Monday, December 07, 2009

Imagine this, the four way talk

Uncle Sam, Chachu India, Chacha Pakistan and Akaa Ghanistan walk into a cafe.

Uncle Sam orders a mocha frappuccino and a lemon pound bread. He pays by credit.

Chachu India walks up to the counter, orders a latte and some scones and hands it all over Akaa Ghanistan. He then whispers in his ear - "Not a word to anyone. I did not get you all this!". He then walks away and takes a table two seats away from Uncle Sam.

Chacha Pakistan walks in with a made is USA overcoat, glances over to Uncle Sam expecting an invite. Uncle Sam, realizing his predicament, waves to the Chacha asking him to join his table. With a sheepish smile, Chacha joins Uncle Sam, gleefully chiming - "Only because you asked me to, Uncle!"

Meanwhile, Akaa is still standing holding the goodies he got from Chachu India. Looking around he spots Uncle Sam and Chacha Pakistan seated in a corner table and decides to walk up and join them.

"Where did you get these?", asks the Chacha. "What do you mean where I got these? I bought them myself." responds Akaa.

Not to let go so easily, continues Chacha, "I meant how did you pay for...".

"Never mind, guys. Settle down. We have much to talk about", interrupts the Uncle.

Chacha grumbles under his breathe, glances over at Chachu India and makes a rude hand gesture. Chachu rolls his eyes and chuckles.

"First you", points the Uncle, to Akka. "You need to get your act straight. I am not going to keep baby sitting you forever. You are old enough to walk leave alone crawl. Next summer I plan to head back home. And so the clock is ticking."

Akaa gets a bit upset and defensive. "I never asked for your help....", he then pauses mid-sentence realizing the futility of the argument. "I never asked for your help forever. Given the right conditions, I should not be needing either you or your family's help by next summer".

Chacha Pakistan takes off his coat and hangs it behind his chair. He then proceeds to get comfortable. This is going to take a while he thinks to himself.

Noticing this, an irritated Akaa raises his voice. "When do you plan to resolve my next door problem, Uncle?" he says in an apparent reference to the Chacha. "Lot of bug problems from the house next door."

"What do you mean next door?" questions the Chacha. "You have no proof of that. And by the way, its not like your house is spic and span clean." Chacha retorts.

"You don't need to worry about my house." slams Akaa. "Just make sure your bugs remain in your boundary. Just plug those cracks in the wall. You have been at it for over two years now but nothing to show."

An angry Chacha, not one to give in so easily, says "You are beginning to annoy me....".

Uncle Sam heaves. "All right boys. This is not productive. And I don't have all the time in the world".

Now turning his attention to Chacha Pakistan, Uncle Sam begins to admonish, "I don't see why you should protest. What Akaa says is partially right. You seem to want the best furnishings for your house but don't realize the house roof is leaky and the walls are falling apart. I really don't understand what you plan to do with all the money you keep borrowing from me".

"Anyways, this time around you don't get the money unless you furnish the bills first. So you pay out of your own pocket first and then get it reimbursed from me", added the Uncle.

"But that's not fair", complained Chacha. "For no fault of mine you are punishing me", said the Chacha cutting a sorry face.

"Ok, alright what's the excuse today?" quizzed the Uncle.

"No excuse. Its for real and you know it." says the Chacha.

"Okay Okay. Stop wining and tell me what's bothering you." - Uncle Sam.

Chacha Pakistan pulls up a single sheet of worn out paper and begin to read from it, "Why do you think the bugs are so attracted to Akaa's house? Look at what he is holding in his hand. Every now and then "someone" gives him a bag of goodies which is why the bugs troop to this house. If you (Uncle) can somehow get that someone to stop giving Akaa these goodies it will not only help Akaa but also help me."

"Okay, I don't know who this someone is. But I get the feeling that you already know and are about to tell me", retorts Uncle Sam.

"Ofcourse, Ofcourse I will educate you, Uncle", continues Chacha.

"Who else but our dear Chachu. Even these goodies that Akaa is holding was given to him by Chachu. Ask him?" says Chacha.

"Why did I think you were going to say that!" quips Uncle.

Realizing the futility of this conversation without Chachu India, Uncle Sam gets up from his Chair. "I am going to be back in a few mins", he says. "Don't go any where, stay right here". Then he slowly walks in the direction of table where Chachu India is sitting.

Seeing this, Chacha gets really cheerful. He even begins to whistle slowly. Akaa shakes his head in dismay and begins to dig into his scone.

Chachu catches a glance of the approaching Uncle through the corner of his eye. He pretends to not notice and continues to read his book intently.

"Hello Chachu. Long time. How is everything?" greets the Uncle.

Looking totally surprised by the sudden visit, Chachu says, "Hello Uncle ji, what a surprise. I didn't know you visited this cafe. What brings you here?".

"Oh well! I wanted to talk to you about some Home Improvement topics. Is this a good time?" asks the Uncle. Uncle Sam notices that Chachu had cleverly seated himself at a table that had only one chair and so automatically disinviting the Uncle!

Nevertheless, Uncle Sam decided to make do with just standing.

"I would love to talk Home Improvement", replied Chachu. "But you see, I have this book to finish and return by end of today. Why don't we do this another time?".

Akaa and Chacha were watching the back and forth from a distance. Turning to Akaa, Chacha says "Look at the great Uncle. He is not even given a seat to sit but he still has no shame. He is still standing there shamelessly. What is it about Chacha that he fears? I don't get it? He treats us like spoiled kids and treats Chacha like a wise man. It irritates me to the core. Did you know Akaa, Chachu and me are of the same age. Actually I am older to him by a day".

Unable to take it anymore, Akaa barks back "Just shut up! You are jealous. Why can't you mind your own business. Chachu has done well for himself and thats why everyone has started respecting him. He has put his house in order ably and deserves to be treated better. And look at you. What excuse do you have? At least I have plenty, but you?". Done venting, Akaa goes back to his goodies.

Uncle Sam can hear the low decibel arguments going on behind him. He turns around sharply and gestures to both of them to put a sock in it. A temporary truce is called.

"Please Chachu ji. It won't take more than 10 mins of your time. Its for your own good". Uncle Sam wished he had eaten his last sentence.

"My own good? Are you here to sell me something Uncle?", retorts Chachu.

"Absolutely not. This is only a discussion. I need your input for some of the decisions I am making on a Home Improvement project. Your valuable advice and perhaps active help will be greatly appreciated.", reasoned Uncle.

"Look Uncle. This is the bottom line" said Chachu sternly.

"I am not here. Get it. I am not supposed to be in this cafe. You were not supposed to see me, least of all walk up to me. I am not interested in joining your home improvement project. So don't ask me for any advice. My only involvement is with Akaa and that too I did only after he invited me. I am simply trying to spray some bug spray into the cracks in his walls before applying some sealing agent. If you don't want me to help Akaa, simply tell me right now and I will up and walk."

Taken aback by Chachu's angry words, Uncle Sam decides to back off.

"Looks like you are in a bad mood Chachu. Don't sweat it. We can talk later after you are done with your book. Perhaps we can meet someplace else?" replies Uncle Sam.

"Yes Yes. Someplace else. I don't like to talk business in cafes. Too much noise." said Chachu.

"Okay sure. Bye for now", and then Uncle Sam begins to back track towards his table.

Akaa and Chacha try to control their laughter. Uncle Sam crashes into his seat with both Akaa's and Chacha's eyes trained on him.

"One word from any of your mouths, I will thrash both of you", barks Uncle Sam.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Don't the Pak columnist get it?

Ever since the aborted peace attempt at Sharm-el-sheik, Egypt between India and Pakistan, the revered news paper columnists of Pakistan have been crowding around the - Give peace a chance - bandwagon.

And this bandwagon apparently only runs one way. From India to Pakistan. And this bandwagon carries with it the merchandise called - concessions.

Listen to the logic from across the border here and I paraphrase -

Pakistan needs all the help it can get in its fight against terror.

As a weaker power, Pakistan will always seek external intervention.

Peace in Afghanistan is only possible if Pakistan is secure about India's intentions.

And finally - By halting peace talks, the Indian government had handed the terrorists a major victory.

So which word in peace-talks do they not understand?

Its a two-way street, hello? The columnist have been going on and on about how India needs to show reason, India needs to be the magnanimous one, India needs to realize this is not helping the "war on terror" and that India is the reason for South Asian instability.

Let me be very clear. I am not against peace talks. In fact, thats exactly what was happening when the Mumbai attacks took place.

The problem is not whether India has the will to talk. The problem is whether India has the will not to talk. We all have seen time and time again, India gets beaten black and blue and still goes right back to the table. And for what?

Instead before all these talks can begin how about Pakistan really show us and the "world" how serious they are about the peace-talks.

And waxing eloquent in the media does not count.

How about showing us that you really really want peace? How about doing something really productive about controlling the anti-India terror groups? How about reining in the ISI? How about a year of peace in Jammu & Kashmir to start with? Importantly, how about abandoning terror as an instrument of state-policy, for real?

Yes. These are the benchmarks that no one wants to talk about. The columnist simply want a wild card entry for Pakistan to the finals whereas expect India to give all kinds of concessions to make Pakistan feel better and tickle its ego.

So, the bottom line is this. Pakistan does not want peace, at least not yet. Pakistan still feels that a proxy-war is its key to strategic parity with India. Its their power-parity card along with the Nuclear card.

If Pakistan gave up this one card, its game up. It has no other leverage against its bigger neighbor. And hence it will never give it up.

And this back and forth will go on. Pakistan trying to tie India down to the subcontinent's politics and India struggling to free itself of the colonial baggage.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Collapse of the right wing

On June 14th, I had written a post titled - Defeat of the right wing.

In that I had warned that the BJP is fast becoming the ideological mirror of the Left. A piece of political space occupied by the huffers and puffers who enjoy the patronage of a select hardcore few in the electorate but banished to the extreme wilderness.

That was then and this is now. The BJP is moving too slowly. They have absolutely no idea what to do next. While they are busy blowing down each others house of cards, the electorate has moved on.

For the third time in Maharashtra, the electorate has shown a thumbs down to the rabble rouser's. The BJP-Sena combine and the Thackeray's squabbling pushed the voters to a saner lot.

Why wouldn't the voters be attracted to a party that has a sane, low-profile, no nonsense president and an equally sane, low-profile and intelligent Prime Minister.

Where is the alternative? It looks like the principle opposition is clearing the political real estate faster than anyone expected.

As I said earlier, I say it now. The Congress is well on its way to becoming the natural party of governance in the country and I don't see any force being able to stop it.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The States should pull up their socks

Sometime ago I had written about the Lessons India should learn from all the turmoil happening all around her.

Today, after reading about the increase in the naxalite activity and the home minstry's report that 20 states are under some form of naxal influence, I can safely say that our country need not look outside at all.

The Leftist Maoist movement has sprouted from the lack of development and opportunities available in parts of India and its heartening to see that our home minister P. Chidambaram himself openly talking about it.

While the reasons contributing to the naxalite violence could range from failed land reforms to non-existent local employment and development, they all point to a massive failure of our established governing structures.

The self-correcting features of our governing structures seem to have failed. While some states have taken great advantage of the system, like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra etc. Others have let the whole system rot or gamed it.

The next steps are quite clear. The home minister has promised to take back districts under the naxal influence followed by massive aid driven development. While this might work in the short-term, the long-term strategy has to be different.

I hope the wise home minister goes into why some states are unable to drill down economic benefits that stagnate at the state capital.

Should these "weak states" be treated differently? Should there be more economic devolution to the states and from the states down to the district / panchayat level? Should more smaller states be created from bigger ones?

The questions are many, the answers are few and far in between.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pak does a back flip for Saudi Arabia

It was really funny reading this news in the Dawn.

Pakistan had captured, interrogated and sent packing to Saudi Arabia, suspected Al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the failed attack on their deputy Interior Minister Prince Nayef in Jeddah last month.

The Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had visited Saudi Arabia end of last month where he was presented with evidence of this linkage between the failed attack and the sons of a Yemeni Al-Qaeda leader. And exactly ONE month later Pakistan not only captures, not only interrogates but also packs these guys to Saudi Arabia. This, even though Pakistan and Saudi Arabia don't have an extradition treaty.

While on the other side, the Pakistani government leaves no stone unturned, giving excuses on why the Mumbai attack masterminds need to be subject to the lengthy process of Pakistan's judicial system. What a whole bunch of BS!

And the Interior Minister and the Foreign Minster of Pakistan have the audacity to shamelessly stand in front of the press complaining of India's impatience and disregard for the rule of law and judicial trial.

I am amazed how these guys can sleep at night. The rate at which the Pakistani leadership bends for Saudi Arabia and China and the United States and the Taliban and whatever else, it will soon become a Pakistani Circus of sorts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Narasimha Rao Formula

India's CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) has its hands full these days dealing with the western neighbor.

In the case of India-Pakistan, history repeats itself. India is unable to shake off the Pakistani shadow and Pakistan simply loves to needle its neighbor, with admirable success I must add.

The recent article by Jawed Naqvi from the Dawn (Is India really a big nation, which behaves small?), asking India to act its size meaning large hearted, is well written but impractical. Its the Gujral doctrine rehashed. While the Gujral doctrine could work with India's other neighbors (sans China), it will not work with Pakistan.

I dont know if the Pakistani security establishment is pulling a fast one on its own media, but what else can I say when they (the Pak media) fall hook line and sinker to their Information Minister's oft repeated line posing as a victim & an anti-terror warrior. Its akin to Bill Clinton preaching morality lessons.

So all this talk of large heartedness and magnanimity is a waste of time.

During the Prime Ministership of Shri Narasimha Rao (remember him!), India went into a low key mode for its relations with Pakistan. While regular Foreign Secretary level talks kept happening, nothing much came out of it in the end. There was no high pitch sabre rattling or hu-ha press releases. Everything was in silent mode.

Its time the CCS took a leaf out of this but with a twist.

Draw up a long time table of secretary level meetings without an agenda. Then work out a limited proportional retaliatory strategy which can be triggered on very short notice when a massive terror attack takes place. This could be ranging from taking out a few enemy posts to lobbing rockets over to surgical cross border stabs. Now, ofcourse this will not go unanswered for which we need to be prepared.

Any such punitive retaliation from India will immediately bring the US right in. And we should count on this. The US should simply be told that this self-defense action will stop when terror emanating from Pakistan stops. The US wouldn't want its battle on Pak's western front disturbed or diluted would it!?

In all this commotion, continue the agendaless meaningless secretary level talks.

The only language Pakistan understands is a bloody nose. Its about time we gave some.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Defeat of the right wing

This season seems to be the season of the right wing in trouble. In India, the right wing nationalists BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) lost for the second time in five years and in the United States the right Republicans lost for the first time in eight years.

Perhaps its Iran that survived this trend with the re-election of its current President defeating the reformist rival convincingly, though disputed.

I am noticing good similarities between the state of the BJP and that of the GOP. Both are sulking. Both are searching for a theme. Both are clueless.

But I also notice that there are some good dissimilarities too. The GOP is better equipped to recover faster than the BJP simply because its not hamstrung by the "party ways" of Indian political parties. The GOP currently is seeing a back-and-forth between leaders who represent different shades of GOP ideology who are trying to occupy the leadership vacuum. While it looks like a dust storm, it is part of a process of rejuvenation and new direction.

Unfortunately, Indian political parties still chiefly rely on dynasty's and political patronage as a driving force. Even the famous 'party with a difference', has found its 'difference' to be woefully inadequate to meet the current challenge of quickly becoming irrelevant.

I read with amusement a news report where the BJP President Rajnath Singh had issued a gag order prohibiting airing of opinion by party leaders. These people still don't get it. Openly venting is part and parcel of the healing process. By gaging these voices, you are simply postponing it for a rather loud explosion later.

The whole bunch of people on top, those tired faces returning to their seats after this defeat like nothing has happened will hurt the party more. And I never thought I will say this, but the BJP's anti-dynastic mindset has given the Congress party a one up over it. Images of all those young sons and daughters of former party leaders makes the Congress party look young and energized. Compare this with all the grey haired BJP leaders like Advani, Swaraj, Joshi, Jaitely, Singh, Sinha, Modi, etc.

I am reminded of grumpy tired old people sitting outside Walmart welcoming customers when they step into the store compared to young faces that one sees in Target. All these small things shape the mindset of the common folks.

The strength and weakness of the BJP is its ideological roots. If the BJP continued true to its original RSS brand of Hindutva, the part will shrink and become a counter weight to the left parties. A core group sticking to their guns no matter what will surely find some takers, enough to keep them in power in a few states but not at the national or even regional level.

However, if the BJP wants to be relevant and a counter weight to the Congress, then it must occupy the political space between the center and the extreme right. It is there that the anti-congress platform lies and is up for grabs.

Fortunately for the party, there is no other in the horizon that is ready or equipped to occupy this space. At least not yet.

Anyways, I really am not that concerned about what political space the BJP will occupy. I am more concerned about the lack of inner-party political tools and mechanisms to deal with such situations. Its even more shocking that having been in the opposition for five years, one would have expected the BJP to have used all this time to re-invent not only itself but also its party machinery. However, what we see here today is a rudderless, captainless ship on the stormy high seas with mutiny on everyones minds.

For the the party with a difference, its about time to do something that's totally different. Something that's radical and never seen in Indian politics today. Anything short of that will severely restrict its political ascendancy in the near future.

Fortunately for the Congress, its ruling family seems have both its heart and mind in the right place. They are making the right moves and the right noises. And their goal to becoming India's natural party of governance is laudable.

I remember vividly, when the congress party was defeated in the 90s and the BJP emerged as the largest party, there were calls in the air declaring the decline of the Congress. Dynastic politics and cronyism were held responsible for the party's decline and some even predicted that the congress will eventually splinter and die out. Those were the days when the center of the whole country had shifted to the political right and the BJP had a bumper harvest.

Now years later, the political center has moved left of its position coming right back to the Congress's political space and BJP has remained stagnant.

Its about time the BJP interpreted the tea leaves correctly.