Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Arnab Goswami Got Beaten Like a Drum

It is impossible to evaluate Arnab Goswami's interview of Rahul Gandhi on Times Now just as a journalistic event.

It was more like an encounter in the boxing ring. Specifically, the first Cassius Clay – Sonny Liston fight.

All the prefight publicity was about how Liston, the pug ugly ex-con bruiser would make mincemeat of the young Muhammed Ali; but once the fight began, the older man got beaten like a drum.

Goswami with his bully boy approach to interviewing is a good fit for the Liston role. If rudeness were a crime he would certainly be doing time.

But this time around he seemed on edge, nervous, almost panicked. From beginning to end, he addressed the Congress Party Vice President as “Mr. Rahul Gandhi,” each time followed with “My question to you is.” He must have said it at least a hundred times. At one point, RG referred to himself as “Mr. Rahul Gandhi” in a mocking echo of the interviewer’s obsessive repetition. Goswami seemed not to notice.

The questions themselves were relentlessly inconsequential. At one point he asked “Mr. Rahul Gandhi” if he would apologize for the 1984 attacks on Sikhs in New Delhi. Mr. Rahul Gandhi was then a kid in short pants.

The interviewee didn’t float like a butterfly and sting like a bee but he did land a few solid punches. “That’s ridiculous” he said about Goswami’s theory that he had built up the Aam Admi Party to split the anti-Congress vote. “You haven’t asked me a single question” about India and the Congress Party’s work, he noted as the silly questioning went past the hour mark.

Goswami’s smirking response, that if he wanted to know about that he could “listen to a Rajiv Gandhi speech … this is an interview,” made painfully obvious that he lacks the most basic instinct of a journalist: he does not know what the story is.

Not once did he ask a follow-up question to the important points RG was making about the nature of power in India and his attempt to change the system. Not once in over an hour did Goswami express the least interest in anything substantive.

The producers of the show seem to have had a premonition that their man would bomb, for their visuals were the equivalent of hysterics.

The screen never stopped moving. Two diagonal lines slid continually across it in the background, footer text scrambled and jumped, the screen filled often with the title of the show, Frankly Speaking, and whenever Goswami changed the topic, file footage appeared between the two men: shots of Kalmadi and Sheila Dixit, of Subramaniam Swami and various others.

What will they try next to spice up Goswami's dullness? Brief cutaways to Rakhi Sawant item numbers?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Another Mysterious Death

Tata Motors Managing Director Karl Slym fell to his death from a high floor of a hotel in Bangkok today.

He had gone to attend a board meeting of Tata Motors Thailand.

Slym 51, joined Tata Motors in October 2012 and was said to be steering a critically important turnaround for a company that has been battered in recent years by internal and external problems.

It is possible the intense competition among global companies for the burgeoning Indian car market is a factor in his untimely death.

Before joining Tata Motors, Slym was the Executive Vice-president of a major Chinese car producer, SGMW Motors, a joint venture of the American giant General Motors. Before that, he was president, managing director and board member of General Motors in India between 2007-11.

Prior to that, for over two decades, he was with Toyota and General Motors in a variety of senior positions.

So, if there is a one-armed man in this story, it could be American, Chinese or Japanese.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Coverage of Sunanda Pushkar's Murder

The Press coverage of Sunanda Pushkar’s murder was pretty much obliterated on television by the Aam Admi Party’s shenanigans in New Delhi.

For the most part, the story was reduced to television crawlers highlighting a statement by the victim's 21-year old son that his mother was too strong to commit suicide and that he did not think Shashi Tharoor could have harmed her.

In print, the coverage was decidedly odd.

On 21 January, a Zee News story by Sushmita Dutta had the following lead: “Hours after the autopsy report of Sunanda Pushkar was out and given to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate Alok Sharma by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) stating drug overdose may have caused her death, Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor got a clean chit into the matter based on a witness testimony, police sources said on Monday.”

A Reuters story on the 22nd put the story in the following context: “The drama around Tharoor comes after a series of scandals that have dented the idea of a rising, confident India. The image of an economic juggernaut was undermined last year when growth fell to its lowest in a decade. Politicians have been dogged by allegations of corruption on a spectacular scale, and a grisly gang rape in Delhi at the end of 2012 that sparked huge protests has marred the "Incredible India" slogan meant to draw tourists from around the globe. Even a former Supreme Court judge has been probed over alleged sexual harassment and one of India's most powerful journalists was arrested last month in another sexual assault case.”

The story (without a byline as published), said that “Tharoor may survive politically. He has received backing from the leader of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and sympathy from many politicians. One TV channel called him the "Comeback Kid" for his ability to bounce back from reverses.”

Also on the 22nd, a PTI story was headlined “Shashi Tharoor inseparable, no question of resignation: Congress.” It noted earlier reports that the BJP's Kerala unit had demanded Tharoor’s resignation and that Congress ally NCP had said he should keep away from his ministerial responsibilities until the investigation was over. Congress spokesman Randip Surjewala had told reporters the NCP suggestion “could be personal opinion of NCP leader D P Tripathi. ... Tharoor is in a responsible ministerial position. He is also an inseparable part of Congress. There is no question of his resignation.”

Neither Reuters nor PTI mentioned in those stories what the Economic Times noted in the penultimate paragraph of its small take on the 22nd: that the autopsy report submitted to the investigating magistrate “mentioned more than a dozen injury marks on Pushkar's hands and a minor bruise on her left cheek which could be due to the use of ‘blunt force’". Citing “poisoning” as the cause of death, the magistrate had “asked Delhi police to further investigate the case, including the possibility of suicide and murder.”  

It seems to me the injuries sustained by the victim -- lacerations on the wrists and bruises on her upper body and neck -- are conclusive proof of murder. 

Much of the Press coverage seems to be avoiding that and looking towards a swift finding of accidental drug overdose that will allow business as usual. 

I have known Shashi since he was a child and find it hard to believe that he is capable of murder; but there is no escaping the conclusion that Sundanda Pushkar was forced to ingest the two dozen anti-depressent pills and alcohol that ended her life. 

There are two pointers for those investigating the case. 

One is the Pakistan angle -- his wife thought Tharoor had been having a "rip roaring affair" with Lahore-based journalist Mehr Tarar. Both the principals have denied this, but clearly there was some to and fro across the border. Was the murder to blot out any possibility of an embarrassing security leak? If so, the murderers would be under the authority of the Home Ministry, which is reportedly seeking to hurry the investigation to an end.

The second lead is the fact that  Sunanda Pushkar was preparing for tell-all television interviews about her involvement in the IPL scandal that led to her then boy-friend Tharoor's resignation from the External Affairs ministry. The couple had hotly denied reports they cleared some $15 million from that deal. Whose ox would have been gored if she had revealed another reality?

All this should make quite clear that the investigation into the murder cannot be rushed to a conclusion, and that an independent inquiry is essential.

Pending a resolution it is indefensible for Tharoor to continue in a position of influence in the government. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Reflections on the Khobragade Affair

As the Khobragade affair recedes from the headlines Indians and Americans, especially those outraged by the actions of the other side, need to engage in crisis-level introspection on the moral-political landscape we occupy.

This is necessary because in both India and the United States we are in great danger of losing the national narratives that make us unique carriers of the human future. 


In an atmosphere dank with unscrupulous greed, the Indian power elite seem to have forgotten the lesson of thousands of years of experience: that Truth is the only safe guide in life, that the sole pursuit of material gain can only direct us into ever more delusive and treacherous terrain. The general corruption brought on by that amnesia has seeped into every institution.

The Khobragade affair shows the insidious result.

How could a bright beautiful person like Devyani Khobragade, in the highest quality national service we have, even dream of actions that could bring the accusations the Americans leveled against her? This is not a matter of legal guilt or innocence. Where was her sense of honor?

Honor is a deeply personal matter but it is also of profound national importance. India cannot defend and promote the precious freedom won by the sacrifice of many generations if our elite are without honor. If the private conduct of top politicians and bureaucrats exposes them to blackmail or if they are greedy enough to betray their country for profit, we will not be able to escape Britain’s economic vampires and all our hopes of a fair and just society will be castles in the air.

Honest people considering this situation should know they have the power to change it. The moral tone of our national life reflects the fact that in every institution at every level honest people have responded to the corruption of colleagues by lowering their eyes, choosing not to confront evil because it would disrupt their lives. This is the primary reason why the level of malfeasance is so high in the country. If honest people put their foot down, if the corrupt know their own co-workers will hold them to account we would not need Lokyuktas and prolonged court proceedings to fix guilt or clean out the scum.


In the United States, the Khobragade affair should focus introspection on why law officers pursued a working mother with such fierce zeal while filing not a single criminal charge against anyone at HSBC or Standard Chartered for massive, serious and multi-year violation of American law.

For exaggerating the income of a maid and making her work long hours for low pay, the US Attorney in New York leveled multiple criminal charges against an Indian diplomat who had full immunity.

For allowing $16 trillion (yes, trillion) in bank transfers that included a great deal of money from Latin American drug lords, HSBC was fined. Standard Chartered deliberately ignored American sanctions on Iran to process payments that certainly included funding for terrorists. It too was fined.

In contrast to the public and egregious humiliation of a Dalit woman on an Indian salary that is a pittance by American standards, the White multimillionaires at the British banks got discreet kid glove treatment.

This disproportion is no small thing.

It points to how far the American social and polite elite have taken their society from its place at the forefront of the democratic and egalitarian revolutions in human affairs. The wealthy curled darlings at HSBC and Standard Chartered were just too powerful to be treated equally before the law.


The Khobragade affair has done serious harm to Indo-American relations.

On the Indian side, there is incomprehension of how senior American officials could meet with their Indian counterparts the day before the arrest and not say a word. That has rekindled Cold War era distrust of official America.

In the absence of any explanation or apology, distrust will not be the only lasting element in future Indian responses to the United States. There will be a justified perception that Washington regards India with a degree of self-righteous arrogance that verges on contempt.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Brit Disinformation on Operation Bluestar

The publication in Britain of “top secret documents" from 1984 showing that Indira Gandhi had British help in ousting terrorists from Amritsar’s Golden Temple is a clumsy attempt to manipulate the impending Indian general elections with manufactured history.

The “probe” that Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered into the unprecedented publication of documents from Britain’s spy agency will undoubtedly bring to light more concocted "evidence" that Margaret Thatcher had (as The Guardian reported on 16 January), “supported” Mrs. G after Operation Bluestar.

The Guardian quoted a 30 June 1984 letter from Thatcher to Mrs. G saying Britain supported the unity of India and expressing the hope of a “peaceful and prosperous future” in the Punjab.

As I have reported previously, Thatcher was anything but supportive; on the contrary, she plotted Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination and engaged in repeated attempts to destroy Indian unity. The Brit-Pak supported insurrection in the Punjab during the 1980s ruined the lives of a generation in India’s most prosperous state.

Such duplicity is hardly new in the history of British-Indian relations.

All of colonial history is a tissue of lies, from the hoax “Black Hole of Calcutta” that justified the East India Company takeover of Bengal in 1757 to the engineered bloodletting of “Hindu-Muslim riots” in 1946-1947 that provided the narrative for Partition.

The manipulation of India has continued throughout the post-independence era, facilitated by the willingness of our “elite” English mass media and many politicians to serve as British proxies.

That combination of media and politicians has given a Teflon quality to those willing to wear British livery, allowing them to get away with enormous loot and, perhaps – we shall see from the outcome of the investigation into Sunanda Pushkar’s death – with murder.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Scary Outlook for 2014

Did the recent terrorist bombings in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) result in a Russian threat to strike at Saudi Arabia if the Winter Olympics in Sochi are attacked?

Consider the following sequence:
  1. Last summer, Saudi Security chief Bandar bin Sultan meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek Moscow’s support in Syria and offers, in return, to guarantee the Sochi Winter Olympics against terrorist attacks from “Islamists” in Dagestan. “We control them,” Bandar is reported to have told Putin. The threat only infuriates the Russian President, who proceeds after the meeting to make a deal with Washington that focuses on ridding Syria of chemical weapons. The Sunni-majority country’s Sh’iah president stays in place, foiling Saudi plans.
  2. On 29 and 30 December 2013, there are terrorist bombings in Volgograd (former Stalingrad), some 700 kms from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics are set to begin on 7 February. The attacks are widely seen as an indication that the Games will be targeted.
  3. On 5 January, US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Riyadh for a three-hour meeting at “very short notice” with King Abdullah.
  4. The next day, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal arrives in Pakistan on what Islamabad is at pains to emphasize is a visit long in the planning to discuss the entire range of bilateral and international issues. However, these protestations underline the opposite, that the visit, the first of any high-level Saudi since the election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in June 2012, is in response to sudden, urgent developments.
If we connect the dots, it is hard to avoid the probability – perhaps even the certainty – that Moscow has put Washington on notice it will strike at Saudi Arabia if the Sochi Games are attacked. With Kerry’s trip to Riyadh and Saud’s visit to Islamabad, we can take it the message has been transmitted to the entire terror network.

Whether this will have the desired effect is a matter that should give us all sleepless nights, for war in Asia is just what is needed to pull Europe out of its continuing economic crisis and rescue Britain from its flood of high-rolling black market “investors.”

If the Sochi Games do come under attack and Russia proceeds to take apart the Saudi regime, the entire Middle East will be on the skids, with global repercussions.

We might see Turkey reassert control of the holy places of Islam, which it lost when Britain outflanked and destroyed the Ottoman Empire in the series of manipulations that culminated in World War I.

We might see Saudi Arabia reduced to “an oil company with a flag” status of other sheikdoms of the Gulf.

Depending on how the Sunni-Sh’iah war plays out in the Gulf, we might see a collapse of authority in several countries, affecting a key regional market that has buoyed Chinese exports in a season of faltering growth. 

If the Chinese economy deflates – as it is on the verge of doing anyway – it would send shock-waves radiating to the South-East Asian and Indian economies.

There might be wrenching changes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan equation as both countries are destabilized and Britain seeks a replacement for the ISI to manage terrorist groups running the $60 billion opium-heroin trade.

India, in an election season that seems likely to result in a hung parliament, will seem ripe for the plucking to Brit-Pak adventurers.

Overall, this scary scenario of multiple interlinked instabilities is a 21st Century version of the one that precipitated World War I exactly a hundred years ago.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ashutosh Varshney's NRI View of India

Ashutosh Varshney, an academic at Brown University in the United States, has a new book out, “Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy.”

Judging from what he said at a book release ceremony in Goa yesterday, it is the usual intellectually disreputable NRI product, a mix of Western stereotypes and learned blindness to inconvenient history.

India’s democracy is “improbable” in Western eyes because of the country’s poverty and the expectation (Varshney's citations began with John Stuart Mill), that a country so diverse could not be a nation, much less be subject to democratic governance.

Varshney ascribed the failure of democracy in the great majority of poor countries – over 75% – to a variety of internal factors, not breathing a word about the primary reason, endemic subversion by neo-colonial interests.

In noting Pakistan’s failures he ignored completely the poisonous process of its creation by the British and its ISI enforced servitude as their proxy to disrupt South Asia and the Islamic world.

He cited Indonesia’s failure without a nod to the brutal realities of the Cold War that inflicted on the country a massacre of some 500,000 “communists” and imposed prolonged rule by a military junta backed by Washington.

He was silent on the manipulations of African countries by Britain, France and Belgium that destroyed their infant experiments with democracy and plunged many into murderous tyranny and perennial civil war.

Since the 1990s Africa has painfully extricated itself from many such conflicts and under the Organization of African Unity democracy had become the norm on the continent; but in the last few years, as European neocolonialists have faced crisis at home, they have reversed decades of progress. Varshney is blind to the past and the present.

Similarly, the 1953 British-American coup that destroyed Iran’s homegrown democracy under Mohammed Mossadegh has evidently made no impression on his scholarship.

Varshney has to ignore all this because that is the cost of NRI success in Western academia; what is inexcusable is that in explaining India’s success he ignores completely the country’s millennial tradition of governance directed by concepts of Ramrajya and the constant democratic influence of the major castes even under the most despotic rulers.

He accepts without question the Western claim that its “nations” represent the conceptual default framework essential for democracy.

Western nationhood is the result of armed conquest and the violent molding of all minorities into servitors of an imposed national ideal. Their democracies are a recent historical development that assumed their current liberal character only in the second half of the 20th Century, under the impact of the human rights revolution Gandhi let loose with Satyagraha in South Africa.

In contrast, the Indian nation is the result of a long evolution going back to the compilation of tribal lore into the Vedas that tamped down group conflicts and allowed the emergence of interdependent castes. The Ramayana and Mahabharata mark significant points in that evolution, and over the millennia, Indian polity has shown a remarkable capacity to meet challenges and adapt to new conditions.

Guru Nanak and Kabir initiated the modern Indian renaissance by seeking to break down religious and caste divisions that had emerged during a period of invasion and social decadence. Their success can be judged by India’s massively unitary response to British rule. The only effective response to that upsurge was the enormous and completely unprecedented communal violence the British engineered.

Varshney seems oblivious to this entire history when he terms Jawaharlal Nehru the “father of Indian democracy.” Nehru certainly deserves credit for nursing India into electoral politics, but the essentially democratic spirit of Indian society is of ancient origin.

Indian democracy is not “improbable.” It is our heritage.