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Vajpayee: A man of moderation who raised India’s global stature

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Atal Behari Vajpayee

New Delhi, Aug 16: He was a man of moderation in a fraternity of jingoistic nationalists; a peace visionary in a region riven by religious animosity; and a man who believed in India’s destiny and was ready to fight for it.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93), who died on Thursday, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country’s political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term.

Even though he lived the last 13 years of his life in virtual isolation, dogged by debilitating illnesses and bedridden, he has left an enduring legacy for the nation and the region where he was much loved and respected across the political spectrum and national boundaries, including in Pakistan.

In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world’s largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion. In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics.

He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.

After despairing for years that he would never become Prime Minister and was destined to remain an opposition leader all his life, he achieved his goal, but only for 13 days, from May 16-28, 1996, after his deputy, L.K. Advani, chose not to contest elections that year.

His second term came on March 19, 1998, and lasted 13 months, a period during which India stunned the world by undertaking a series of nuclear tests that invited global reproach and sanctions.

Although his tenure again proved short-lived, his and his government’s enhanced stature following the world-defying blasts enabled him to return as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13, 1999, a tenure that lasted a full five-year term.

When finally he stepped down in May 2004, after an election that he was given to believe he would win, it marked the end of a long and eventful political career spanning six decades.

Vajpayee had gone into these elections riding a personality cult that projected him as a man who had brought glory to the nation in unprecedented ways. The BJP’s election strategy rested on seeking a renewed mandate over three broad pillars of achievement that the government claimed — political stability in spite of the pulls and pressures of running a multi-party coalition; a “shining” economy that saw a dizzying 10.4 percent growth in the last quarter of the previous year; and peace with Pakistan that changed the way the two countries looked at each other for over 50 years.

The results of the elections could not have come as a greater shock to a man who was hailed for his achievements and who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 influential men of the decade.

Success didn’t come easily to the charismatic politician, who was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, into a family of moderate means. His father was a school teacher and Vajpayee would later recall his early brush with poverty.

He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into public limelight.

His first entry into Parliament was in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It was only in 1971 that he won a Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the lower house seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice.

Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975 and put her political opponents in jail. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the foreign minister.

The lowest point in his career came when he lost the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, that too from his birthplace Gwalior, after Rajiv Gandhi won an overwhelming majority following his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination. And the BJP he led ended up with just two seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha, in what looked like the end of the road for the right-wing party. In no time, Vajpayee was replaced and “eclipsed” by his long-time friend L.K. Advani.

Although they were the best of friends publicly, Vajpayee never fully agreed with Advani’s and the assorted Hindu nationalist groups’ strident advocacy of Hindutva, an ideology ranged against the idea of secular India. Often described as the right man in the wrong party, there were also those who belittled him as a moderate “mask” to a hardline Hindu nationalist ideology. Often he found his convictions and value systems at odds with the party, but the bachelor-politician never went against it.

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee — one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it — that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum. It was this trait that made him the Prime Minister when the BJP’s allies concluded they needed a moderate to steer a hardliner, pro-Hindu party.

He brought into governance measures that created for India a distinct international status on the diplomatic and economic fronts. In his third prime ministerial stint, Vajpayee launched a widely acclaimed diplomatic initiative by starting a bus service between New Delhi and Pakistan’s Lahore city.

Its inaugural run in February 1999 carried Vajpayee and was welcomed on the border by his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was suspended only after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that nearly led to a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The freeze between the two countries, including an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border for nearly a year, was finally cracked in the spring of 2003 when Vajpayee, while in Kashmir, extended a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan. That led to the historic summit in January 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad — a remarkable U-turn after the failed summit in Agra of 2001. Despite the two men being so far apart in every way, Musharraf developed a strong liking for the Indian leader.

His unfinished task, one that he would probably rue, would be the peace process with Pakistan that he had vowed to pursue to its logical conclusion and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

He was not known as “Atal-Ji”, a name that translates into firmness, for nothing. He could go against the grain of his party if he saw it deviate from its path. When Hindu hardliners celebrated the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, he was full of personal remorse for the apocalyptic action and called it — in a landmark interview to IANS — the “worst miscalculation” and a “misadventure”. He even despaired that “moderates have no place — who is going to listen to the voice of sanity?”

In his full five-year term, he successively carried forward India’s economic reforms programme with initiatives to improve infrastructure, including flagging off a massive national highway project that has become associated with his vision, went for massive privatisation of unviable state undertakings despite opposition from even within his own party.

While his personal image remained unsullied despite his long innings in the murky politics of this country, his judgment was found wanting when his government was rocked by an arms bribery scandal that sought to expose alleged payoffs to some senior members of his cabinet. His failure to speak up when members of his party and its sister organisations, who are accused of killing more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat, was questioned by the liberal fraternity who wondered aloud about his secular proclamations. He wanted then Chief Minister — now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — to take responsibility for the riots and quit but was prevailed upon by others not to press his decision.

A day before his party lost power, Vajpayee was quoted as saying in a television interview that if and when he stepped down he would like to devote his time to writing and poetry. But fate ruled otherwise. The man who once rued that “I have waited too long to be Prime Minister” found his last days in a world far removed from the adulation and attention — though across the nation people prayed for his well-being — surrounded only by care-givers and close family whom he even failed to recognise.

IANS

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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15 lakh salaried employees with PF a/c’s stuck with toxic IL&FS bonds

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EPFO

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) A new threat looms large for the government in an election year. A spanking new but restive community of salaried employees is concerned about its money deposited with the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

At the cutting edge of the ever burgeoning IL&FS crisis, these employees are exposed to toxic investments. Most of these Employee Provident Funds and Employee Pension Funds have stated that the IL&FS resolution plan must provide repayment before secured creditors as the resolution framework proposed by the company doesn’t provide for any payment to secured creditors.

A sense of panic has crept in. They have collectively invested thousands of crores of rupees in IL&FS bonds. Many say that the resolution framework must balance interest of all stakeholders. Others have also challenged Sec 53 of the payment schedule distribution process as it doesn’t address public and social interest. Since these are tradeable instruments, the exact quantum is not known, but investment bankers estimate it to be in thousands of crores since the infrastructure company’s bonds – which were ‘AAA’ rated – were preferred by retirement funds that have a low-risk appetite but still have to get assured returns even when interest rates are low.

The growing discontent is across some of the blue chip Indian corporates. Some of these that have filed an intervening petition with the tribunal, thereby impleading themselves in this gargantuan case on how to run a corporate into the ground, include Apco Infratech, Apco, Titan, Asian Paints PF, Asian Paints Management Cadre Superannuation scheme, Aditya Birla Sun Life MF, Thomas Cook PF, Titan Watches, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), M & M PF, Himami, Bajaj Finance, Hindalco EPF, Max Financial Services PF Trust, IDBI Trusteeship Services Ltd, IndusInd Bank, Hudco Employees CPF, MMTC CPF, 63 Moons, Nayara Energy EPF, Indian Oil Corp, ITPO, CIDCO, SBI PF, GUVNL PF, Ambuja Cement, HDFC AMC, IREDA among others.

The size, scope and magnitude of these companies is self explanatory – HUL, Asian Paints, Hindalco and M & M from the private sector, IOC, SBI and MMTC from the PSU sphere and HDFC AMC and Aditya Birla Sun Life from the mutual fund industry, virtually imperilling India Inc and most importantly dragging the financial savings of lakhs of salaried employees.

The employee provident funds of various companies and other entities had invested in IL&FS bonds and bond holders are unsecured and may or may not get paid in the ongoing crisis at IL&FS. In any case, they are seen pretty much last on the priority list. Over 75 companies and their PFs have filed an intervening petition before the appellate court to seek directions and instructions on repayment to unsecured creditors.

As many as 15 lakh salaried employees across different sectors are caught in this ticking time bomb and the number is only likely to go up as the true extent of the malaise is known and understood. Till September last year, Indian rating agencies, not realising that IL&FS was set to implode, were giving Triple A rating to the bonds. With elections around the corner, this new expose will further polarise debate. After all it is salaried employees who are now staking claim to their hard-earned monies.

In fact, in the intervening petition filed by IndusInd Bank, they have categorically asserted that the top five creditors of IL&FS were not consulted in the resolution plan. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, senior counsel, with Diwakar Maheshwari, Avishkar Singhvi and Shreyas Edupuganti appeared for IndusInd Bank. Similarly, Abhishek Anand and Anant Pavgi appeared for Federal Bank while Vikram Hegde appeared for IREDA and Priya Puri appeared for Indian Oil Corp.

Abhishek Singhvi, Arun Kathpalia, Abhinav Vashisht, Amrendra Saran, Rajiv Datta appeared on behalf of the intevener (financial creditors or operational creditors or other secured creditors). The NCLAT order of February 11 allowed the intervening applications filed by them. Furthermore, other intervenors and parties who intend to file impleadment application were allowed before the next date – which is March 12, 4 p.m.

BOX Section 53 of IBSC

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law enacted by Parliament or any State Legislature for the time being in force, the proceeds from the sale of the liquidation assets shall be distributed in the following order of priority and within such period and in such manner as may be specified, namely:

(a) the insolvency resolution process costs and the liquidation costs paid in full;

(b) the following debts which shall rank equally between and among the following:

(i) workmen’s dues for the period of 24 months preceding the liquidation commencement date; and

(ii) debts owed to a secured creditor in the event such secured creditor has relinquished security in the manner set out in section 52;

(c) wages and any unpaid dues owed to employees other than workmen for the period of 12 months preceding the liquidation commencement date;

(d) financial debts owed to unsecured creditors;

(e) the following dues shall rank equally between and among the following:

(i) any amount due to the Central Government and the State Government including the amount to be received on account of the Consolidated Fund of India and the Consolidated Fund of a State, if any, in respect of the whole or any part of the period of two years preceding the liquidation commencement date;

(ii) debts owed to a secured creditor for any amount unpaid following the enforcement of security interest;

(f) any remaining debts and dues;

(g) preference shareholders, if any; and

(h) equity shareholders or partners, as the case may be.

(2) Any contractual arrangements between recipients under sub-section (1) with equal ranking, if disrupting the order of priority under that sub-section shall be disregarded by the liquidator.

(3) The fees payable to the liquidator shall be deducted proportionately from the proceeds payable to each class of recipients under sub-section (1), and the proceeds to the relevant recipient shall be distributed after such deduction.

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Indus Water Treaty : Experts split on checking water flow to Pakistan

Hawks say a tough action must include short and long term steps, including the raising of the water storage capacity by building more dams and optimum use of water in the Indian side.

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indus water treaty

New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) Amidst calls for acting tough in the wake of the terror attack on CRPF convoy in Pulwama on Thursday, experts bat for “stopping” water to Pakistan from the west and east flowing rivers, like Indus and Beas. However, others doubt possibility of such an action.

Hawks say a tough action must include short and long term steps, including the raising of the water storage capacity by building more dams and optimum use of water in the Indian side.

At present, “more than the surplus” waters of these rivers are flowing into Pakistan, says M.S. Menon, a retired Water Resources Ministry top official, who had handled the Indus Water Treaty for long. He said tightening of the provisions on water release to Pakistan was possible.

“We have to develop capacity for consuming more water. For that, there should be more investment in storage dams to be constructed. There is a lot of water in Jhelum, Chenab and Indus that can be used very much domestically,” he said.

Under the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan, control over the water flowing in three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and Sutlej with the mean flow of 33 million acre feet (MAF) — was given to India. While control over the water flowing in three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum with the mean flow of 80 MAF — was given to Pakistan.

More controversial, however, were the provisions on how the waters were to be shared. Since Pakistan receives more water flow from India, the treaty allowed India to use western river waters for limited irrigation use and unrestricted use for power generation, domestic, industrial and non-consumptive uses like navigation, floating of property and fish farming, while laying down precise regulations for India to build projects.

But another retired official, who as the Indus Commissioner in the ministry had handled the subject for nearly two decades, said stopping water to Pakistan was not possible. “I don’t think anything like that is possible. Water flows naturally. You can’t stop it,” he said adding there are international treaty obligations India has to implement.

The former official said this issue has been discussed in the past but people make such demands because of an emotional situation.

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