region and will not shy away from its responsibilities to make sure that the equilibrium is maintained India is not just a tool in West’s contain China policy – India is an equal partner in it. The India-Japan-Australia partnership should find more leverage under a Modi administration. India could also play a more active role in Afghanistan post West’s withdrawal which will quash any possible Pakistan adventurism in the region.

West will have to learn to deal with India on an equal footing and not try to push us around. To be fair to our western counterparts our own tardy progress and inertia in dealing with issues and proposals puts a spanner in bilateral and multi-lateral relations. Our attitude to work and dealing with issues needs to be more transparent and responsive which is what Narendra Modi epitomizes.

A billion educated forward looking Indians could be a bonanza for the West. I will again come back to the economics. With a slowing Chinese economy, India galloping in double digits growth figures could be the elixir that the world economy needs. I see India replicate the kind of scorching growth Japan witnessed in the ‘60’s. The good news is that India and Indians are ready to go farther and higher. A Modi victory will be a victory not only for India but for the world at large. For democracy, freedom and those who believe in humanism. Because poverty is a scourge that is the most ghastly assault on human dignity and we must fight it with honesty and intelligence. That is exactly what Modi wants to do. West cannot afford any but a Modi government in New Delhi.

Biking Around Varanasi – Part II: Awed by the Pristine Rajdari Waterfalls

April 3, 2014

It wasn’t the best of times, but then it wasn’t the worst of times, either. The April sun did bother a bit but it was still bearable. May and June are the worst months for getaways in India unless you are travelling to the hills.

Lal Khan's mausoleum just before the Malviya Bridge. ASI protected site.

Lal Khan’s mausoleum just before the Malviya Bridge. ASI protected site.

And hills and mountains are what I saw just a few kilometres from Varanasi. The Vindhya Range of mountains starts just beyond Mughalsarai and across Chakiya. The golden wheat fields ready for harvest were a sight to behold. The mountains right across a beautiful backdrop to these granaries of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. The leisurely pace of the countryside as intoxicating as the clean air one breathes.
Golden wheat fields and the mountains at the back.

Golden wheat fields and the mountains at the back.

The road was good and bad in patches. The Yamaha SZ-R was as dependable as ever. And I rode on.

I had been to Rajdari Waterfalls before, as a school boy. I knew it was on the Chakiya – Naugarh road but I failed to spot it and rode on towards Naugarh.

Rajdari Falls, upper view.

Rajdari Falls, upper view.

Had to turn back and drive more than 12 kilometers before I found the place. That is 24 extra kms to ride on a hilly tract.
Rajdari Falls

Rajdari Falls

The place is a restricted area and a wildlife sanctuary. But I never saw any wildlife. Man encroaching spaces meant for animals? But the falls were the same as when I had come last – which was decades ago. The place is breath-taking.DSCN0093Like any other fall this too is dangerous. There have been accidents I have heard. The rocks are slippery and one wrong step can be the difference between life and death. Parents are advised to keep a close watch on their kids. It’s a seventy meter sheer fall and the foliage around reminds one of the Amazon. The unadulterated beauty of the place leaves one speechless. DSCN0092I did take a bath. Soaped myself and luxuriated in the never ending stream of water. Somehow water falling is not cacophonous. Its nature’s way of talking to us, that is if we care to listen. I lay down and closed my eyes and tried to listen to what the elements had to say. And then I fell asleep. It was just a wink but a very soothing and refreshing one. Felt alive. DSCN0095

The journey back was tiring. Yes, it is an effort even to have a getaway. But it was well worth it.

Crimea Crisis and Leaden Footed Uncle Sam

March 29, 2014

The recent annexation of Crimea by Putin’s Russia has taken us back to times when kings would invade and win territories. This is so unlike anything the world thought we would see in the 21st century. President Obama was right in his wonderment at what Putin had done. But the question is not what Putin did but how Obama let him do it. Ukrainians are calling it a theft. But it was not even that. Remember, Crimea had a referendum and the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join Russia. For the western democracies to call the annexation ‘illegal’ makes them look silly.

For Obama this has been a decisive defeat. Strategically this has been a disaster. Annexation of Crimea is not only an oil bonanza, it means that Russian shores are deeper down south to the strategically important Black Sea. Russia being the largest exporter of oil now can claim the Black Sea oilfields. Europe will hum and haw but they cannot do without Russian oil and gas. Putin had been working on Crimea for sometime it seems. His inking of oil deals with China show that he was looking at markets beyond Europe and North America. Shale gas may have given the US some respite but they still import almost 35-40% of their oil. Russia exported oil to the US till yesterday.

Now, some may turn around and ask what could Obama have done? It was clear that Crimean’s would vote overwhelmingly for joining Russia. US has done this before in Iraq and Afghanistan and they could have done it again – entered Crimea this time. Had the Americans landed a couple of dozen fighter jets from the nearest base both in Kiev and in Sevastopol before the referendum Russians would have stopped in their tracks! But Obama did not act. He decided to let the issue drift. Putin read the American president’s mind correctly. He knew that the referendum would give him the legitimacy to move his tanks and take over the peninsula. It was a bloodless takeover. It could not have been any easier.

US has some 700 bases around the world since last reported, unless Obama has closed down some of them or just withdrew as he did from Iraq and is going to exit Afghanistan. The American president is out of depths when it comes to foreign policy. Chinese invariably get their way with him. Now Putin has done what he wanted. World is not Cinderella land. Slapping of sanctions against individual Russians is more of a joke than a serious rebuke. Putin carried on with the joke and issued a list of Americans against whom Russia had slapped sanctions. One name in the Russian list was that of one Mr John McCain. I heard many fell from their chairs laughing at this charade that is the sanctions. You can’t blame Obama if he carries on with the joke – one must concede the guy has sense of humour. Obama has promised more sanctions against Russia! It is unending laughter all around. The comedy is that the Europeans have it in their genes to follow Americans. So they try to look busy and with a stiff upper lip support the sanctions and further sanctions.

The US was stupid enough to go to the UN and try and pass a resolution calling the annexation of Crimea ‘illegal’. China abstained and Russia vetoed. That was the end of the matter.

Putin called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the ‘heat’ was on Russia soon after the Sevastopol raid by Russian forces. Manmohan Singh assured Russians of support. That was pragmatic of the Indian PM. We have close defence ties with Russia. The two heads of states may have also talked about more import of Russian oil by India. Russia needs market for its oil. India is a net importer. There should be no surprise if we do end up buying more from Russia.

Does the NATO really provide security to member nations – that is the question that is uppermost in the minds of most nations. Under Obama they are not too sure. While it is true that the American President is Noble Peace Prize winner, but even so, gifting Crimea was being just a tad too generous.

To make up for the blooper that was Crimea the guy chooses to meet the Pope in the hopes that it would be flashed around the globe and Crimea would be forgotten. It didn’t quite work that way.

Bibi Netanyahu must be a worried man. The way Obama has handled Crimea and the way he has given a long rope to Iran, things look ominous. Washington seems oblivious to the Iranian threat. I understand that US is not within Iranian missiles range but Tel Aviv is and Iranians have vowed to obliterate Israel. Does this register in DC? Evidently it does not. Bibi is not a fool. He has travelled to DC regularly trying to convince those who matter on the Capitol Hill the dangers that lie ahead. Some 100 Senators did give the president a petition of a possible proliferation by Iran but it seems the effort was a waste.

When the Iranians inked the deal with the US their president and his team were welcomed as war heroes in Tehran. If Putin understands Obama then so do the Iranians. As I write Obama is in Saudi Arabia trying to convince them about their security concerns. Saudis are clear in that the moment Iranians test a nuclear device they would get nukes from Pakistan. The Iranian question will be upper most on the agenda between the Saudis and the Americans. The region is in a fix over the Iranian question and not just Israel. Wonder whether another coloured man will get a shot at the White House were the Iranians able to test a nuclear device during Obama’s tenure?

Update: Russia is amassing troops in Eastern Ukraine. Obama is talking of further ‘sanctions’. Earlier Obama had dismissed Russia as a ‘regional power’. Putin has achieved a lot with obsolete tanks and artillery. What use A1-Abrams if they are never going to be used? Putin calling Obama could be a ruse to buy time before an incursion into Ukraine. Putin had earlier talked of a Union of Russian speaking regions. Reports are that Russia may invade Moldova next. Obama can quote the scriptures but the fact is that Russian expansionism is a reality that cannot be wished away.

Related Article:
Kiev says Russia provoking trouble in eastern Ukraine: Washington Post

Biking around Varanasi – Mirzapur and Vindhyachal

March 10, 2014

I am not a motorsport enthusiast. I mean I cannot make out one model from another. Yet, I have driven all my life. Lately I bought a Yamaha SZR (153cc). It’s not a monster. Yet has enough power to take you around. It’s comfortable to drive both in low and high gears. I was itching to ride around Varanasi. And then I ventured.

I had been to Vindhyachal some couple of decades ago along with my friends in a car. I wanted to ride out of Varanasi and Mirzapur and Vindhyachal were the obvious choice. Vindhyachal is a small town adjacent to Mirzapur. Development has ensured that it is populated all along Mirzapur to Vindhyachal which Google showed was some 29 km away but I never could make out when I exited Mirzapur and when I entered Vindhyachal. While Mirzapur is famous for carpets and durries Vindhychal is known for the Vindhvasini Devi temple which I wanted to visit as a pilgrim.

I started early, at around 8 AM. Getting out of Varanasi was a chore. The roads are not up to scratch. Once on the Varanasi-Allahabad highway,

Allahabad=Varanasi Highway

Allahabad=Varanasi Highway

I could raise the throttle. Yes, I was doing 80-90km/hr at times. The little baby was responding fabulously. But I guess I should not have taken the SRZ that far up, for the simple reason that on Indian roads anyone can appear at any time. It could be a puppy, a goat or people or a vehicle wanting to turn. I mean, it’s a tad crazy and it was just as crazy of me to accelerate beyond 70km/hr.

Once off the highway and on to the Mirzapur road the ride again became bumpy. The road was just as I remembered all those years ago when I last travelled here. They sell these pedas (round sweet made of flour and sugar) which are typical of the region. I stopped and had one. Way too sweet.

It was when I reached the bridge over the Ganges that I gasped in wonder. The majesty of the river took my breath away.

Majesty of the Ganga in Mirzapur. Photo from bridge over the river.

Majesty of the Ganga in Mirzapur. Photo from bridge over the river.

It had a turquoise blue hue, looked clean and life giving. The pictures along side are from the middle of the bridge and the bloody edifice wobbled every time a heavy vehicle passed. I hurriedly took the pictures and rode on.

Mirzapur town is well, just another small town in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is chaotic, with woeful roads and infrastructure and non-existent town planning. I know that Mirzapur is the centre of carpet industry and there must be opulence but I could see none. There is one landmark which is the Ghantagarh (Clock Tower).

Ghantaghar or Town Hall. Notice the European architecture

Ghantaghar or Town Hall. Notice the European architecture

But this is no clock tower but the Town Hall with Gothic architecture. A plaque clams that Maharaja Baneras built this. If indeed he did he must have got the masons and architects from Europe which seems unlikely. Chances are that the Europeans built the Ghantaghar and later Maharaja Baneras added a few touches and his name on the plaque. I say this because along the Town Hall that is the Ghantaghar is a small Gothic church
Church with Gothic architecture alongside the Ghantaghar

Church with Gothic architecture alongside the Ghantaghar

which has now been turned into a ‘Convent’ school. Of course there is no Convent there but just as well.

From the Town Hall I ventured to the much touted Pukkay Ghat. The Ganges was a sight to behold but the place reeked of human faeces. I wanted to sit around and enjoy the scene but the smell was so incessant and overpowering that I made a hasty exit. And they had these slogans written all around on the walls about keeping the Ganges clean! I must concede though that the Ganges in Mirzapur is much cleaner than in Varanasi or the Yamuna in Delhi (that is a joke!).

I was biking around the lanes and by-lanes of Mirzapur when I chanced upon this temple which has distinct South Indian architecture.

Temple with South Indian architecture in Mirzapur

Temple with South Indian architecture in Mirzapur

I thought I was in Madurai. It was just so beautiful and such a surprise. The oft repeated North-South divide is a sham. Remember the priests in Kedarnath and Badrinath come all the way from Kerala. There is only one India that is Bharat.

On my way to Vindyachal I came across these towers that were clearly military garrisons built by the Europeans. 082Mirzapur must have been a garrison town and the architecture of the Town Hall and the garrison towers had a synergy. It made sense and it told me I was exiting Mirzapur and was on my way to Vindyachal.

On reaching Vindhyachal the tourist in me took a back seat and the pilgrim in me took over. It never occurred to me that I should take my camera into the temple. Maybe I should have. What struck me about the Vindhvasini Devi temple again were the South Indian motifs that adorned the walls of the temple. It was amazing. A temple in North India with a very real South Indian architecture!

I did not stay at the Vindhvasini Temple for long. I took to the road and the journey back was uneventful. If I fancied myself as a roadie I must eat out at the highway. And so I did. The Mochu Dhaba beckoned and I stopped. They had clean steel plates and spoons. A plastic mug in front full of water to wash and to drink. The food was spicy and hot, the rotis fresh and buttery. I mean, there is a reason why the Big Mac has hardly any outlets on Indian highways. These dhabas that sell Indian food at rock bottom prices are just what a trucker wants. The meal with a small Coke cost me Rs 90 ($1.5). I am sure there are better dhabas on the way but Mochu is what I found and while I wasn’t impressed I won’t say I felt being let down. A basic fare and a filling meal. Just as well.

It was a pleasure riding around Varanasi. I did some 200km in half a day. I know it was hectic. I was back home by 2.30 in the afternoon. One can do 300km in a day without a sweat. The Yamaha SZR was comfortable and I did not feel tired after the journey. These are some small pleasures of life. The world is a beautiful place. Get on a bike and explore this wondrous world.