Friday, March 29, 2013

The Thought Police are Back!

I have noted several times that some shadowy agency/individual has inserted a great number of robot.text files (650 at last count) to block search engines from finding content on my blog (see here for embedded links).

As Blogger does not allow users of its service to approach it directly for help, I posted the problem on the Webmaster Tools forum. Extraordinarily, there was not a single reply. A repeat post noting that I was being censored elicited one reply suggesting that the robot.text files were blocking not the overall site but specific labels I insert under each post to help Search Engines identify the nature of its content.

To find out if that was correct I checked on Webmaster Tools for the list of top keywords indexed for my blog. What I found confirms that the dreaded Thought Police are indeed back on my case. These are, in order of significance, the top 20 keywords Google bots have registered for the wide ranging content of my blog:
  1. indian (4 variants)
  2. post (3 variants)
  3. february
  4. january
  5. world (4 variants)
  6. british
  7. march
  8. blog (3 variants)
  9. new (2 variants)
  10. november
  11. december
  12. nations (3 variants)
  13. country (3 variants)
  14. august
  15. atom (2 variants)
  16. china (3 variants)
  17. united (4 variants)
  18. hindu (2 variants)
  19. britain (2 variants)
  20. people (3 variants)
 This blatant effort to limit the visibility of my site cannot be done without the cooperation of Google but must originate from some more ideological entity that wants to prevent me from being heard.

I do not think that entity is Indian for the simple reason that authorities in New Delhi do not have the capacity to take such nuanced strategically directed action: their forte is the other heavy-handed stuff I have reported

Meanwhile, at the suggestion of a reader, I have filed electronically a grievance with the Home Ministry about the possible involvement of some agency under its purview in the strange circumstances that prevented me from attending the World Social Forum in Tunisia.

After filing the grievance it struck me that whoever is responsible for my Kafkaesque situation can easily justify his/her actions by lying about my record to make it seem sinister.

At some point, legal action might be necessary to get the facts out in the open. I hope those who have cooperated with the goons persecuting me will remember we still live in a democracy and give evidence when asked.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Buckle Seat Belts! World Economy Going Off Cliff!

The world economy is about to fall off a cliff.

We've known that will happen ever since the 2008 failure of Lehman Brothers, but after massive interventions by Western central bankers saved the world economy from collapse then, there has been a desperate hope that happy times would return if everyone just believed in financial fairies. It is now clear that this will not work. 

All that governments have done since 2008 is kick the can down the road, and now they have run out of road. When banks in Cyprus open later today – if they open today – there will be a run and unavoidable contagion.

Whether or not that will send the world economy into a free fall will depend on how successfully European governments contain the situation. All over Europe there are contingency plans to deal with riot and disorder. In Washington, a delegation from London is reported to be in tense meetings with Pentagon brass who are tight-lipped about the agenda.

There are two reasons why tiny Cyprus will have a global impact. One is visible: the “deal” imposed on it by the European Union (read Germany), requiring a heavy 40% “tax” on bank deposits has demolished the foundation of trust necessary for the functioning of a modern banking sector, and it cannot be restored in the short term.

The second reason is that the crisis will hit one of the nodal points of the British-run global money-laundering system. What we are seeing is not an ordinary sovereign debt crisis but a power struggle pitting Germany and the United States against Britain’s criminal empire.

The global impact will come from the sudden collapse of confidence in Britain's capacity to manage the world's enormous stock of black money. That confidence has been dipping ever since the United States charged HSBC last year with money laundering and imposed a fine of nearly $2 billion on Britain's largest bank; the developments in Cypress will push it over a cliff.

Those who hold large undeclared funds in tax havens like Cyprus do so without benefit of official rules and guarantees. They have no legal way of getting their money back if those holding it throw up their hands and plead force majeure. Their only redress is violence. The Russian mafia, which is estimated to have some $19 billion in Cyprus, is probably behind the sudden "suicide" in London of former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. We should expect an increasing number of sudden deaths among money-men around the world. 

There will also be a range of other humungous developments as some $30 trillion in black assets freezes over. The huge Hedge funds that have kept commodity markets soaring through three years of recession in all developed countries will probably be less energetic. Prices of real estate, gold and oil will collapse. So will a great deal of luxury consumption. As recent surges in stock markets indicate, the in-crowd has realized that equities will be the safest haven; valuations can be expected to soar.

The Indian economy is among the best for investors to be in right now for it is driven mainly by domestic demand. This explains David Cameron’s two visits to India in the past year, Finance Minister Chidambaram’s stop-over in London as he returned from Davos, and the strange proposals he included in the 2013 budget.

The fall in commodity prices, especially energy, will be a boon for India, but the sailing will not be easy by any means. There will be an enormous amount of economic volatility -- perhaps hyper-inflation -- as black money seeks every which way to enter the legitimate economy. Without careful handling incoming financial flows could send the value of the Rupee skyrocketing. The Reserve Bank better have contingency plans in place to prevent successive waves of deflation and hyper-inflation from roiling our lives too violently. (This would be the right time for the government to float a new family of infrastructure bonds and turn a blind eye to the source of funds.)

There is also the chance that the British elite, in an apre moi le deluge mood, will use their Taliban/ISI proxies to set off a major crisis. A nuclear attack on India will bring down the whole global order and give the vampires a new lease of life.

If something cataclysmic like that does not happen, we can expect that when the dust settles there will be a new world economic order. The Euro probably will not be around. A handful of national currencies, especially those of the United States, Germany and India, might be the foundations of a new (fixed-rate?) international financial system. Britain, China and Japan could also be players if their heavily internationally dependent economies have not taken too severe a beating.

But before we get to that point it’s going to be a wild ride. Buckle your seat belts!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How I Didn’t Get My Tunisia-WSF Visa

I could not go to the World Social Forum in Tunisia for lack of a visa.

This is the strange story of how that happened.

When I bought my Egyptair ticket from the Thomas Cook office in Goa on 8 March, it seemed a bit strange that the agent said he was “not authorized” to get my visa. Only the TC office in Mumbai could do that.

All he could do was print out the application form from the Embassy’s web site.

He also told me that as I had a stopover of more than 12 hours at Cairo, I would need a transit visa, and that I could apply for both Egyptian and Tunisian visas in Mumbai.

The Thomas Cook office in Mumbai declined to process a visa for a passenger ticketed from Goa. Also, the consulate in Mumbai did not do visas; only the Embassy in Delhi did.

In Delhi the next morning the gatekeeper at the Tunisian Embassy told me I would have to apply from the street, as there was no space for visitors inside. Another applicant, who claimed to be a World Bank consultant, confirmed that was the case.

After much tooing and froing to a nearby Internet café/Xerox shop, my passport and a fee more than double the posted figure disappeared into the Embassy.

There was no receipt or token number; and the gatekeeper said it would take five days to get the visa: some 40 passports were being sent off that day to Tunis for processing.

The gatekeeper said there was an agent familiar with the Embassy who would retrieve my passport and courier it to me in Goa. My concern at not having any receipt for the transaction he dismissed airily: “Chinta math kariye, eisay he hota hai.” (Don’t worry, This is how it happens.)

I went back to Goa and waited. When the deadline passed without any sign of my passport I called the Embassy. An Indian voice at the Visa Section said she would call when the visa was issued. It became a routine over the next few days. 

Thomas Cook in Goa refused all help: it was "against policy." The agent suggested I fly to Delhi and get my visa. Perhaps I could speak to the head of the TC visa processing section in Mumbai? He claimed not to know a soul there and could not help me contact anyone.I have never in my well-traveled life met so unhelpful a travel agent.

On 22 March I cancelled my tickets and called the person who was supposed to retrieve my passport. He said he would get my passport on Monday, the 25th.

That was the final slightly weird element of what in retrospect seems to be yet another creepy crawly episode. (See here, here, here and here.)

As I wait to see if I will get my passport back, I wonder, will someone else have used it? And to what ends?

The thought rests on another slightly weird experience.

On the morning of 21 February the person who cleans my apartment asked if I could get her a new sim card; she did not have the residence proof to get one herself.

I asked what happened to the phone she had. She still had it, but wanted another.

I offered to accompany her to the shop and attest to her address in writing, but that she declined.

Later that day, when terrorist bombs went off in Hyderabad, it struck me that I might have escaped a serious entrapment. I write this post in case my passport turns up in some incriminating context: I want my alibi in the public domain.

And anyone at the WSF who runs into a person claiming to be Bhaskar Menon is hereby authorized on behalf of all Mission Impossible fans to reach out and rip off the impersonator’s latex mask.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How the 99% Can Occupy the World

I wrote the following hoping to discuss it with some of the over 20,000 activists expected to attend the World Social Forum in Tunis (26-30 March). My own attendance now seems doubtful, as the Tunisian Embassy in New Delhi has not heard back about my visa application it forwarded for clearance to authorities in Tunis. The proposal below is distilled from the final chapter of "1001 Things Every Indian Should Know" and was originally written for an Indian audience; please forward to anyone who might be interested in follow-up action. Hope to hear from readers who want to get actively involved in implementing the proposal. 

Occupying the World

Small elite groups dominate the world because they have the economic and political power that comes from an unmatched capacity to raise and spend vast amounts of money. The institutional centre of that capacity is the profitable corporation, the primary vehicle of elite power over the last four centuries.

The 99% has a broad and vital range of collective interests but no similar institution to focus and promote them coherently. As a result, it is always on the defensive, forced to protest negative developments after the fact.

The potential to change this situation has grown in recent years with the spread of information connectivity. It is now possible for individual activists and community groups to cooperate globally, but there is no institution yet to resolve the perennial issues of who will control the process, set priorities and aims, and decide on the scope of action. In addition, the question of how exactly we structure change to avoid major economic and social disruptions has remained largely unanswered.

The proposal below addresses all those issues.

The Essential Requirements

There are a number of essential requirements in giving institutional coherence to the interests of the human majority.
  1. Direction and management must be decentralized to the community level at which people best understand issues and mobilize to meet them.
  2. The narrowness of local approaches must meld into a promotion of collective interests and norms centered on a broadly liberal understanding of individual rights and democratic freedoms.
  3. The mechanism of cooperation must have self-sustaining synergy: it must be driven by individual self-interest as is the corporation, while ensuring there is no damage to collective interests.
  4. The mechanism must address the full range of issues affecting the welfare of communities.
  5. It must be able to grow within the existing world economy, transforming its corporate-set patterns without disrupting employment or wealth creation.

Such a mechanism would give democratic structure and content to the new social connectivity spreading around the world. It would undermine all oligarchic and tyrannical power structures, and set in place a democratic, non-bureaucratic system of global governance supportive of all forms of creativity, including – and especially – business. Such a system can come to grips quickly with all global crises, for it can deal with them in their community-level manifestations and create a synergy spreading from the bottom up. The process would work beneficially for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi and Adam Smith believed respectively in a country of “village republics” and the free market: human beings are essentially good and, all things being equal, most will make morally correct decisions. (Smith was an early critique of the hugely corrupting effect of corporations on the free market.)

The Institution of the 99%

There is no existing institution that can serve as the vehicle for the interests of the human majority. To create one we would have to do the following:
  1. Agree on a template for a community-level organization to be established by local activists and entrepreneurs running small and medium-level businesses. The template would include a Charter of Values and Aims establishing the democratic nature and purpose of the institution, which could be called the “Community Corporation (CC).” The template would allow CCs to be established in any economically viable community ranging from villages and small towns to neighborhoods in big cities. (In big cities, people could define their own “community,” which could be no more than a few blocks in size depending on where they shop.)
  2. The Charter would provide for the organic growth of a CC network, with each local unit helping others get started. The aim would be to extend the network globally as rapidly as possible. The network would also have a corporate identity, and its management would be distributed in nodes that could most conveniently follow existing patterns of local, district, provincial and national governance. Beyond national borders, the network would follow existing arrangements for sub-regional and regional cooperation; globally, the networks would tie in with a reformed UN System (more on that below).
  3. The mandate of all CCs and their online cooperative network (CCN) would be to protect and promote the full range of community interests. On the economic front, a primary aim would be to develop local and regional commerce with particular emphasis on patterns of boutique trade neglected by mega corporations. Local initiatives would follow a strategic framework overseen by the Network aimed at moving the world economy away from intercontinental exchanges of bulk commodities and mass produced items, towards regionalized trade. Intercontinental trade would be mainly in high value products and services that reflect the optimum use of local resources. This would bring back the concept of comparative advantage that mega corporations have destroyed with their cookie-cutter version of globalization.
  4.  Each CC would support socially beneficial activities and enterprises. Financing productive economic and social activity could increasingly devolve to systems that mobilize the enormous capital of the connected collective. This would accelerate wealth and job creation without initially reducing the contribution of mega corporations. As Big Business adapts to the new economic realities, the world economy could grow at unprecedented rates without creating inequalities or damaging ecosystems. In fact, the growth would correct social imbalances and heal environmental damage.
  5. To ensure the flow of beneficial effects the CCN would promote education and technical assistance in support of community-level action to protect vulnerable sections of society and to conserve the global ecosystem. The process could create the synergy among creative initiatives that is now lacking. On the social front, the agenda of CC activities would include all matters of interest to members, including support for the disadvantaged, initiatives to ensure good quality affordable education, and help for those seeking employment.
  6. The Network would be actively involved in providing a regular community-oriented news service run by professional journalists but open to input by all who want to contribute. The aim would be to provide a balanced coverage of all parts of the globe and covering all themes of interest to communities. 
  7.  The economic, social and news services provided by each CC and the Network would make the system’s websites an important economic and social resource and attract a high volume of local traffic and generate revenue from advertising
  8. While remaining politically nonpartisan CCs and the Network would promote understanding of local, national and international issues. They would have an ongoing program of political education in collaboration with relevant academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. The aim would be to give people an honest assessment of all political issues affecting their lives. Every Community Corporation would arrange for space to allow “town-hall” type meetings and establish rules for their orderly conduct.
  9. CCs would make arrangements to monitor local environmental trends, provide periodic reports and analytical studies when necessary. The reports could pass up the Network for consideration by district, provincial, national and international authorities, and bring back expert guidance and support. This could be the basis for a coordinated move to reform polluting industries or push them out of existence.
  10. The CCN would be committed to the conversion of military industries to civilian purposes where possible, and failing that, their closure.
  11. In democratic countries each CC would be committed to working with local security authorities to ensure maintenance of law and order. The Network would connect with national government security agencies and globally with the UN Security Council to get and respond to information on threats to national and international peace and security. In undemocratic countries, the creation of CCs and the growth of the CCN will exert a steady, peaceful pressure on ruling elites to democratize.
  12. The CCN would pursue vigorously the goal of general and complete disarmament that has been a long-standing aim of peace activists and the declared intention of the United Nations. It would be guided by the principles and sequencing for that process set out in the General Assembly’s 1961 resolution affirming the US-Soviet McCloy-Zorin accords. The steps are as follows: (a) Disband armed forces, dismantle military establishments including bases, cease the production of armaments, liquidate or convert facilities to peaceful uses. (b) Eliminate all stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, bacteriological, and other weapons of mass destruction and cease the production of such weapons. (c) Eliminate all means of delivery of weapons of mass destruction. (d) Abolish the organization of, and institutions designed to organize, the military effort of States, cease military training, and close all military training institutions. (e) Discontinue military expenditures.
  13. As disarmament progresses within a stable international order, the CCN would press for the public declaration of all information on security threats gathered by official intelligence agencies, enabling remedial action by the appropriate CCs and the Network. At some point the CCN would press for States to cease their clandestine collection of intelligence, and depend for information on the news media and other commercial services.

A New United Nations

The measures above would have major implications for the structure and functioning of the United Nations. While retaining its existing intergovernmental structures for policy-making and oversight functions the UN System would need to become the global hub of the CCN. That would radically change the agenda and procedures of the organization’s main organs:
  • The General Assembly would give up entirely the nitpicking negotiations on repetitive resolutions. Agreed initiatives would pass to the CCN and associated specialized networks responsible for implementation; periodic feedback would indicate the need for course corrections. As the deliberative hub of the entire United Nations system and of CCN, the Assembly could decide to receive reports as and when necessary (rather than annually), from the Security Council, ECOSOC, and all Specialized Agencies, including a redesigned World Bank and IMF. Decisions would pass immediately to the implementation stage through the CCN.
  • The work of the UN Secretariat would change radically. Instead of writing formal reports for discussion by diplomats, it would be engaged in writing reports for and responding to input from CCN. The Secretary-General’s Report on the Work of the Organization would be a Web product providing updates in real time on the implementation of UN resolutions.
  • As the hub of the CCN security service, the Security Council would coordinate disarmament action by governments and guide the way to the evolution of a global system sensitive to potential trouble and capable of effective response at all levels of the Network.
  • ECOSOC would be the global operational hub of the CCN, with the UN Country Offices and the Regional and Functional Commissions serving as intermediary hubs. The focus in all of ECOSOC’s subsidiary intergovernmental bodies would shift to problem solving through the relevant networks.
  • The Specialized Agencies would become thematic hubs to promote and guide cooperation through the CC Networks (reporting through ECOSOC to the General Assembly, as noted above).


If there is enough feedback to this proposal I will convene a meeting to discuss how we might move forward most rapidly. As it looks as if I might not get a visa to attend the WSF, this will probably have to be somewhere in India. Meanwhile, the proposal might get a lift if it is chosen for funding from here.
As I continue to face problems of undelivered mail and unreceived phone calls, readers who write me and do not get a constructive reply back should assume their message went undelivered.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Britain Failed to Subvert the Hindu Narrative - Part 1

There are three main reasons why the British have not been able to co-opt and subvert the Hindu narrative as they did with that of Islam.

The most important is a long-running failure to understand the nature of the faith.

By the time Vasco da Gama landed in Kerala in 1498, Europeans had long forgotten what ancient Greece and Rome knew of India. Increasing contact over the next three centuries did not improve understanding because Europeans could make little sense of a faith that had no single founder, deity or catechism.

It was not until the “Orientalist” discoveries of ancient Sanskrit works in the late 18th Century that Europeans began to understand basic Hindu tenets. However, even as knowledge of ancient India set off an “Oriental Renaissance” in Europe, the East India Company took measures to bring back ignorance: it could not countenance admiration for a country the British were supposedly civilizing. The Company commissioned and published two books of racist calumny, John Mills’ “History of British India,” and “Hindu Manners and Customs” by the French missionary Abbe Jean-Antoine Dubois.

Mills was a journeyman journalist who had never been to India and knew none of its languages; the Abbe had fled the French Revolution to Pondicherry and, after a year in which he made not a single convert, took to going around dressed as a Brahmin to find out why.

Their comically ignorant books presented Indians as religious primitives with a chaos of gods, superstitions, repulsive practices and quaint philosophical beliefs. The impact of the books is evident in countless English books, articles and films that are a Rorschach test of British fears and fantasies about Hinduism. While that helped the East India Company justify its rule of India, it did not facilitate manipulation of Hindus.

A second reason the British never got a grip on the Hindu narrative was that Indian custodians of ancient tradition avoided contact with people they considered mad and mleccha. Those forced into intimacy by economic or political need were of little use in manipulating the community as a whole.

The third factor was the intellectual and moral quality of Indian leadership. From Rammohun Roy in the 18th Century to Vivekananda, Tilak, Gandhi and Ambedkar, there was a formidable and unwavering line of Hindu defense. The British managed to poison inter-caste relations but that did not affect a cultural unity forged over millennia; even at the height of his disgust with high caste bigotry Ambedkar never lost sight of that irreducible reality. When the British tried to create a separate electorate for the lowest castes, seeking to replicate their success in splitting a faction of Muslims from the nationalist mainstream, Gandhi went on a “fast unto death” to prevent it.

This is not to say that the British did not succeed in taking control of the overall Indian narrative by conceptualizing its history in communal terms and by outright fabrications such as the “Aryan invasion theory” postulating an imaginary proto-European parent of Indian civilization. But that was as much self-deception as it was manipulation. In fact, the invention of the “Aryan Race” proved disastrous for Britain: it became the basis for the racist ideology of Nazi Germany and, in one of history’s rich ironies, mobilized under the Swastika the armies that demolished its capacity to hold onto India. Another exercise in self-deception, the bombastic claim that the British had “invented Hinduism,” did not have the least effect on Indians but it blurred British understanding of Indian realities, especially Gandhi’s massive political power.

The only way the British could get a manipulative handle on Hindus was through communal violence, and it is instructive to look at how they managed it.

By the time the British took power in Bengal in 1757, Islam in India had undergone a long process of adaptation. Most notably, it had developed the indigenous Sufi tradition that moved it towards other Indian faiths and indeed, brought it a large Hindu following.

The ruling elites of the country helped that interfaith melding. Shivaji, now an icon for Hindu intolerance, had Muslims at every level in his army and endowed Sufi shrines; Aurangzeb, remembered for his imposition of the hated Jaziya (tax on non-Muslims) and persecution of the Sikhs, also employed people of all religions and extended support for temples.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the easy coexistence of those times more than Netaji Palkar, one of Shivaji’s commanders who joined the Mughal army, converted to Islam, and fought for ten years against the Afghans under the name of Quli Mohammed Khan; after that he returned without fuss to Shivaji's service and Hinduism.

Against that background, it is easy to see why Hindu-Muslim differences were not a factor in the century-long expansion of British rule in India: the treacheries that helped them were within the communities, not between them. The British focus shifted only after the 1857 uprising made clear that their rule could not survive if Hindus and Muslims were to unite in more effective opposition.

To prevent that from happening became a primary aim of Britain's India policy. Initially, it involved no more than playing favorites with patronage to promote elite jealousies. The British were also deft at creating communal distrust. When an important section of the Muslim intelligentsia lost its livelihood because courts in north India stopped using Persian, the British blamed the change on “pressure” from Hindus. That was a laughable proposition in the prevailing circumstances, but it deflected blame and embittered Hindu-Muslim relations. By misrepresenting Hindu protests at the increasing slaughter of cows for British consumption as anti Muslim (at a time when the community, in the Arab-Persian tradition, ate mainly mutton), the regime created an enduring hot-button issue.

Divisive maneuvers became more overt after the Indian National Congress (founded in 1885) began to focus on Hindu-Muslim commonalities.

As the number of Muslim delegates to the annual sessions of the Congress rose from two to 22 percent and leaders like Mohammad Ali Jinnah assumed national prominence, the British split Bengal along communal lines and prompted the formation of the All India Muslim League. A few years later, the shadowy creation of the Hindu Mahasabha gave the British a Hindu proxy as well. Despite their grandiloquent names both were tiny organizations with little political appeal, especially at a time when Hindu-Muslim amity was at an all-time high because of Congress backing for the pan-Islamic Khilafat movement to safeguard the Caliph in the wake of Turkey’s defeat in World War I.

However, the atmosphere changed radically after the Khilafat movement dissolved in the wake of Kemal Ataturk’s abolition of the Turkish Caliphate and the eruption of the “Maplah (Muslim) Rebellion” in Kerala.

The British were clearly behind the Maplah violence in a province where Islam, Christianity and Hinduism had coexisted peacefully for many centuries. The poor and largely illiterate Maplahs were stirred by talk that they would be invulnerable to all weapons in a jihad for a new Caliphate. Although it was supposedly anti-British, their spree of murder and rapine turned against their Hindu neighbors. As I explain in 1001 Things Every Indian Should Know, these developments came in the wake of a major effort by Spymaster John Arnold-Wallinger to expand the assets of the Indian Political Intelligence Office, a coincidence historians have yet to explore.

In the wake of Gandhi’s first great non-cooperation movement in 1920 the British activated important new proxies to carry forward their new divisive agenda.

One was Mohammad Ali Jinnah, just a few years earlier the “Ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity.” He had self-destructed politically within the Congress by eloping, at the age of 42, with the 18-year old daughter of an influential Parsi leader of the party. Although he made not the least pretence of being an observant Muslim, Jinnah became the leader of the League.

On the Hindu side, the British got as proxy the fiery patriot Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who they broke with brutal and degrading torture at the notorious "Cellular Jail" at Port Blair in the Andamans. Months into a 50-year sentence Savarkar wrote a letter pleading for mercy and promised in another to do whatever the British wanted. In 1923 he wrote the tract Hindutva, setting out a Hindu version of the League’s “two nation” theory; it argued that Muslims must submit to the dominance of the Hindu majority. After release in 1924 he lived in a pleasant bungalow the British provided in Ratnagiri and in 1927, despite being a professed atheist, he took over as the head of the Hindu Mahasabha.

Two years earlier, B. S. Moonje, a doctor from Nagpur who had served with the British Army in the Boer War, had established the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (National Self-Service Society). It inculcated strongly anti-Muslim views in idealistic Hindu youth and trained them to become a source of thuggish street muscle to counter the Muslim community's capacity for violence.

With the help of two Godless men at the helm of rival communal organizations, the British then set about ratcheting up the Hindu-Muslim "riots" that destroyed Indian unity. Writing about this period, the American journalist William Shirer noted that it was difficult to find out how many of India’s communal riots “were incited by the British in their effort to keep both communities at each other’s throats so that they could not unite in their drive for self-rule.” He quoted the British Chief of Police in Bombay saying “almost as a joke – that it was very easy to provoke a Hindu-Muslim riot. For a hundred dollars, he said, you could start something really savage. Pay some Muslims to throw the carcass of a cow into a Hindu temple, or some Hindus to toss a dead pig into a mosque, and you could have, he said, a bloody mess, in which a lot of people would be knifed, beaten and killed.”

In Part 2: Partition and Beyond

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Budget That Could Destroy India

If parliament enacts Finance Minister Chidambaram's proposals to liberalize the insurance sector the 2013 Union budget will destroy India.

Entirely ignored by mass media pundits, the proposals are that:
  • Insurance companies be allowed to open offices in all Indian cities without prior approval from government; and
  • Banks “be permitted to act as insurance brokers so that the entire network of bank branches will be utilized to increase penetration.”
What makes those innocuous proposals deadly to Indian nationhood is a bill tabled earlier that would:
  • Allow 49% foreign ownership in Indian insurance companies;
  • Let foreign reinsurers open branches in India; and
  • Specifically allow Lloyds of London to set up operations in India.

In combination, those provisions mean that foreign companies and individuals, including those at the heart of Britain's enormously corrupt financial industry, will be able to collect and dispense money with no oversight or control anywhere in India. In effect, they will bring the global black market into every Indian town and village.

Insurance companies are unique in that they have access to the private details of every covered person and company. In the wrong hands, that information can be grossly misused, to extort, blackmail and manipulate.

Such manipulation was key to British control of India during the colonial era; to enable them to do the same again is to negate the enormous sacrifices of the struggle for independence. It is a betrayal of blood and honor.

The fear that the British will use increased access to the Indian economy to subvert it is firmly founded. As I detail at some length in 1001 Things Every Indian Should Know, Britain has used every opening offered by economic liberalization to do so.

I trace what happened after IMF pressure pushed India into the first market oriented reforms in the early 1980s. One of the new “investment bankers” who arrived in Mumbai at that time was Mark Bullough, a member of the elite Scots Guards unit of the British Army, the traditional foaling pasture for intelligence operatives.

Fresh from the 1982 war in the Falklands, he came to Mumbai as the representative of Hong Kong-based Jardine Fleming, an investment bank with roots in Jardine Matheson, one of the most prominent opium traders of the 19th Century and a company with a reputation for being neck-deep in spooks. (See here for a fascinating blog item by a BBC staffer.)

All kinds of hell broke loose in India during Bullough’s time in Mumbai (followed by stints in Hong Kong and Singapore). Much of what happened was linked to new flows of funds from abroad to violent groups in the country. A brief resume:

1. In the cataclysmic year 1984 anonymous “rich Sikhs” in Britain, Canada and the United States reportedly funded the drive for an independent Khalistan that pushed Punjab into virtual civil war. In June, the Indian Army dislodged terrorists from the Golden Temple; in October, after a call for Indira Gandhi's murder on a BBC show (officially protested by the Indian government), she was assassinated.

2. A month later, an incredible set of multiple safety-system failures at Union Carbide’s chemical plant at Bhopal caused the “world’s worst industrial accident.” It was a clear case of sabotage, meant to implicate a Sikh staffer and set off another round of attacks on the community but the Rajiv Gandhi government went with the accident-due-to-negligence scenario even though the repercussions killed its bid to attract foreign investment to India.

3. A few months later, in June 1985, “Sikh terrorists” operating out of Canada were blamed for blowing up of Air India Flight 182 over British waters as it made its way from Montreal to Delhi, killing all 329 people on board. Canadian prosecutors are still trying to prove the heavily circumstantial case.

4. In 1986 came the “Bofors scandal” manufactured from whole cloth after the Swedish arms manufacturer beat out Britain's BAE Systems to supply field mortars to the Indian Army. The scandal was pure media hype but it destabilized and helped unseat Rajiv Gandhi; in 1991, weeks before his certain return to power, he was assassinated. (India got the Bofors mortars but only after that company was ruined and taken over by BAE Systems.)

5. In 1992 came Harshad Mehta’s stock market manipulations using misappropriated funds from several Indian and four major foreign banks. He generated an enormous flow of funds just as “rich Hindus abroad” were supposedly sending their hard-earned money to Hindutva extremists, making possible the mobilization that led to the demolition of Babri Masjid and the rise of the BJP to power in Delhi. (Interestingly, National & Grindlays, now Standard Chartered, refused to take legal action to try and retrieve its reported loss of $130 million to Mehta.)

6. Mehta's stock frauds, the demolition of the mosque, communal riots in several cities and the 1993 terrorist bombing of the Bombay Stock Exchange, all projected a deeply negative image of India, again blunting the Narasimha Rao government's push to open up the economy to foreign investment.

7. In 1994, a British national, Peter Bleach, was arrested from an aircraft that dropped crates of AK-47s, rocket launchers and ammunition for use by the Ananda Marg, a violent Hindu cult in West Bengal. During his trial in Calcutta on a charge of waging war against the Indian State, his lawyers argued that MI-6 had organized the flight and that Bleach was only a contract employee; they produced a tape recording of a phone conversation to support that claim. Bleach was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2000, but was released in 2004 after persistent representations by the British government culminating in a private chat between Tony Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Advani on the eve of the 2004 Indian general election.

All this underlines that the British cannot be trusted to behave like the normal run of foreign investors in India, especially at a time when a global economic crisis is looming.

Surely, Mr. Chidambaram is aware of all this, so we must interpret his action in one of three ways.
  • He could be driven by ambition -- The Economist mentioned him approvingly as a viable Prime Ministerial candidate;
  • He/they are unable to face down London's demands because they have black money abroad.

In those equations the ordinary people of India are viewed as helpless pawns, as indeed, they are. Only a quantum jump in political awareness can change that.

Unless we do something to bring about that change India will have to win its independence all over again.

P.S: Mark Bullough surfaced in Iraq in 2003 as a partner of Aegis Defense Services, a London based company founded by fellow Scots Guards operative Tim Spicer. It got a $293 million contract to create what was then the largest private army in the world. In August 2010, the Basler Zeitung reported that Aegis Defence Services had moved its base to Basle, Switzerland, and that its partners were Spicer, Bullough, the former British Chief of Army Staff Peter Inge, and two former members of the Foreign Office.