Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why they attacked Mumbai...

The attack on Mumbai is having its political fallout at this moment. It will continue till at least the general elections around March 2009. Perhaps I should worry about that, but frankly, both the BJP and the Congress have proved to be bunches of dickheads when it comes to matters of national security. There's little to choose between the two. The only difference is in the noises they make.
So my concern is more about who launched this attack and why. Several observers are saying it was Lashkar-e-Toiba with al Qaeda strategising. A few are saying ISI and Pak army - their SSG commandos. On Thursday and Friday, I was telling folks in office it's the former, but today, in light of more information, I'm more inclined to think it's the latter or an amalgamation of both. This was most likely strategised by elements in the Pakistan establishment. Training was excellent, Pak army. Execution - we'll know soon, for sure.
My initial hunch was this was done to ease pressure from the al Qaeda on the Pak-Afghan border, besides hurting India, and other countries hated by Pak extremists, like USA, UK, Israel. However there are other strategic factors that also may have played into this.
The Pakistan military is worried about the possible balkanisation of the country, and those fears have grown since the appearance of maps put out by US agencies showing exactly this. The US's recent National Intelligence Committee report questioning whether Pakistan would hold together until 2025, and talking of the erasure of the Durand Line, can't have done much to ease the worries of those chaps. In early November, maps also appeared on billboards in NWFP that showed a free Pashtunistan. Wonder who put those up - the moderate, nationalist Pashtuns or friends of the Taliban?
The Taliban is looking for a homeland, but in whose interest is it to give it to them? Is Mumbai the first point on a trajectory that will lead to a war which will see either the creation of a new country between Afghanistan and Pakistan or the fall of Kabul?
I have no access to information to be able to analyse this properly, and no time after my day job to give it a proper go. However, those who do may perhaps ponder deeper into the matter. And do let me know what your thoughts on this are.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Watch out for more trouble

It doesn't take a genius to point out that this country, like much of the world, is living once again through troubled times. Perhaps we do need to take proper stock, however, of the size and number of problems facing the country at present.

There's the so-called 'meltdown'. It is apparently quite bad, the Sensex is down to less than half its highest-ever peak of a year ago. It is making some people - about 3-4 per cent of the population, at most - less rich.

There's the Marathi vs 'North Indian' in Mumbai. This is more serious and has greater long-term consequences. It affects more people directly; it also spreads and hardens sentiments of regionalism and parochialism around the country. The Bihari who is beaten up in Mumbai goes back and attacks trains in Bihar. Marathis there are no longer safe. The virus can easily spread further afield, as chauvinists everywhere learn by example and apply the same methods in their own areas of influence. So Bangalore and Chennai and even Ahmedabad could see similar movements. Similar things have of course happened in Assam and across Northeast India in the past, and it will be no surprise if they recur. In fact the Gorkhaland movement in Bengal owes a lot to the anti-outsider movement in Meghalaya. Nepali-speakers who were displaced from Shillong went to Darjeeling and helped fuel the fires for a homeland there.

There's home-grown Muslim terrorism, and now, home-grown Hindu terrorism. This is cause for major concern, because it has the potential to do serious harm to the country and the region. The hard Right among Hindus is growing in strength again, across the country. It's riots in Orissa and Karnataka and bomb blasts in Gujarat and Maharashtra, but it's bad news all around. Since every extremism always strengthens its opposite pole, it is natural to expect the Muslim and Christian Right to gain in influence too. One can argue about who started it, but the end is likely to be bloody. By sheer force of numbers the majority would expect to survive. However the inability of military means to subdue large groups is by now evident around the globe. India itself has failed in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland and Sri Lanka. The only success - in Punjab - came because of Sikh officers leading a Sikh force. It stands to reason that the rise of the Right needs to be defeated if the country is to be saved.

There's the growth of the Maoist Left. This is a group that commands support in rural pockets from the Nepal border down to the Arabian Sea coast of Karnataka. It is bound to gain support given the kind of unfair and unequal development the world, and our country, has witnessed. The 'middle class' here is much glorified, but largely mythical. It is defined as people whose earnings are between two and four times the poverty line, which is $1.25 a day in purchasing power parity terms. That's about Rs 15-20 in real terms. Does Rs 1,200 a month buy a 'middle class' living? I'd think not. So I expect further violence and bloodshed as the deprived poor struggle for their place in the Indian sun.
Wait for it, and watch out.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Enemy of the state

Will the nuclear deal, whatever it is, go through? We'll know soon, though whether it will make a heck of a difference to anyone in the forseeable future is another matter.
Will the Singur land deal go through? We'll know soon too, and that WILL make a heck of a difference to a lot of people in Bengal, immediately. This was the first real chance for Bengal to regain its place as a centre of industry, and Mamata di and her lumpen party have managed to ruin this. They are blocking jobs for thousands of educated youth now, and of tens of thousands in years to come, not just in Tata and its ancillary industries, but in all those that would have followed if this experiment was successful.
Every parent now wants his or her children to be educated. This includes most people in rural areas as well. There is widespread realisation that education can lead to improvement in quality of life and living standards, since it leads to better jobs and greater ability to work a trade or a business - except, of course, that in Bengal there are not many employment opportunities. This could have changed, but Mamata di will not allow it. She is an enemy to the Bengali's welfare and growth, and an enemy of the state of West Bengal.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

No denying responsibility for terror

I've always liked all the Pakistanis I've met, but clearly the people I've met are not the people launching terrorist attacks.
Yesterday, The New York Times ran a story saying:
"American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials."
The story went on to quote a US State Department official as saying there was finally 'direct proof' of ISI involvement in aiding a terrorist attack, specifically the one on the Indian embassy in Kabul.
The ISI is supposedly this 'state within a state' that goes off on its own and helps the Taliban, Al Qaeda, pretty much every terrorist group operating in Kashmir, Dawood Ibrahim, and anyone else in this part of the world who wants to start their own terror franchise.
The Pakistani state denies knowledge of all this.
It works just fine for the Pakistani state, but it's not so hunky dory for the people who come in at the receiving end of the terror.
Since the Pakistani state has proved incapable of locking up its loonies, shouldn't someone else go in and do it for them - maybe someone who's bearing the brunt of their incapacity? The Pakistan government can't really talk about sovereignty if it's not in sovereign control of its own spy agency. I wonder if the Pakistan government would believe it if an Indian missile were to land in downtown Karachi, and Mr Singh were to adjust his spectacles and say, "Er, sorry, I don't know who did it."
That wouldn't make everything all right, would it?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ban bans

In the last two days, 171 people in Karnataka and neighbouring districts in Tamil Nadu have died after drinking poisonous locally-brewed alcohol. The 'hooch' is suspected to have been methyl alcohol rather than the drinkable ethyl variety.
Karnataka banned arrack last year. Clearly the ban has not worked. Liquor bans never do.
In Gujarat, alcohol is banned and has been for donkeys years. This means everyone has his or her own bootlegger, who will home-deliver the boooze you want, for a price. Everything is available; there's a whole economy that works to make it available. Typically, the local policemen, political neta, and goondas are part of the racket. Any individual who gets in the way of this very lucrative business is shunted out of the way, or intimidated into silence.
I figure things are no different here. The arrack ban probably benefits the very people who are supposed to enforce it. They look away, for a price.
That price is now 171 human lives.
It would be better if there was no ban, but quality standards instead.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What pollsters call anti-incumbency

So everyone's been looking southwards for a bit now, to see which way the polls in Karnataka will go. The general expectation is that this will be a portent of things to come: a foreshadowing of trends going into the general elections.
If this is true, we're headed for interesting times. Different exit polls suggest different things, but this much is clear: the Gowdas aren't going to be as wiped out as a lot of people were hoping. In fact, they may even be left with enough seats to be able to play the role in government formation they have been salivating for.
The smart money was on the Congress going into Phase 1 of elections. However, it appears now from the exit polls that the party has not done as well as expected. The New Indian Express-CFore-Suvarna TV survey suggests it will get 39-42 of the 89 seats. NDTV says the swing is in favour of the BJP, and against the Congress, and predicts the former will garner 31 seats.
Either way, the JD(S) seems set to end up with 35-40 seats . In the house of 224, that could be crucial if the BJP fails to get absolute majority - which it now seems capable of doing.
If that happens, it would be the first BJP government in South India. And the parliamentary elections would become a whole lot more interesting.

Advani might make it to the PM's chair yet.