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Amit Shah’s 50-year dream: Whistling in the dark?

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Amit Shah

Bharatiya Janata Party : President Amit Shah’s boast at the national executive meeting about the party ruling for 50 years may have been in keeping with his usual aggressive, bombastic style, but it has been interpreted in two contradictory ways.

One was to see it as a sign of arrogance and the other was to discern in the seeming extravagant claim a hint of whistling in the dark to keep up the party morale. Both the surmises have an element of plausibility.

If the assertion underlines hauteur, the reason undoubtedly is the BJP’s belief that it faces no serious challenge at the moment. Notwithstanding the continuing unemployment, agrarian distress, high fuel prices, falling rupee, stagnant exports and the unease among the minorities and Dalits, the opposition has not been able to get its act together.

Because of this failure, there are now doubts about how it will fare in the forthcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh since the BJP’s main opponent in these states, the Congress, which was earlier expected to have an easy run, has been unable to reach an understanding with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and is troubled by its familiar internal squabbling.

Besides, the question as to who will be the opposition’s prime ministerial face is yet to be settled while there has been no clearcut articulation of an economic blueprint. The BJP, on the other hand, is pursuing a well-defined path. Even as “vikas” (development) remains its catchphrase, it also cannily indulges in the ruses of what a dissident saffron intellectual and former BJP minister, Arun Shourie, has called a “one-trick pony”.

The “trick”, according to him, is to foment divisiveness which has been highlighted by the communal uncertainties posed by the National Register of Citizens, which the Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, wants to be extended from his state to the entire country so that the “ghuspetiyas” (infiltrators or illegal immigrants) can be summarily evicted. “Chun chun ke nikaloonga”, as Amit Shah has thundered.

The BJP’s confidence apparently stems from the belief that while the promise of development will keep the youth and the middle class on its side — as has been confirmed by the Delhi University Students Union election results where the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), won three of the top four seats — the party’s nationalist plank targeting “ghuspetiyas” and the so-called urban Naxalites will keep the opposition off balance.

It is obvious that the opposition has found no effective answers to the allegations of being soft on illegal aliens and Maoist sympathisers and has to depend on the judiciary to keep any excesses of the ruling party in check as in the matter of lynchings.

How indifferent the BJP is towards such outrages or the disquiet expressed by the “secular” intelligentsia about its rule was evident from the seeming satisfaction which Amit Shah derived from the fact that the party keeps on winning despite the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq, allegedly for eating beef, or the “award wapsi” of the urban elite.

It is not surprising that he believes that a combination of the promise of economic growth and a depiction of the opposition as unpatriotic will keep the “lion” safe from the “wild dogs”, to quote the similes used by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat while addressing the World Hindu Congress in Chicago to describe the Sangh Parivar and its opponents.

On its part, the RSS has been engaged in broadening its appeal by calling the non-saffronites to its conclaves. It goes without saying that a possible mainstreaming of the avowedly pro-Hindu organisation will help the BJP to shake off to some extent the taint in the eyes of its opponents of its association with the RSS and thereby help in the fulfilment of the dream of ruling India for half a century.

It cannot be gainsaid that at the moment, much is going for the party. It has a Prime Minister whose popular appeal is testified by virtually all the opinion polls despite the government’s palpable inadequacies. The party also has a chief whose micromanagement of the organization has turned it into a formidable election-winning outfit.

In addition, its publicity is boosted not only by its members in the government and the party, but also by an army of trolls who lose no opportunity to pounce on the BJP’s critics with venomous abuses. Not to be left behind in supporting the ruling dispensation are some ‘nationalist’ television channels whose commitment to neutrality is conspicuous by its absence.

With so much in the BJP’s favour, its 50-year project may not seem all that far-fetched — except that the Indian voter remains famously inscrutable. Considering that the BJP secured no more than 31 per cent of the votes at the height of its popularity in 2014, it is obvious that a large percentage of the population do not think much of the party.

It may be this inconvenient fact which made Amit Shah whistle in the dark.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])

Analysis

Dealings of European missile manufacture under scanner

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Rafale Fighter Jet

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) A leading European arms manufacturer MBDA, which supplies missiles for the Rafale jets, has come under the scanner of probe agencies here for its suspected links with lobbyist Deepak Talwar, who was extradited from Dubai last month.

The country head of MBDA, Loic Piedevache, has been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate to appear before it on Monday in connection with the probe relating to the company’s links to Talwar, who is believed to have steered several deals with Airbus, which holds a stake in MBDA, during the UPA regime, according to sources.

Infrastructure major Larsen & Toubro had entered into a joint venture with MBDA to supply missiles and missile systems to the Indian armed forces.

L&T holds 51 per cent stake in the joint venture, L&T MBDA Missile Systems, and had identified defence as one of the key drivers for achieving growth in the sector.

The sources claimed that apart from questions on the company’s engagement with the Indian forces, Piedevache would also be questioned on the alleged payments to Talwar’s NGO. Advantage India, to the tune of Rs 88 crore between 2012 and 2015, from MBDA and Airbus.

Later, the entire money was said to have been withdrawn in cash by using “fake purchases”, the sources said.

Analysts said this was probably a rare occasion when the India head of a leading international firm was being summoned by a probe agency.

Piedevache has been heading the company’s operations in India for a decade. The Mirage upgrade programme and Rafale were signed during Piedevache’s tenure in India and he could be privy to information, the sources said.

“If required, the probe agency may also summon group export director Jean-Luc Lamothe. First of all, Piedevache would be asked to explain the company’s payments to Talwar’s NGO,” the sources said.

Piedevache could not be reached for his comments. An MBDA spokesperson said the company would support the authorities in their probe. It maintained that it had supported social development initiatives in India as part of corporate social responsibility, which included some payments to the NGO.

The company is involved in the Rs 30,000 crore offset programme associated with the 36 war planes.

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Analysis

Rupee weakened against $ in choppy weekly trade

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India Rupee

Mumbai, Feb 17 (IANS) In a choppy week’s trade, the Indian currency weakened against the US dollar to close above the 71 a dollar mark on Friday, owing to a sharp rise in crude oil prices, turmoil in the equity markets and uncertainty around the US-China trade relations.

In what could translate into further trouble for the domestic currency, analysts see an upward move of 6 to 7 per cent in the Brent crude prices in the coming week.

The rupee lost heavily towards the end of the week – over 70 paise in the last three trading session – as traders reacted to the sanction on Venezuela and production cut by OPEC and Saudi Arabia.

Sajal Gupta, Head Fx & Rates Edelweiss, said “technically … crude now looks set for another 6-7 per cent rise” which would mean that the rupee was likely to depreciate further in the coming sessions. “And if Rs 71.80 per dollar is broken, we can head towards Rs 72.50 mark.”

Among other factors impacting the currency, Gupta said, with crude and dollar index giving breakout, rupee would remain under pressure. Trade deficit data released on Friday post market was also not very encouraging with monthly deficit touching almost 15 billion dollars.

“Political tensions would also remain heightened with key leaders vowing strong retaliation in wake of the biggest terror attack in the Kashmir valley.”

Explaining the factors which has caused volatility, Anindya Banerjee of Kotak said the currency markets largely depend on the capital flows … and right now the fear of a possible retaliation by the government in response to the Pulwama attack is having an affect.

“The context of the whole event is also important because (Lok Sabha) elections are around the corner,” Banerjee said.

Also, the currency losing against the dollar and rising crude oil prices was a double whammy for the bond markets, he added.

On the global front, discussing the factors affecting the currency, Banerjee said, the Chinese economy was very fragile right now and moreover investors were looking for developments in the US-China trade talks.

However, Gurang Somaiya, currency analyst, Motilal Oswal, felt that the rupee was protected from any major weakness as “Foreign Institutional Investment (FII’s) came around good”, especially in February.

According to data from the bourses, FII has seen inflows worth Rs 1,096 crore in February.

India on Friday revoked the Most Favoured Nation Status (MNS) of Pakistan and has warned that more stern actions will follow the attack in Pulwama. Additionally, equity markets have declined for 6 straight sessions showing weak investor sentiments.

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Analysis

Fake Operations – Column: Spy’s Eye

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FBI

A national Intelligence organisation — like that of India — earns the respect of the countrymen because it helps the State in discharging its sovereign function of safeguarding national security, stays completely non-partisan and establishes a method of working that is secretive but never crooked. Since security, by definition, is protection against a scheming adversary resorting to a ‘covert’ attack, the counter-intelligence effort relies on tradecraft techniques perfected with professional training – like surveillance, infiltration into the enemy’s camp, communication monitoring, raising human sources and carrying out an interview under ‘cover’. The adversarial entity has to be identified and then targeted keeping in view the aim that security by definition is preventive – if there is therefore the danger of an enemy infiltrating its vanguard into the country clandestinely, these ideally have to be picked up right at the point of entry.

For this a lot of effort is made round the clock by operational teams to garner intelligence about the identity and location of ‘enemy’ agents. Intelligence operators could try to ‘turn in’ a member of the adversary’s set up or ‘plant’ a person of their own trust there. The results are never easy to get but the intelligence agency is prepared to ceaselessly slog for getting access to the plans and activities of a ‘real’ enemy. A professional and upright intelligence organisation goes for the hard targets and does not fall for the temptation of somehow creating an illusion of success for credit in the eyes of the political masters — by manufacturing a narrative of threat without establishing the presence of an ‘enemy’.

If this is done by fabricating a ‘trap’ by way of creating a fake university for getting unsuspecting individuals — who could not, by any stretch of imagination, be described as ‘enemy agents’ — to land in the country for joining that educational institution and then hauling them up as unlawful people precisely on the ground of being in a fake institution, this is a rogue operation and not an intelligence effort. The criminality here would be on the shoulders of the phoney entity and its creators alone and not on the victims of the ‘fraud’ committed by the former.

Imagine the shock that the people across the democratic world would feel over the recent media reports to the effect that the Homeland Security agents in the US apparently in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — both are a part of the US Task Force against Terrorism — have rounded up hundreds of Indian students precisely in this way and tried to claim it as a great operation designed to detect infiltration into US. India has sent a demarche to the US Embassy in Delhi questioning this action and the Indian Embassy in Washington has intervened to help the imperilled students but this raises serious questions about the spurious operations and unethical ways of some lead agencies engaged in counter-intelligence work.

The Trump regime had no doubt taken a serious view of illegal migrations and fraudulent entry of outsiders into the US from countries which traditionally posed a threat to the American security. But are the American intelligence agencies totally oblivious of the complete convergence that India and US had achieved on security matters or are they so desperate about creating an impression of being pro-active after their Chiefs had run into problems with President Trump that they wanted to secure ‘results’ through such dubious means?

The ‘University of Farmington’ based in Michigan was reportedly created two years ago by undercover agents of Homeland Security and its head — one Ali Milani — wrote letters to the prospective students imploring them to come to his university, getting in this questionable manner more than a hundred Indian students on its rolls during this period with the help of a gang of recruiters. The Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is now treating these students as a prize catch to prove its great work against ‘illegal’ immigration. It should have targeted the fraudulent intermediaries, something it did not do precisely because it had connived with them for ‘operational’ reasons.

The blind pursuit of Indian students is incongruous with the facts of the case. First, does the Homeland Security consider India as an adversary that would pump in its ‘agents’ into the US to indulge in unlawful missions there like some hostile neighbours and countries breeding Islamic radicals would possibly do? Secondly, considering the known keenness among Indian students to study in American universities with the legitimate objective of receiving higher education and jobs, the entrants would have responded to the ‘invite’ from this fake university with enthusiasm and come in only on legal travel documents.

In case a fake university was created by a fraudulent group outside of the government, it would have been the responsibility of the FBI to unearth that activity before any entrants were trapped but in this case a US government agency itself was the creator of an illegal entity, spending a whole lot of time, energy and funds to set it up just to be able to show that they had caught some Indian students on the wrong foot. Even if some students might have suspected the credentials of the university they would rightly expect the US government to deal with any irregularities about the institution they had joined in. But in this case, US undercover agents themselves were behind a university that fronted a trap operation. This is neither a good intelligence effort nor a worthwhile national security mission.

In any case, India should strongly object to this offending move of US agencies and treat it as an affront to its national standing. Is it possible that this is a deliberate act of Ali Milani to put India at par with those nations that had received adverse attention of President Trump and thus spoil Indo-US relations? The US policy makers should be interested in closely auditing the output of the country’s agencies entrusted with counter-intelligence work. The FBI should be concentrating on spurious institutions run by unlawful elements on its soil. Becoming a party to an operation meant to entice students to a fake university established by agents of the government themselves does not add up to a legitimate intelligence work in this case.

The FBI and other intelligence agencies, it is presumed, would be focusing on detection of sleeper cells of terrorists in the US that were posing a greater threat than before because of the unsuccessful ‘war on terror’. The danger had further increased with the known use of social media by the adversary for spreading radicalisation. The Commission on 9/11 had brought out many failings of US intelligence particularly, the inadequacy of follow up on signals that had indicated presence of radical aliens on American soil. American agencies can hardly afford not to devote all their time and resources to the serious threats to the security of US from terrorists and clandestine infiltrators. Violations of immigration laws and procedures can be detected — without resort to devious trap operations — through a professionally competent intelligence-based endeavour.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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