Tuesday, June 28, 2016


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

After getting a bloody nose from China at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary in Seoul (South Korea) last week, it is not only India’s ambition to get a foot in the door of the 48-member club that has been shattered. It has also put the red flag on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s overreaching diplomacy. It clearly emerged that his diplomacy is high on jet miles but modest on finesse. On the eve of the plenary, the Prime Minister hopped across five capitals in four days and pressed the octogenarian President, Pranab Mukherjee, to keep pace with him across different destinations. Modi’s picture with Chinese president Xi Jinping at Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, hours before the Seoul meet, made headlines in India as if the “deal” is clinched. But when the crunch came, China did not shift the breadth of a hair from its consistent position that no country staying out of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) could claim NSG membership.

But it is not just that China remained frosty to Modi. Following the plenary, it appears that some countries that Modi recently visited, with an impression given that there had been a change of heart, actually proved steely in their rejection of India’s case as a non-NPT aspirant. And so were New Zealand and Austria, both regarded as US allies. Even Modi’s charm failed to swing Switzerland. Nor was there any proof that a Skype call from White House would work wonders. It seems Modi and his team was somewhat lacking in the fast-changing dynamic of power with the US no more the last word as it used to be in 2008. The US signed the civil nuclear deal with India then and gave it a one-time waiver to participate in nuclear trade with NSG countries. But even that advantage was short-lived. What was considered a feather in Manmohan Singh’s cap in 2008 under Republican Bush faded  fast by a wave of amendments made to NSG guidelines in 2011. One of them banned trade in enrichment and reprocessing with any country which is not a signatory to NPT.

Enrichment of uranium, from its natural form to the fissile isotope uranium 235 and reprocessing technology form the core of using nuclear energy for making weapon as well as generating electricity. By banning transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology, the 2011 amendments virtually negated the spirit of the 2008 Indo-US civil nuclear deal. It hinged on the US ‘trusting’ India that it would not stoop to divert fissile fuel from power reactors to making nuclear weapons. The amendments came after President Barack Obama had taken charge in the US, after President George W. Bush. There was no protest from Washington against NSG amendments, which again suggests a marked loss of real interest in the US in the treaty with India signed by the previous Republican presidency.

Added to that is the irresistible rise of China as a global superpower, a fact that the Modi administration failed to factor in while thinking it has got US support in its pocket. Modi visited the US four times after becoming prime minister, but it was China that correctly plumbed the depth of Indo-US relations and knew America wouldn’t raise hell if it stopped India at the NSG door. In stark contrast, when the Indian Army liberated Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, the US, then Pakistan’s godfather, got its Seventh Fleet sailing down to the Bay of Bengal yet it did not fire a single shot as it was fully aware of the former Soviet Union’s commitment to Indira Gandhi. Developing real close ties with the US, or any big power, for that matter, is certainly more challenging that holding its leader in a bear hug, or sitting with him on a swing in one’s home state. Diplomacy is a lot more than just photo-op.

Besides, the one-time waiver that President Bush had gifted to India was good enough for the moment as it enabled India to lawfully shop around for advanced reactors from Russia, US, France, Japan or Britain for peaceful purposes. Of course these will be under international safeguards. But where is the problem if we are not pinching plutonium from them to make weapons? Of what value is NSG membership then, other than gaining respectability?

The drive shown by Modi in foreign policy could be better employed, perhaps, in winning friends at home. His government is into its third year but, barring liberalization of FDI, there is not a single mega reform initiated. Of course, Modi is trying his best to simplify procedures and rules. But can the posterity will remember his regime in the same way as the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh regime is remembered for ending the “licence permit raj”. The effect of Modi’s dramatic clinching of majority in the lower House in 2014 is fading away in the wake of a bitter row between Arun Jaitley, his finance minister and confidante, and maverick MP Subramaniam Swamy. Though Modi’s own graph remains high. But his government’s image is taking a beating due to various domestic factors.

The drive and energy Modi has displayed in foreign relations, though admirable per se, were better invested if he had won back the party, including the sullen faces that enjoy his trusted finance minister’s public humiliation. That alone would have won him the trophy of GST a year ago, making possible seamless trade on almost uniform tariff across a nation of 28 states. It is as bold a reform as abolition of licence-permit raj, and certainly more honourable than jetting across the planet to finally have the door of NSG slammed on the face.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Uranium problem? Thorium solution

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

India's nuclear malady is a spin-off from global politics. After 2004, it became clear that, for evolved democracies like the US, it is no longer possible to send troops to foreign lands, the political price of even a single citizen's life being unbearably high. So, with the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in the background, the American leadership began paying a lot of attention to fixing the riddle canon that is South Asia, and specially that of India.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rahul Gandhi elevation deferred again

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group


Rahul Gandhi elevation deferred again

No AICC session for now

New Delhi, June 14

The anointment of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president is understood to have been delayed again; so it seems. Though clamour for Rahul's elevation is growing in the party. But it has now been delayed again. 

Highly placed sources in the Congress say that the AICC session to elevate party’s vice president to the president’s post, will not be held at least for the next two months.

“The AICC session may now be held sometime in August end or September,” said a senior party functionary on the condition of anonymity.

These sources say that no useful purpose will be served by elevating Rahul Gandhi as he is already taking major decisions in the party. What Rahul Gandhi has lately realized that the team he trusted during the past two years did not deliver. Madhusudan Mistry who was even rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat failed to infuse confidence within the UP unit of the party. The bitter battle with the BJP and other parties is being fought in UP and Mistry was unable to coordinate with Prashant Kishore, Rahul’s strategist.

The return of Ghulam Nabi Azad as incharge of UP and Kamal Nath for Haryana and Punjab signals that Rahul had to fall back on Sonia Gandhi’s loyalists only.

Rahul has realized that the Haryana Congress unit is in disarray particularly after the huge set back in the Rajya Sabha polls. He also  knows that party will be crippled without Bhupinder Singh Hooda who was Chief Minister for ten years. Though it is clear that 13 MLAs allegedly close to Hooda used a different marker pen to cast their votes. But the situation has to be retrieved.

Since Kamal Nath has never been Rahul Gandhi favourite  and had been dumped by him during the past two years, his sudden rehabilitation signals that Sonia Gandhi is playing more active role.

Kamal Nath is senior to Hooda and rather had helped him when the latter needed him. Similarly, Kamal Nath will have to keep Capt Amrinder Singh under check. He becomes uncontrollable. Kamal Nath has been his Doon school buddy and original Rajiv Gandhi era friends. The high command is aware that Congress is capable of winning Punjab and doesn’t want to wither away the prospects.

These sources say more changes may be in store in the party and general secretary C P Joshi who handled Assam elections may be given another responsibility. It seems that the party wants to focus on ensuing Assembly polls in five states early next year rather than elevating one Gandhi with another.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Good-bye, hesitations of history

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Narendra Modi, after being elected Prime Minister two years ago, finished his fourth visit to the US last week amid an impressive address to a joint session of the US Congress; he was the sixth Indian leader after Jawaharlal Nehru to be accorded the honour. It was topped up with a reception in his honour by the Senate and House foreign relations committees and the India Caucuses in the House and the Senate. This being the election year in America, Barack Obama, the outgoing President, who struck up a good personal rapport with Modi, the duo have certainly taken the Indo-US relations to a hitherto unachieved height. It goes well beyond the "strategic partnership", to an emotional level where one friend understands the difficulties of the other. In his address to US Congress, Modi tellingly said that "our relations have overcome the hesitations of history", and "through the cycles of elections and transitions of Administrations the intensity of our engagement has only grown".

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

So it looks like the time for Rahul Gandhi has arrived! There are two reasons why it cannot wait anymore. First, though the Congress has given a general impression of stolidity after its recent defeat in Kerala and Assam, the mood of its senior leaders is unpredictable. After Assam, a wave of exodus from the party is in the offing in various states. In Chhattisgarh, the exit of Ajit Jogi signals a grave development for the Congress.

A further twist to the plot came with veteran leader Digvijaya Singh speaking of the need for a “deep surgery” in the party. Its a metaphor that, in the context of Congress party, can only imply an alleged dysfunction in its reigning ‘family’. It got the party so rattled that Kamal Nath, a politician known to hold his cards close to his chest, readily appeared on a Karan Thapar TV interview to erase the notion that there could really be something amiss in the party. There is no possibility of a “surgery”, Nath reassured and Rahul Gandhi would take charge of the party in “due course”.

It is clear that the party does not have much time on hand. Elections to Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa fall due early next year, and with that will the curtain be rung up for the general elections in 2019. While all the five states going to poll next year are crucial, Uttar Pradesh is the bellwether for the two so-called national parties, BJP and Congress, as it represents the heart of north India. In the south, accounting for 131 of India’s 543 Lok Sabha seats, state parties seem firmly in the saddle everywhere except in Kerala, where too the Congress seems in terminal disarray. In east India, BJP is far from blooming; its recent electoral victory in Assam hinged on the support of regional groups. Elsewhere, politics is strictly regional, be it in Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and the smaller NE states. And, with a power vacuum emerging in both Congress and BJP across western India, the contest actually boils down to the battle for Uttar Pradesh. In 2014, Narendra Modi grabbed 73 Lok Sabha seats in the state because his doughty campaign, and over-arching appeal that rose above castes (though not communities). Though his success was limited in eastern and southern India, he won most of the Lok Sabha seats as he could conquer the north Indian roadblock of caste. In Uttar Pradesh Modi’s candidates won the votes of both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav in large numbers. It was much like the triumph of Indira Gandhi in 1971 or Rajiv Gandhi in 1985—the two other elections in recent times where votes were cast in response to a sense of national exigency.

If Congress has to return to power in 2019, its moment of truth is now. It must test if a member of its ‘first family’ is capable of creating, across a mini-India like Uttar Pradesh, the same over-arching appeal as in 1971, 1985 or 2014. If the experiment succeeds then, from a shockingly low of 44 as in 2014, it can hope to recover to 200 or even more. But numbers short of that can at best raise coalition hopes. It’s of little use as BJP can easily beat it at the game, given the huge resources at its command. In 2004, the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost power as, after the Gujarat riots of 2002, other parties deserted BJP. Modi regained Vajpayee’s baton decade later by appealing directly to the people, not to political bosses with a war chest unheard of in electoral history.

The Congress has only two cards: Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra. Is Rahul competent to ride a wave of hope and dreams? Party elders are not sure, whatever they may say in public as loyal followers of the ‘high command’.  Rahul and Amarinder Singh were not on the best of terms till the other day, but now Singh is suddenly back in Rahul’s favour. The party vice president had ignored the sober advice of many Kerala leaders to remove corruption-tainted Oomen Chandy and octogenarian Tarun Gogoi in Assam from chief minister’s post. But he did not listen, and the lapse cost his party dearly and reignited the BJP with a win in  Assam. The blunder was costly for the Congress. But Rahul remains unruffled as he feels politics is a wheel and what goes up has to come down. Modi sold dreams in 2014 and he cannot repeat the same in 2019. He is bent upon cleansing his own party and wants to run it like a corporate house. He believes that there is no permanent “loyalty” in politics. He is willing to wait for a longer time that what political pundits think, five years or even ten years. But his ageing Party leaders are in a hurry.   

Therefore, the clamour for Priyanka is mounting.  It is no wonder that BJP has sniffed it right and working hard for a “Congress (read Family) Mukt Bharat”. The BJP is digging up Robert Vadra’s alleged links with an land and arms dealers. In the Uttar Pradesh election, if the coin flips in Priyanka’s favour, it should be the forerunner of the Grand Old Party being on the march with a new icon, that of Priyanka Gandhi, whom many old-timers compare to her illustrious grandmother, at least in her looks. It’s a different matter that Rahul is not giving up.

Be it Priyanka or Rahul, either of the Gandhi children,  they cannot be pinned down to any major caste or community group. The Gandhis will therefore carry a larger gamut of following than BJP as they are ready to play a second fiddle to like-minded regional parties.