Thursday, June 30, 2011

Corruption in India - 4

There is a tendency among elitist Westernized Indians to think of corruption as an obstacle to the coming of the corporate Promised Land where “People Like Us (PLU)” enjoy the benefits of the free market untroubled by government gnats.

There seems to be no awareness that the joint-stock corporation has been the greatest fount of corruption in human history.

Since 1600, when a group of merchants in London founded the first one, the East India Company, corporations have been the primary vehicles of colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade, and the production of increasingly deadly weaponry used to kill some 250 million people in the wars of the 20th Century. They have poisoned air, land and water, promoted the widespread use of carcinogens, and trafficked in opiate drugs that ruined the lives of millions of people, mostly young. (“Heroin” was a Bayer trademarked drug promoted as a treatment for menstrual cramp and colic in babies.) The giant “scams” that have kept us entertained in India over the last few years, from the Satyam boondoggle to the 2-G auction shell game, have all centered on corporate interests.

The reasons for the inherent tendency of corporations to generate corruption are set out in Adam Smith’s classic work on the operation of free markets, The Wealth of Nations. Published in 1776, the year of the American Revolution, it noted two reasons.

One was the corporate tendency to establish selfish monopolies regardless of the cost to society. In making that point, Smith pointed out how the enormous economic potential of the Americas and Asia had, by the “savage injustice of the Europeans” been rendered “ruinous and destructive,” how “all the benefits which could have resulted” from free trade had “been sunk and lost in the dreadful misfortunes” visited on the native populations. Only the imperial monopolists profited from such policy; the British people certainly did not, for they not only paid for the products of the colonies but bore “the whole expense of maintaining and defending the empire.” Just the interest on the debt incurred by the government to retain the American colonies by force, Smith argued, was “greater than the whole extraordinary profit, which it ever could be pretended, was made by the monopoly of the colony trade.”

The second reason was that the ease with which investors could buy and sell stock and their limited exposure to the liabilities of the company resulted in its directors having command of very large sums of money. Smith held out the example of the South Sea Company, established to carry on the slave trade. Its trading stock at one point amounted to over £33,800,000, some three times the entire capital of the Bank of England, which at the time was £10,780,000. With “an immense capital divided among an immense number of proprietors” the company had been run into the ground by the “folly, negligence, and profusion” of its managers and the “knavery and extravagance … the profusion and depredations” of their “factors and agents; some of whom are said to have acquired great fortunes.”

Such profligate corruption was the rule, not the exception. The “managers of other people’s money” did not exercise “the same anxious vigilance” with which private partnerships “frequently watch over their own,” Smith wrote. “Negligence and profusion, therefore, must always prevail, more or less, in the management of the affairs of such a company.” He cited as another example the East India Company, also a behemoth. In telling its story, Smith noted that after the acquisition of Bengal in 1757 the Company had an income of over £3 million a year (about £3 billion now). Despite those “splendid earnings” it “was sunk in debt” by 1773, and had to be bailed out with a government loan. Its story of incompetence, greed and arrogance continued long after Smith's time; it culminated in precipitating the Indian revolt of 1857, a disaster too large even for the profiteers of London to ignore, who finally put it out of business.

On average, over the 400 years that joint-stock corporations have been around, they have been involved in major financial and/or moral scandals once every two years. Smith listed 55 for the first 165 years, and they have grown in frequency as corporations have grown into transnational giants outside the control of any government.

Why haven't governments done more to control them? For one simple reason: the corporation is the most efficient form of wealth creation yet invented. It allows a small group of people to package capital, technology and labour to profit from available resources. This is the reason a country like India or China, with huge and growing populations, cannot afford to turn away from the corporate economy. But we might be approaching a situation where the choice is between growing rich faster and national self-destruction.

To see why, we have to look at a factor that Smith did not note in his analysis of the negative aspects of corporations: the concept of “limited liability.” It had originated in the corporate guilds of medieval Europe in which each individual was responsible only for his own business. With the joint-stock company, that limitation of liability took on an altogether new and sinister meaning. Limited financial liability became moral impunity.

That change occurred initially as corporations dealt with distant lands and “lesser breeds without the law,” but with the Industrial Revolution, European society too became a victim. Investors who had remained untroubled by the miseries of far off peoples were equally unperturbed as workers, including children, were subjected to inhuman conditions in mines and factories; they even remained quiescent as industries poisoned the air, water and land around them.

Today, as that assault on Nature expands in scope and seriousness, as we watch the atmosphere heat up and the polar ice caps melt, as species go extinct at a rate faster than at any time since the dinosaurs disappeared, investors still continue pouring money into "development."

Although social activists and trade unions have managed over four centuries to improve working conditions gradually and put in place some environmental standards, the stockholder tendency to ignore everything but the bottom line has only grown stronger through the 20th century.

As corporations grew into gigantic transnational concerns, they became ever less sensitive to ethical, social and environmental considerations. They took control of the mass media and clothed themselves in a “free market” theology founded on the preposterous claim that The Wealth of Nations commanded the pure pursuit of profit in disregard of the social good. The separation is actually a legacy of the time when the emerging entrepreneurial class of Europe had to fend off feudal authorities; it has stayed in place long after the roles reversed and governments became instruments of the corporate elite.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s when corporations themselves felt the need for government help, a distinction was made between “macroeconomics” and the “microeconomics.” Governments were accorded a continuing macroeconomic “pump priming” role, managing the money supply, keeping a weather eye on business cycles and ensuring a policy framework supportive of business; but they were not to interfere with the running of individual enterprises.

The net result of all this has been the emergence of a global corporate elite that effectively controls what governments can and cannot do. The power of sovereignty thus constrained has been further hobbled by the post-Cold War dispensation of the World Trade Organization that promoted a wide range of corporate freedoms masquerading as “free trade” between hugely unequal participants.

Developing countries have fought a rear-guard action to keep themselves from the tender mercies of giant corporations that have revenues dwarfing the GDP of many of them. India has been one of the leaders of that struggle, but as its own corporations buy into the global network, there are privileged and powerful people within its borders now arguing for seamless integration into a system that is killing the planet. The voices in opposition are a jangle of confused interests ranging from doctrinaire Marxists to tree-hugging environmentalists and farmers desperately fighting to hold onto their land.

How that situation will play out depends very much on how India fares in the current global crisis, now building to an unpredictable climax. (China is already completely at the mercy of foreign corporations and cannot be a factor; other countries do not have the necessary heft to make a difference.) And how India fares will be decided by the efficacy with which we deal with the massive corruptions rooted in the immoral pursuit of corporate interests.

The Lokpal debate is thus actually about much more than the criminal malfeasance of those in power. It brings into focus a set of issues that will determine how creatively India engages with the world, and thus the future of our civilization.

More on that in Part – 5.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corruption in India-3

A cardinal aspect of corruption in Indian society, which the Lokpal debate has studiously avoided, is the divisive, oppressive and nationally enfeebling caste system. Perhaps one reason for its absence from public debate is that while the system is widely condemned, it is little understood.

Caste has been the focus of reform efforts for some five centuries, beginning with the Bhakti Poets, most significantly Kabir (1440-1518) and Guru Nanak (1469-1539). Those efforts suffered a severe setback under British colonial rule which could be sustained only by Indian disunity. The British sought to strengthen caste divisions and made it the subject of relentless propaganda aimed at inflaming internecine tensions.

The British invented a prehistoric “Aryan” invasion from Europe that not only sought to legitimize their rule and lay European claim to the origins of Vedic civilization, but presented the Brahmins – the primary Hindu bulwark against religious conversion – as the oppressors of other groups constituting some 95 per cent of the population. At the opposite extreme, British sanitary arrangements imposed the task of “nightsoil collection” on the lowliest groups, pushing them deeper into pariah status.

With the census of 1871 the British also introduced into the traditionally fluid arrangements of caste an unprecedented rigidity. The census set down in cold print what the British believed to be India’s caste hierarchy; it caused a great uproar all over the country, for it obliterated the grey areas that allowed castes to move up when opportunities arose. This mischief was intended, for their own historians had noted the fluidity of the system and how it had benefited two of the greatest figures of Indian history, Ashoka and Shivaji. Indeed, a third of the country’s ruling families from which the British wrested control of the country belonged to castes the census deemed low (and now fall in the category of OBC -- Other Backward Castes).

Indian reform efforts sharpened under British rule, most significantly in the movements led by Gandhi and Ambedkar. The latter, as the primary architect of India’s republican constitution, gave formal shape to the vision of a society without caste discrimination. However, progress towards that ideal has been slow. Electoral politics emphasizing caste-based “vote banks” energized divisions, and it has taken more than a generation for a counter-trend to emerge in the unifying logic of shared development and improved governance.

Today, with the corruptions of the system still raw and oppressive to many, there is a clear need to energize reform but Indian social activists seem to be at a loss on how to proceed. Part of the problem is conceptual, for the confusions spread during the colonial era still prevail, kept alive by a steady flow of “histories of India” from British authors who command a much larger audience than any Indian writer because they are published by the handful of foreign companies that dominate the Indian book market. (Not that Indian writers have set forth a particularly different perspective; our mainstream and “Left” historians are still very much in thrall to the West; those on the “Right” tend to be Hindutva fantasists.)

Meanwhile, modern research, especially genetic mapping, has revealed much that is new about the origin and evolution of the caste system. In September 2009, Nature published the findings of an Indian-American research project that studied some 500,000 genetic markers in a diverse sampling of the Indian population. It found, as one of the senior researchers told the Press, that “it is impossible to distinguish castes from tribes” and that the available evidence supported “the view that castes grew directly out of tribe-like organizations during the formation of Indian society.”

The sociological implications of that discovery are significant. When the tribal groups that began migrating out of Africa some 70,000 years ago collected in India, they did not settle into eternal conflict as happened elsewhere. Indian society evolved by allowing groups to keep their internal autonomy while fitting them into a pattern of functional interdependence.

The development of a common worldview and shared philosophy was taken up by the Upanishads (literally, to speak sitting together); we would call them “conferences” today, perhaps even “town meetings.” The concepts of a Universal Spirit and the individual soul, of Universal Moral Law (Dharma) and the inescapable Law of Causality (Karma), all emerged from discussions among the best and brightest of Indian society; they were rational concepts that everyone could accept, and served as an umbrella for all manner of tribal customs and beliefs. The amalgamation of those beliefs under that umbrella laid the foundation of what is now “Hinduism” – the “Sanatana Dharma” (the Eternal Law) at the philosophical level, supported by the hydra-headed formations of tribal worship at the popular level.

The decentralized social system that emerged was preeminently tolerant of differences. Although tribal groups fell into the four universal occupations – teachers, warriors, merchants and manual workers – the divisions and many subdivisions allowed great flexibility. There was also a pragmatic acceptance of intercaste liaisons. The Puranas discuss the matter at numerous points and there is mention of entire castes composed of the progeny of such mixing. Indians today share a strong genetic commonality: the 2009 study that showed the tribal origin of castes provided conclusive proof of it. The proportion of shared genes within the Indian population ranges from 49 to 80 per cent in different parts of the country.

Such mixing would appear impossible given the general ban on inter-caste marriages, and the especially strong Brahmin emphasis on the purity of bloodlines. However, we must take into account that in social relationships theory and fact cannot be immutably wedded; and that the record-keeping Brahmin caste had ample incentive and opportunity to present itself as superior and apart. 

The tribal origin of caste explains its persistence. For the group and for the individual, it had survival value, not only in the wilderness from which they emerged but in the multi-tribal grouping of Indian society: amidst its bewildering diversity the caste offered the security of shared custom and ceremony, of peerage and order.

The Ramayana celebrated the emergence of a unitary state out of tribal federalism: Rama is the God-King next door, the quintessential family man, a dutiful son, loving husband, loyal brother, kind even to his heartless aunt who engineers his exile from Ayodhya. Everyone, high and low, can identify with him, gain access. The gods in Indra’s heaven applaud as he sits on equal terms with a lowly forest dweller. Lakshman protests when a poor woman offers the prince fruit she has bitten into to make sure it is sweet, but Rama checks him: she acts out of love.

Rama is so conscious of democratic constraints that he even sends away his beloved wife Sita when the citizens of Ayodhya express suspicions about her pregnancy soon after return from Ravana's captivity. The message that "Ramrajya," the ideal State, is marked above all by the integrity of the king, is a constant theme of the epic. Rama accepts 14 years of privation in exile to uphold the sanctity of the king’s pledge, the ultimate guarantor of the safety and security of those he rules.

By the time of the Mahabharata, the incorruptible ideal of Ramrajya is long gone; the State is in the hands of evil power-hungry men who drive the country into the fratricidal war that augurs the onset of the Kali Yuga, the dark immoral age in which we now live. In such an age, caste has become merely a tool of narrow-minded sectarian politics, a means for the corrupt to manipulate the group for personal profit.

If we are to continue the process of social renewal that began half a millennium ago, social reformers must address this situation head-on. Denunciation and agitation are not enough; they must provide an alternative to the identity and security offered (even if only notionally) by caste. Perhaps this could be done by organizing social security along new functional lines or at the level of communities, in effect, creating new “tribes” that look after their own, weaning loyalty away from the obsolete shells of caste that benefit only a manipulative elite.

Such an approach will have to deal with the massive trend towards corrupt elite control powered by corporate globalization. That will be the subject of the next post.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Corruption in India -2

The confused controversies surrounding Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have made clear the low level of public understanding of corruption.
Ramdev’s fatuous proposal to force Indian “black money” to return from foreign banks should have won him instant expulsion from serious public discourse but that came only after his comic descent into infamy. “Team Hazare’s” proposal for a new supra-investigative body seems more sophisticated but its premise – that government malfeasance is central to corruption – does not bear close examination.
Corrupt politicians/judges/bureaucrats are indeed a key element of one aspect of the problem but they are more symptom than cause. Subjecting them to an independent public watchdog is unlikely to have much effect because the social dementia of which they are victims remains undiagnosed. To find a remedy we must identify the common denominators in the multiplicity of corruptions afflicting India (see list in the last posting).
The most obvious common denominator is the sense of impunity shared by the corrupt: the belief they can get away with crime. However, the reasons they think so fall into three categories.
Underlying the criminal manifestations of male and caste dominance, the use of child labour and the abortion of female fetuses, is the belief that State mechanisms will not or cannot implement the law. In contrast, gangsters and other low-life know very well that the State will actively pursue and punish them; their sense of impunity reflects the learned lessons of harsh predatory lives in which violence and bribery buy security. The calculus of the third category -- which now dominates our attentions -- is  altogether different: top politicians, bureaucrats and business figures believe their power and privilege will insulate them from detection and punishment. Their corruptions spring from cold-blooded decisions to betray the collective interest in pursuit of private profit. In key sectors such as energy, policing and defence, the injury they inflict is not primarily financial or social; they strike at the safety and security of the State.
These very different sources of impunity underlie different genres of corruption and a Lokpal would be largely ineffective in dealing with two of them, the massive social crimes that flow out of our history and modern organized crime. Even in dealing with crimes within the structure of government, the Lokpal cannot be, in that popular expression, a “watchdog;” for a dog can prevent crime and is immune from corruption itself.
The only preventive element in Team Hazare’s version of the Lokpal Bill is the severity of punishment: initially it required the death penalty for high-level offenders, now toned down to life imprisonment. (The government draft calls for a 7-year prison term.) Both versions of the Bill deal with corruption as individual malfeasance; they ignore its existence as a systemic disease with social, economic and political dimensions.
The next post will take up the social aspect, focusing especially on the genesis and coruptions of the caste system.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Corruption in India - 1

Does anyone expect the Lokpal to make any real difference?

Suppose Civil Society gets its entire wishlist and we end up with an unaccountable supra-governmental body with wide-ranging powers to accuse, investigate, prosecute and more or less prescribe punishment for the people it decides are corrupt.

In which of the following situations (all in the headlines in the last few days) will it be able to make a dent?
1.      Widespread smuggling and sale of rice meant for distribution to the poor.
2.     “Ghost workers” receiving funds from the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme.
3.     The hundreds of illegal mining operations under way in a number of states.
4.      The widespread illegal quarrying of rock, with some operations threatening archeological heritage sites.
5.      The widespread illlegal "sand mining"  from beaches and watercourses.
6.      Widespread use of child labour
7.      The resort to gender-related abortions by educated, middleclass people that is causing an increasing tilt in the male/female ratio of the Indian population.
8.      The private theft and public "seizure" of land belonging to the poor in all parts of the country. While private gangsters make no bones about their motive -- profit -- public officials make a grand pretence: the POSCO steel mill on tribal land in Orissa, the nuclear power station on tribal land in Maharashtra, and the Delhi-Agra highway in UP, are all for that distant god, "Development." .
9.      The bribery of voters by political parties. According to the Chief Election Commissioner all political parties tried to corrupt voters during the recent state elections, using  clandestine contributions from corporations.
10.  The thievery of public goods by the wealthy curled darlings of the nation. The government's auditor, the Comptroller and Accountant General (CAG), has just reported that when Murli Deora was Minister for Petroleum, he did all kinds of favours for Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), causing massive but unquantifiable losses to the public exchequer. (Younger brother Anil Ambani, is already neck-deep in the 2G auction scam and has two of his senior aides cooling their heels in Tihar Jail.) The CAG noted that the Ministry had allowed Reliance (and Cairn India, the subsidiary of a well connected British firm extracting oil in Rajasthan), to hold onto areas they should have forfeited because of failure to drill. That prevented the government from re-auctioning the areas, depriving it of potentially massive revenues.
11. The $7.2 billion deal Reliance Industries made in February to sell a 30 percent stake in its offshore gas fields (acquired under the abovementioned questionable contract) to BP, the British oil giant. In June, the Home Ministry issued a terse one-page security clearance  necessary for BP to proceed with the purchase. The Ministry noted that BP was already in the Indian market, selling lubricants. Selling grease is significantly different from owning a sizeable chunk of the country's strategically important energy sector, but that didn't seem to count with the biggies at Home. Nor did it seem to matter that BP has the worst safety and environmental records of any of the oil majors. Or even that it has a long history as an imperial arm of the British government, and had a notorious role in destroying Iran's homegrown democracy and manipulating it into its current miseries. (Would the Lokpal be able to take cognizance of the fact that the current Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, was in charge of the Finance Ministry when it cleared the contracts the CAG has faulted? Or that he is a former corporate lawyer who represented Enron in India and sat on the board of Vedanta, the company owned by the predatory Anil Agarwal, a Mumbai scrap metals trader who morphed into a British billionaire with a stinking human rights record?)
12.  The reported oversize loans the State Bank of India made in contravention of ReserveBank rules to Reliance Industries, Indian Oil Company and BHEL.
13.  The reported provision of an entire telephone exchange of unlisted high-speed lines by BSNL Chennai ,to benefit the television station run by the brother of Dayanidhi Maran, who held the Telecommunications portfolio in the central cabinet before A. Raja, who emceed the 2G spectrum auction.
14.  The reported routine use of torture by Police all over the country to extract information from suspects.
15. The brazen daylight murder of a prominent investigative journalist in Mumbai, and the revelation of connections among foreign-controlled gangsters, high level Police officers and Mumbai businessmen.
16.  The rotting of hundreds of thousands of tons of food grains lying exposed to monsoon rains in states across India because storage facilities were inadequate for a bumper crop.
17.  The involvement of some top Army officers in the illegal construction of a multistory residential building on property owned by the Defence Department in Mumbai.
18.  The flow of foreign institutional investment into Indian stock markets primarily from “tax havens” where “shell companies” hide the identity of the real owners of the money. Over 40 per cent of the flow comes from a single source, Mauritius, with which India has a three-decade old treaty preventing double-taxation. Negotiated to encourage bilateral economic ties before Mauritius became a tax haven, the treaty now serves as a cover for “black money” to enter the Indian economy.
19.  The tax avoidance of Vodafone, the British telecommunications giant, which moved funds from a Caribbean tax haven in 2007 to buy the Indian interests of Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Whampoa (then in partnership with the Essar Group in India). Vodafone is contesting the Indian government’s demand for over $2.5 billion in taxes on that deal, arguing that it was between two off shore entities (itself and Hutchinson Whampoa) and thus outside Indian jurisdiction!
20.  The gullibility of millions of people from whom the late lamented “Sathya” Sai Baba extracted the treasure trove he left behind in his private room and in his fabulously wealthy "Trust."  
That list does not include India’s enormous burden of preventable infant and maternal deaths that results from grossly disordered political priorities and multi-layered negligence. It omits the massive toll of misery exacted by discrimination and violence from poor women, the cases of child marriage, payment of dowry, and of blatant and even murderous caste prejudice that are all deep-rooted social corruptions not even acknowledged in the current debate. Even with those exclusions, the list makes clear that “corruption” in India is not a simple phenomenon centred on the culpability of bureaucrats and politicians. It has strong social, economic and political components, and we must understand them in order to take effective action. Without a strategic sense of the nature and origin of corruption in Indian society (to be taken up in the next posting), it is futile to think a watchdog body will make the slightest bit of difference.

(By the way, shouldn't it be Logpal? Lokpal makes it sound as if the institution is out to save the world.)

Monday, June 20, 2011


Phobotherapy is the use of fear to effect a cure.

When you startle a person out of hiccuping that's phobotherapy.

In modern multilateral diplomacy phobotherapy has become a sophisticated art. It usually consists of issuing an expert report predicting something really scary. The report gets wide media attention because editors are patsies for anything that will frighten people into reading (or listening to) what they put out. Once that happens the phobotherapist's goal is achieved, for the experts who make government policy dare not ignore something widely covered in the media and will at least pretend to do something official to avoid the projected scary scenario.

The problem with these efforts to scare the world into particular courses of action is that they seldom push for balanced or appropriate responses to the problem.

Those who first sounded the alarm about the "population explosion" wanted "population control" imposed by governments through prevention and termination of pregnancies.

The environmental crises facing the world have brought forth policies to deal with symptoms: pollution standards, emission controls, and bidiversity preserves.

The problem of drug trafficking led governments to adopt prohibitionist policies that raised the prices of illicit drugs and made traffickers (and their government protectors) fabulously rich men.

In each case, the phobotherapists diverted attention from real problems and solutions to matters important to their own clientele. The population controllers were frank about their concerns that the poor dark skinned races were growing too fast. Those who prescribed the currently fashionable "environmental programmes" diverted attention from the fact that the basic problem is industrial civilization, and that no amount of norm-setting will make it sustainable. It must be fundamentally reoriented. The forces that have pushed a losing and futile "war against drugs" have quite successfully frightened people away from the only sensible option, to legalize drugs and treat it as a problem of addiction. That would remove the criminal engagement in drug trafficking and make the problem mainly medical.

Having painted in that background, let me come to the latest effort at phobotherapy. It is a joint report from the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and the Brussels-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The two organizations warn of a 30 per cent increase in food prices -- by 2021. The causes? Slower growth in major food crops and continued growth of world population, expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050. (The use of different time horizons to present a magnified danger is typical of phobotherapists.)

The report wants action against speculators, and "strict rules" to govern factors that "distort" world food trade. The next meeting of the G-20 is expected to take those matters in hand and bring "regulation" to the world food market.

Now what could be the secret agenda of this particular bit of phoboherapy? It is, surprise, surprise, to protect the interests of transnational agrobusinesses. The report says nothing about the fact that the existing "global market" for food is a highly energy-intensive system that is enormously wasteful of food. Corporate farming of mega tracts is environmentally destructive and always less productive than family run farms. The treatment of animals subjected to "factory farming" is cruel beyond belief and also environmentally disastrous because so much consumption and waste are concentrated in such small areas.

Nor does the report mention that "speculators" would have no handle on the world's food economy if we cut out the big corporations and promoted the development of local, national and regional food economies. Such systems are far more efficient, would employ millions more workers and could easily feed the projected world population and more. At present, about a third of the world's agricultural production is not consumed; it is lost to rot, pests and other forms of wastage. Merely decreasing that percentage should take care of inflation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

UN's Ban Gets 2nd Term

Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations is to get a second term.

His announcement of interest in staying on was made on Monday, 6 June, followed two days later by an endorsement from the White House. (It is possible that the State Department was not on board with that decision if we are to read the tea leaves in the report that surfaced immediately afterwards that Hilary Clinton had asked to be nominated to head the World Bank.)

Internationally, all the ducks fell quickly into a row. On 10 June the Security Council met informally (behind closed doors) and decided to endorse Ban as their single candidate for the post for the 2012-2017 period. It is scheduled to meet on 17 June to act formally on the recommendation. The General Assembly is set to rubber stamp that decision a week later.

Ban's second term is proof yet again that nothing succeeds like failure at the UN. Under him the Organization has slid into almost total irrelevance, for where his predecessor Kofi Annan was a consummate diplomat, he has been, as they say at the UN, a bull carrying his own china shop. Almost everything he has touched has blown up into an embarrassment. (A keyword search of this blog will bring to light some of the choicer ones.)

The fact that governments have decided to give Ban a second term without even considering rival claimants for the job is probably an indication that there is little chance of a smooth transition. The international situation is so rife with rancorous tensions that an effort to change the leadership could freeze even its minimal (but essential) functionality.

Ban's second term will begin with two Indian diplomats at supposedly key spots in the UN hierarchy. Ambassador Vijay Nambiar has been his Chef de Cabinet for the last five years, and last month Atul Khare (First Secretary at the Indian Mission to the UN a decade ago), was moved from his post as Assistant-Secretary-General in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to take over as pointman for UN reform. (In charge of "change management" in the current management babble.) In the real-life (rather than organigram) pecking order of the UN neither post has much clout.

A number of top-level changes are expected after Ban's second term begins on 1 January 2012. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ilyas Kashmiri: The Trend

Now that another key al Qaeda henchman, Ilyas Kashmiri, is reported to have followed Osama bin Laden into the realms of the Djin, it is clear that something more structural than luck has changed in Pakistan. It seems as if the ISI has, at long last, decided that it can no longer afford to run with the hinds and hunt with the hounds.

That is an almost unbelievable paradigm shift, for the factors keeping the ISI invested in its double game were weighty with reasons of history, strategy and profit.

Historically, Pakistan's military spy agency was created expressly to serve as Britain's handle to manipulate Pakistan, the proxy it created in South Asia when quitting India in 1947. The man who created it was an Australian-born British Army officer, Major-General Walter Joseph Cawthorn, who stayed behind as the Deputy -Chief of Staff of the new Pakistani Army (1947-1951). He created the ISI to fight a guerrilla war against India in Kashmir, an aim the agency has maintained as one of its highest strategic priorities ever since. Because of the support from Britain, Pakistan has felt entirely comfortable in pursuing what would otherwise be a suicidally foolish policy against a much more powerful neighbour. Since Afghanistan became the main source of the world heroin trade in the 1980s, the top brass of the Pakistani military has also had the huge additional incentive of profits from trafficking narcotics.

To break the ISI loose from that strong foundation it took a threat to the integrity of Pakistan that could not be ignored, and it came in the unlikely form of a short Media Note on 15 April from the United States State Department in Washington. Issued by the Office of the Spokesman, it said:

"On April 13, 2011, the United States and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Police signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the provision of over $17 million in vehicles, communications, and other equipment. These vehicles and equipment funded by the US will support the KP Police – including the Elite Force – in their mission to protect the local population.

"State Department Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Ambassador William R. Brownfield and the Inspector General of KP Police Fiaz Toru presided over the ceremony. Also in attendance were U.S. Acting Consul General Constance C. Arvis and Embassy Islamabad Narcotics Affairs Section Director Garace Reynard.

"The US supports civilian law enforcement in Pakistan through equipment, training, refurbishment, and construction of new police facilities. Last year, the United States committed $102.6 million for civilian law enforcement assistance. This year, the United States will continue to supply the KP Police with approximately 440 additional vehicles, including trucks, armoured vehicles and personnel carriers, ambulances, and motorcycles, as well as other equipment vital to the execution of its critical mission.

"The signing of this agreement is another example of ongoing American support and is a symbol of the continuing close cooperation between our two countries."

Although the Press release mentioned the "two countries" it made no mention of any role that Islamabad had in the event. In fact, it was clearly a transaction between Washington and the Khyber Pakhtunwala police, and that political development must have sounded like a thunderclap in the Pakistani capital.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police are in charge of territory where the Pathan tribes of Afghanistan have traditionally staked their claim to independence on a large chunk of Pakistan's border region. It is the area where the old North-West Frontier Province once was a stronghold  of the Indian National Congress under the redoubtable Khan Brothers. In the most intensely Islamic area of Jinnah's "Muslim nation" (minority communities were less than 2 per cent), that was a "bastard situation," as Mountbatten's Chief of Staff Lionel Ismay put it. The violence and chaos of Partition helped stampede the tribesmen of the NWFP into Pakistan, but once things cooled off, the realities set in. The older of the Khan brothers was allowed to share power for a while, but then he was tossed into the wilderness and did not survive. His younger sibling, the great Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan spent 15 years in Pakistani prisons. (The British had kept him behind bars for only 12.) Popular resentment in the region against Pakistan's ruling Punjabi coterie has grown steadily ever since.

What Washington's mild Media Note did was heat up that old flame. It signalled clearly to Islamabad that unless the ISI played ball, Pakistan would have to redefine its Western borders radically. It was no idle threat. The Afghan and Punjab elements of Pakistan have had a rancorous relationship from the very beginning, and given the insurrection already blossoming in Baloochistan, a Pakhtoon uprising would spell disaster for the country. Quite suddenly, the weight of the British in keeping Pakistan on the old narco-terrorist tracks was neutralized, and it was, as they say in America, a whole new ball game.

Expect the terrorists in Pakistan to continue suffering major setbacks.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dim Wit Yogi Alarm

 If alarm bells were not already ringing all over India about Baba Ramdev, his 3rd June speech at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi would be reason enough to sound them.

But before I get to the speech, let me remind people who the guy is.

He was born Ramkishan Yadav in a village in Haryana in 1965, attended school nearby until the 8th Standard and then went to study Yoga (and supposedly Sanskrit) at a "gurukul" in Khanpur, Haryana.

After school he set himself up in business teaching yoga and selling herbal cures and did very well. So well, in fact, as to be able to pay Aasthana Television, one of the first Indian "religious channels" to begin broadcasting (in 2000), to schedule his yoga show early in the morning. That show got him a cult following not only in India but in many places where the diaspora got used to watching him.

Despite controversies -- Brinda Karat accused him in 2007 of mixing animal products with his supposedly vegetarian potions, and every now and then someone accuses him of claiming to cure cancer, diabetes and AIDS -- Ramdev has continued to do well.

His early investment in potions has paid off handsomely, and now there is a Patanjali Ayurveda College, a Patanjali Chikitsalaya, a Yoga Gram (village), Go-Shala (cow shelter), a Patanjali Herbal Botanical Garden, and an Organic Farm, all operating under the aegis of the nonprofit Patanjali Yog Peeth. The group's publication, Yog Sandesh, is said to have a million readers in 11 languages.
In the summer of 2009 the Peeth was was given Trust status in Britain too; it took control of a small island off Scotland bought for £2 million by two of his fans, Sam and Sunita Poddar. No one seems to have been curious enough at this enormous act of generosity to look into where exactly the money came from; going by Press reports, the Poddars run nursing homes.

Less than a year later, in March 2010, after repeatedly denying for many years that he had any political ambitions, Ramdev announced his intention to set up a political party to contest every seat in the Lok Sabha. He named the party Bharat Swabhiman Andolan and its aims were set out as follows: 

100% voting
100% nationalist thought,
100% boycott of foreign companies and adoption of swadeshi,
100% unification of the people of the nation and
100% yoga-oriented nation.

That isn't  Ein folk, ein land, ein Fuhrer" but close enough, especially as the support crew for Ramdev's "fast unto death" ostentatiously includes the RSS with its bully staves and khakhi-shorts. It should also be mentioned that the ideologue who partnered wih Ramdev to launch Bharat Swabhiman Andolan, Rajiv Dixit, upped and died of an apparent heart attack a few months later. He was 43. Hindutva types seem to think he was murdered. My own conspiracy theory about the situation is that someone is trying to get an all-India fascist movement started using the dimwit Swami as tool. Who might that someone be? The Scottish island seems to point to the involvement of our old pals at MI-6. Ramdev without his ideological mentor should be easy for them to control, for he seems to grasp reality at the level of painting by numbers. The 3 June speech at the Ramlila Grounds should settle any doubts about the level of his IQ. Excerpts (from a translation posted by

"Today America is a superpower, UK, Germany and France are superpowers…but we forget that all these countries are in crores of debt. What does this mean? This is actional tax. (sic) They have gained this money by exploiting poor countries like India. All the corrupt people in India who have not been faithful to 'Bharat Mata' will not want black money to come back.  … If black money is brought back in this country, no one will go hungry, no one will be without a livelihood. Our currency will be stronger than the dollar or pound. I want to see that day soon… the currency should stand at $1=Rs 50. I want to see an India like that. When we bring back black money, this will be possible. Our country's pride will rise. … "

Okay, turn on all alarms now, also the flashing lights.