Sunday, November 30, 2014

What Mrs. Modi's RTI Filing Implies

Jashodaben Modi’s RTI application to find out what she would be entitled to in the event of the assassination of her husband means only one thing, that people more politically savvy than her, perhaps the Prime Minister himself, has warned of a looming threat.

Where would that threat emerge from and why?

If my conspiracy theory about what happened before the last general elections is right, it is a safe bet that it is linked to Britain’s disappointment at not getting the expected dividends from funding the BJP through Baba Ramdev. 

Since the election, Ramdev has been quietly shown the door in Delhi and London has probably seen the appointment of Manohar Parrikar as Defence Minister as definite indication that its hopes for rich Indian arms contracts will not be realized. General V. K. Singh continues to languish in the outskirts of power and recently had to suffer the humiliation of not being allowed to address an RSS gathering because he had arrived late.

Ramdev’s recent visit with the Prime Minister and the “Z” level security cover he now has, should be seen as confirming this threat analysis.

There is also a larger scenario to keep in mind.

The increased security threats to India dovetail with those to the United States, which has warned that ISIS could get a nuclear weapon.

American peace activists have labeled this “war mongering” and asked who could give ISIS a nuke.

Pakistan would seem the most obvious candidate but Islamabad has little to gain from such a move. The only circumstance that might lead to such action is prompting from London, which created Pakistan as a political/military proxy in 1947 and has controlled it ever since through the ISI, also its creation.

Unlike Islamabad, London has multiple reasons to be interested in a surreptitious nuclear body blow to the United States. Not only has Washington led a punishing campaign against banks engaged in money laundering, Britain’s core business, American shale oil production is a primary cause of the current plummeting price of crude oil, affecting another vital British interest. Britain’s efforts to undermine the global reserve role of the American dollar by promoting the international use of the Chinese Yuan is the most open of its attempts to retaliate.

However, that move has almost no chance of success, given that China’s once booming economy now faces the collapse of a massive real estate bubble fed in the last three years with $6.8 trillion in unproductive investment. (According to a report by two Chinese economists Xu Ce and Wang Yuan published in the state-run Shanghai Securities Journal.)

For the British power elite, the last straw was probably the announcement that president Obama would be Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebration, a move that heralds a shift in the Asian strategic balance that will deeply affect its narco-terrorist interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In such a situation, slipping ISIS a nuke and assassinating the Indian Prime Minister might appear to desperate power brokers in London as the only way to break an irreversible decline. 

The least that India and the United States can do in the current situation is to make clear that such initiatives will expedite a British decline rather than offset it.

It is also critically important for Indians to note that that Mrs. Modi’s RTI filing specifically expresses concern that the assassins will emerge, as they did in the case of Mrs. Gandhi, from within the Indian security establishment.

This should underline the urgent need to bring our intelligence agencies under constitutional control and put in place checks and balances within the system.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Modi Radio Talk Misfires on Black Money

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Mann-ki Baat” (Thinking Out Loud) on Black Money showed his unfamiliarity with the medium of radio.

He spoke as if all his usual visual aids were at work, the grizzled visage, the waving hands, the scornful lip and brow of cold command -- when, in fact, there was only his disembodied voice.

Radio is a medium that forces the listener to focus on meaning and significance, and in that it plays to a traditional Indian strength: we are a people whose genes bear the imprint of the countless generations who, over many millennia, kept alive by word of mouth the Vedas, the Upanishads and the teachings of the Buddha.

That ancestral feat has left Indians with an acute cultural sensitivity to the spoken word, a capacity to separate the wheat from chaff, especially among those who offer themselves up as our leaders.

It is the reason why British propagandists never had any success in India, why Gandhi’s reedy voice was no obstacle to the recognition of his great soul and why Rahul Gandhi today cannot rise in Indian esteem despite the most fervent wishes of his coterie.

Mr. Modi’s earnest third person reference to “this Pradhan Sevak” whose “article of faith” is “that every penny belonging to the poor of India should come back,” sounded tinny and insincere. Especially about the money belonging to the poor.

The problem with money has always been that it has not belonged to the poor. The rich have had exclusive ownership for as long as human memory serves, and no one has seriously contested that point except for Karl Marx and his acolytes, among whom our right-wing PM is an ill fit.

As a public speaker Mr. Modi has formidable prowess but always before in his political career he has been able to stoke communal feelings to appeal to crowds.

As Prime Minister he cannot now count on those supports, and based on the Black Money talk, I would say that he has yet to find a comfortable new metier.

Perhaps it would help if he did not underestimate the intelligence of his national audience.

He could have spoken seriously about the problems of black money, of how it is caused by people unwilling to pay heavy taxes, to see the country as their first priority.

He could have said, “I intend to ease the tax burden so that no one will have an incentive to send money abroad.”

He could have spoken of the national security aspects of having black money: anyone with a stash to protect abroad is at risk of blackmail by those who hold the money.

In that vein he might even have pointed to related realities such as the slavishly colonial attitudes in our “elite” mass media or the communal-provincial identity politics of some A-list “Bollywood” personalities. (Such light mentions can be extremely effective in raising the general level of political consciousness.)

A notable aspect of the talk was that it ignored completely the issue of domestic black money, the stuff that finances political campaigns and greases the wheels of official policies and programs.

By expert estimates it amounts to 90 per cent of wealth hidden from the tax man. Perhaps only economists and journalists have noted that gap now but awareness of it is sure to settle into the general populace, damaging the entire political infrastructure and Mr. Modi’s credibility in particular.

That prospect is unlikely to change if the government continues to deal with black money through police means. “Letters rogatory,” pleas to transnational bankers, and the browbeating of Indian suspects might make the headlines but they are likely to bring few returns.

As Press reports confirm, those efforts have so far resulted in nothing more than a shifting of wealth away from banks.

Where the money has gone is anyone’s guess. There are any number of other holdings out of reach of the taxman, ranging from pricey foreign real estate to diamonds, yachts and even foreign “participatory notes” that allow investors to fudge their real identities.

There is only one way to get every paisa of black money back to India and out of secret domestic coffers. That is by removing its root cause, income tax.

I have argued before in these columns that income tax, both personal and corporate, is an unnecessary burden on society that sits most heavily on the honest.

It is also a major source of corruption within the government bureaucracy, and as already mentioned, a particular weakness in our national security.

On top of all that it is completely unnecessary; the government could easily replace income tax with one on immovable property.

The cherry on top is surely that if India had no domestic income tax every investor in the world would suddenly develop an urgent desire to be here.

It is mystifying that instead of moving towards this win-win solution the Modi government is preparing for stronger and broader enforcement of tax laws.

Or perhaps it's not so mystifying.

Stronger tax enforcement will undoubtedly increase the arbitrary powers of government bureaucrats and bring on-stream new sources of bribery and political extortion.

But in taking that route the government must weigh in balance the further loss of economic freedom for all Indians, and inevitably, of the continued erosion of political liberty.

To sum up the matter as delicately as it has ever been put, I quote one of the few reportedly authentic sayings of Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher: “Rule a great country as you would a small fish” (i.e. do not overdo it).