Lessons from Mamata’s toon tactics

Let’s repeal bad laws. But let’s also prevent misuse of good laws.

The recent actions of West Bengal chief minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee in arresting a professor for circulating a cartoon mocking her on the internet have again brought the focus on the rules promulgated under the Information Technology Act. These rules are an assault on our freedom and privacy. Needless to add, they must be reversed.

West Bengal police has charged Professor Mohapatra under IPC offences relating to defamation and insulting the modesty of women as well as cyber crime offences. Although the professor has been granted bail by an Alipore court, here is what should worry us.

A senior police officer in Kolkata, where the case against Mr. Mahapatra was registered, said the professor is accused of having violated India’s Information Technology Act. He described the material shared by Mr. Mahapatra as an “offensive and non-featurable picture of our honorable chief minister.”[IRT]

This is clearly a case of a bad law being abused by the state government. But even if the state government were to harass the professor (or any other citizen for that matter), it doesn’t need bad laws for it. Even well-established good laws can be used — abused or misused — for this purpose by a malevolent government. In this case too, the major charges against the professor are under the Indian Penal Code. He was arrested on charges of eve-teasing (Section 509 of the IPC), defamation (Section 500 of the IPC), and humiliating a woman (Section 114 of the IPC), besides causing offence using a computer (Section 66 A (b) of the IT Act).

While the IT rules are bad and need to be annulled, there are genuine cases in this country where information technology tools are being used against the state. Take Kashmir for example. Social networking tools and websites are being used by anti-India forces (from both inside and outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir) to incite violence in the state. Jammu and Kashmir Police has already registered two cases under section 66 of  the Information Technology Act and section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against the miscreants: the first one  in 2010 and the second in 2011. Because it involves teenagers, in most cases the state police takes defaulters into custody, calls their parents and if necessary, counsels them and releases them right away. Barely have any cases been filed by the police against the offenders under the PSA .

Indian government is not alone in being confounded by this challenge of reacting to flow of information in radically networked societies. The British government has not been able to devise a coherent — and socially acceptable strategy — to prevent the occurrence of London riots of last year. The NSA in the US is building a huge data-centre to monitor, process and crack all communication. While the liberals want to safeguard free speech (and rightly so), the radicals (as in Kashmir) are always willing to abuse these provisions to unleash violence against the state. The challenge is huge and there are no easy answers. For any democratic government, the balance between privacy and security is not easy to strike. And with enhanced threat of terrorism and higher proliferation of social networks, this challenge has increased manifold now.

Notwithstanding that dilemma, the answer to the challenge is not promulgating bad laws. And the problem of bad laws in India runs deeper. Once you have been charged, whether you are pronounced guilty or not doesn’t matter — the process itself is the punishment in India. Indian police’s pathetic rate of conviction (40.7% in 2010) lends credence to the belief that our state is actually operating on that dictum. Bad laws make it easier for the state to charge you with an offence, and thus punish you by making you go through the ordeal of the process.

Having good laws on the statute will help but a malefic state can always misuse and abuse reasonably good laws. That is the real danger. Where are the institutional checks and balances to prevent the descent of a democratic republic into a majoritarian dictatorship? Our police is compromised, our courts are overburdened, and our political institutions effete. Take the example of the current case in West Bengal. The police has acted like an arm of the ruling party. If the professor were to approach the courts with a case against the government, it will take him years before his case is finally disposed by the court. Moreover, the courts have refused to take suo moto notice of the case. With the central government dependent on Trinamool’s support, the governor and the union government have failed to advice or warn the state government for its actions. The whole system seems to have collapsed in Bengal.

The bottom-line is simple. We must oppose bad laws and ensure that they get rescinded. But we must not stop there. We have to ensure that the state doesn’t misuse good laws. For that, we need to reform the police and the judiciary, and reinvigorate our political institutions. Only then can we hope to be safe in the long run.

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From Potemkin to Pakistan

On Indian journalists being taken on a guided tour in Pakistan

So a bus carrying 50 foreign reporters took a wrong turn in North Korea –

and suddenly, everything changed in the official showcase of North Korean achievement.

A cloud of dust swirled down deeply potholed streets, past concrete apartment buildings crumbling at the edges. Elderly people trudged along the pavement, some with handmade backpacks crafted from canvas bags. Two men in wheelchairs waited at a bus stop. There were shops with no lights, and unsurfaced sidestreets.

“Perhaps this is an incorrect road?” mumbled one of the North Korean minders, well-dressed government officials who restrict reporters to meticulously staged presentations that inevitably centre on praise for the three generations of the Kim family, which has ruled the country since 1948.[Link]

Remember the tale of Potemkin villages in Russia. Catherine II, who ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796,  made her former lover Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin the governor-general of “New Russia” (southern Ukraine and the Crimea). Potemkin resolved to make Crimea the showpiece of Catherine’s empire. When Catherine made a grand tour of the Ukraine and the Crimea in 1787, Potemkin spruced things up in time for her arrival. He ordered the construction of entire pasteboard villages on the banks of the Dnieper (much of the royal progress was conducted via riverboat); imported peasants, flocks, and herds from a thousand other villages to make a show of prosperity, thereby triggering famine in the depopulated hinterlands; and, once the procession had passed, dismantled the entire meretricious apparatus and reconstructed it several miles downstream in order to deceive the imperial court anew.

If you think Potemkin villages are history or happen only  in Communist countries, think again. It will soon be repeated in Pakistan. As part of the Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan, Pakistan is sponsoring an Indian media delegation to that country. This media delegation “in a rare development will be taken to Chakoti (Azad Kashmir) and also to Swat for a visit.”

This is not a ‘rare development’. In June last year, Pakistan army had sponsored an Indian media delegation which was again taken to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and even briefed inside the ISI headquarters. This delegation was also taken to Swat, all on Pakistan army helicopters. After the guided tour, many journalists came with a rose-tinted view of the places they were taken too. So Pakistan-occupied Kashmir suddenly became Pakistani-Kashmir in their reportage and they found Pakistan to be a mirror-image of India.

No one can deny that India and Pakistan are similar in many ways. But these similarities are merely superficial since the two countries chose separate paths in 1947. In fact, the two countries continue to move on divergent paths in polity, economy, society, education and culture, while their similarities in food, dressing and lifestyle reduce with each passing day. Highlighting similarities between the two wins these journalist many brownie points with their hosts but it does a great disservice to the bold Indian democratic experiment of the last 64 years. For many decades after 1947, India was seen as a democratic, secular laggard while a military-ruled Islamic Pakistan was hailed for moving ahead on a path of high growth. Only in the last two decades has India really pulled ahead, and pulled ahead so far that any comparison with Pakistan now is to contrast the two countries’ different trajectories. This Indian success must not be belittled.

In any case, you can still be polite and respectful about Pakistan without comparing it to India. Or as I said in a related context: Nationalism should not be an anathema to Indian commentators.

The current delegation will be no different from the previous one. These journalists will enjoy the hospitality of Pakistan army and sing its praises for the amazing ‘deradicalisation’ work it has done in Swat (read Marvi Sirmed on the reality behind deradicalisation in Swat). Of course, they won’t be taken to Gilgit-Baltistan or to Balochistan or to the tribal areas where Pakistan army is overseeing the massacre of Shias. Nor will they be taken to the sprawling complexes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Southern Punjab where assembly-line production of anti-India jehadis is in full flow. Yes, this is a propaganda campaign by Pakistan army — one it is fully entitled to undertake.

Should the Indian journalists then not accept such invitations to Pakistan? No, that would be pointless. Instead, the onus is upon the Indian journalists to be careful in their reportage — to differentiate between Potemkin villages and real villages. A disclosure in their reportage that it is from a ‘guided tour’ conducted by Pakistan army will allow the readers to draw the right conclusions. Such disclosures are common-place in many business journalists’ reports when their visits are sponsored by a commercial entity. These disclosures would at least partially negate the propaganda of Pakistan army.

But the danger is not only in the immediate. Many of these journalists, who go on sponsored trips, end up joining the merry-go-round of India-Pakistan Track-2 sojourns in exotic locales. They also write columns and op-eds in newspapers and magazines, parroting out Pakistan army’s line, even if it is couched in politically correct language of diplomacy and national interest. Not for a moment is anyone suggesting that they are complicit in an anti-India conspiracy but it does raise questions about their professionalism.

No one seems to have learnt anything from l’affaire Fai. Many Indian scholars, journalists, activists and prominent public figures were identified by the ISI. They were then offered hospitality and air-tickets by the now-convicted ISI agent, Ghulam Nabi Fai to attend anti-India conferences on Kashmir in the US. Better discretion exercised in accepting invitations from Fai, with full disclosures, would have saved many a people a lot of embarrassment. Using the same principle — of better discretion and full disclosure — while on a sponsored trip to Pakistan can prevent a similar embarrassment for many others in the future.

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The CSF money and Pakistan’s military expenditure

And the US assistance to Pakistan since 1962 in constant USD prices

Just in case you have forgotten what the Pakistan army is losing out on due to its breakdown of relationship with the US, here is a timely reminder.

These “coalition support funds” (CSF) have accounted for nearly half of U.S. financial transfers to Pakistan since 2001; as of May 2011, some $8.9 billion had been disbursed. The amount equals roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of Pakistan’s total military expenditures during this period. [Page 12, CRS-R41856]

Please do remember that CSF is Pentagon funding, which is not officially designated as foreign assistance by the US. Even Pakistan doesn’t show it as military assistance received from the US. Pretty neat, isn’t it?

PS – I came across this great chart about US assistance to Pakistan since 1947, not in nominal terms but in real terms — constant US dollar prices adjusted to 2011 rates.

Courtesy: CRS R41856

It is worth noting that the US aid in last three years has been close to the peak aid received by Pakistan in 1962, the year in which Pakistan signed two defence pacts with the US and its allies. So much for all the bluster about Pakistan’s sovereignty by the generals in Rawalpindi!

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Siachen: Myth and Reality

Siachen: Myth and Reality

Storified by pragmatic_desi · Thu, Apr 12 2012 11:01:07

Supreme irony. How many of us even remember the date when Operation Meghdoot was launched in Siachen? April 13th, 1984. Tomorrow, 28 years.pragmatic_desi
OK. Let me calmly try some myths versus reality about Siachen. In the next few tweets.pragmatic_desi
1- Myth: India and Pakistan are fighting at Siachen. Fact: India won long ago wt Siachen when it launched Op Meghdoot in 1984.pragmatic_desi
2- Myth: India is losing hundreds of soldiers every year to inclement weather. Fact: India has barely lost a handful since the ’04 ceasefirepragmatic_desi
3- Myth: India can’t afford the economic drain of staying at Siachen. Fact: If India can afford an NREGA & RT Food, Siachen is miniscule.pragmatic_desi
4- Myth: Siachen has no strategic significance. Fact: Try and see the map to understand what Saltoro ridge means & what it overlooks.pragmatic_desi
5- Myth: Indian army stalled demilitarisation of Siachen agreed upon by Rajiv Gandhi & Benazir. Fact: Pakistan refused to validate the AGPL.pragmatic_desi
6- Myth: Its an ecological disaster & we should vacate it as a goodwill gesture. Fact: Yes, affects local environment but who’ll recapture.pragmatic_desi
7- Myth: India started it at Siachen. Fact: Pakistan was undertaking cartographic aggression, depicting region as it part. Sent mountaineerspragmatic_desi
OK. My rants on Siachen are over. Thanks for bearing with me.pragmatic_desi
@dhume01 Check first three chapters of "Siachen: Conflict Without End" by V R Raghavan. It has a good explanation.pragmatic_desi

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What the Time poll tells us

That Mr Modi is a polarising political figure. And it bears upon his national ambitions

Most of you have heard the old jungle saying: “No internet poll is worth the ether it consumes.” And The 2012 TIME 100 Poll, which featured Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, should have been no different. But like a broken clock which is right twice a day, the Time poll is also right, albeit in a limited way.

Conforming to popular belief that internet is populated by fans of the Gujarat chief minister, Mr Modi has got the third-highest number of Yes votes: 256792. That he surprisingly got the highest number of No votes, 266684, is also not the story. The Yes votes could have been a couple of thousand more than the No votes but that still wouldn’t matter. The significance lies in what these numbers tell us: That Mr Modi is a polarising figure in India. A polarising figure is different from a figure of importance or prominence, and that is where Ishaan Tharoor gets it partially wrong.

But how does it matter if Mr Modi is a polarising figure? It matters because most of Mr Modi’s vocal supporters want to see him as India’s next prime minister. A polarising leader can rule a state where his party has an absolute majority but will find it nearly impossible to govern a country when his party can, at best, hope to get one-third seats in the Lok Sabha (Read Rohit Pradhan’s piece in Pragati for more on the future political scenario). Moreover, India doesn’t need a polarising prime minister, especially now, when assertions based on identities of caste, religion and region are creating major social upheaval. The economy is faltering and the common man is losing trust in the institutions of the state.

The last polarising prime minister India had was VP Singh. After he declared the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations, the backward classes hailed him while the upper classes despised him. The society was fractured. The politics and counter-politics of the Mandal movement severely wounded the country. It took more than a decade to heal those wounds, aided by a period of rapid economic growth and a generation out of college which had no first-hand experience of Mandal and Mandir. Another polarising leader at the helm in Delhi can similarly set India back by a decade. But Mr Modi is not Mr VP Singh, argue his supporters — he is a far better administrator than him. Right?

Yes, that may be true but it doesn’t matter. There is no post of CCLA, Chief Civilian Law Administrator in India (analogous to the erstwhile CMLA, Chief Military Law Administrator in Pakistan). The post of India’s prime minister is a political one and our politics demands someone like Atal Behari Vajpayee who can be trusted by his supporters and opponents alike. That is where Mr Modi’s challenge lies. Leave alone India, the opinion about him is polarised within his own party, the BJP — and in the NDA. Like any other conservative leader, he faces the dilemma of either pandering to his core supporters or making a bold move to engage new audiences and risk losing the core support base. He seems to have made the choice, to stick with the former. But the road from Gandhinagar to Delhi is not one which he can travel alone. He needs allies, and he needs wider acceptability. More significantly, he needs lesser unacceptability.

Let me explain how. Mr Modi may never get around to be acceptable to a majority of people in a diverse country like India. No politician in India is, whether it be a Nitish Kumar or a Naveen Patnaik. But unlike Mr Modi, a Nitish or a Patnaik are not unacceptable to a vast majority of people. People may not vote for them but they are not going to come out to vote against them. It is not the case with Mr Modi, as the Time poll clearly shows. A Nitish Kumar in a similar internet poll may have got only 30-35% of the Yes votes that Mr Modi received but the No votes for Nitish wouldn’t have been more than 10-15% of the No votes that Modi got. This is Mr Modi’s handicap.

The Time magazine covers, the Washington Post interviews and a Brookings blogpost are not going to alter that fact. The efforts of the international lobbying firm APCO to allegedly garner this coverage are also not going to make a difference. If the intention of this media blitz in the US was to increase Mr Modi’s acceptability, the effect has been the opposite. It has reminded everyone that Mr Modi is a polarising figure in Indian politics. And will find it difficult to be an acceptable national leader in a country as diverse as India. That is the real message from the Time poll.

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2011: The most peaceful year in Kashmir

The data says it all

Greater Kashmir newspaper (and it is not an India-friendly publication) gets hold of police data on militancy-related incidents in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Here is a quick recap:

  • 189 militancy related incidents in 2011, compared to 488 in 2010
  • 183 militancy related casualties in 2011, compared to 375 in 2010
  • 34 civilians and 30 security personnel died while 119 militants were killed in 2011, compared to 36 civilians, 69 security personnel and 270 militants in 2010
  • 4 districts with “double digit” incidents of militancy: Srinagar, Baramulla, Kupwara and Pulwama in Kashmir region
  • 13 districts with “single digit” incidents of militancy: Budgam, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Anantnag, Shopian and Bandipora in Kashmir region; Kishtwar, Ramban, Doda, Poonch, Rajouri and Udhampur in Jammu region
  • 7 districts are militancy-free: Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh region; Samba, Jammu, Kathua, Reasi and Doda districts of Jammu region

After the turbulent summer of 2010, it was a huge turn-around for the state in 2011.  It left many self-styled Kashmir analysts with egg on their faces. If the state government headed by Omar Abdullah got the flak for its inept handling of the situation in 2010, it justifiably deserves credit for what it achieved last year. Of course, the stinginess in praise comes as no surprise considering the hypocritical nature of our left-liberal commentators. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter as long as the situation on the ground is evident to everyone — and can be backed by data.

Does it mean there isn’t anyone left in Kashmir who still wants Azadi (though no two persons can define Azadi the same way) and harbours anti-India sentiments? Of course, there are more than a handful of that variety in certain urban pockets of Kashmir Valley. But as long as the state is able to ensure peace and security for the majority of Kashmiris, the anti-India ruck doesn’t matter. You need an environment where students can attend schools, a shopkeeper can open his shop, a dailywager can earn his daily wage, a transporter can ply his truck, a farmer can sell his produce and tourists can visit the state without having to worry about a grenade or a bomb going off. Maintaining peace and ensuring security is essential, though not sufficient for attaining normalcy in Kashmir. The state government has been able to get the essential part right.

Building on this reduction in militancy, the state assembly has approved the amendments to the much-maligned Public Safety Act. Of course, this development has gone unnoticed lest it forces some commentators to acknowledge the good work put in by the state government.

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Where are the states in this?

Union Home Ministry’s plan to resolve the Maoist problem must give states the ownership of the problem

Here is GK Pillai, who was India’s Union Home Secretary till last year, on how the government of India seeks resolution of the Maoist problem. This is from the IPCS Conference Report #38.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India seeks resolution on four terms. One, basic law and order needs improvement, therefore the number of forces has been raised. The police footfall on ground has been increased three times. The government is tackling this issue head on since the last decade, as a result, the naxals are responding with large scale violence. The government proposes to deploy 120 police battalions next year and revamp the police set up. Simultaneously, general welfare schemes are paid attention to and starting from now, it would need five years to reduce the problem significantly.

Second, the focus would be on development of LWE affected areas. MHA has approved road development projects worth 7300 crore and Integrated action plan for 68 districts will be provided with internet connectivity. Considering popular grievances over land ownership, policies like the Tribal Land Act are being monitored by the MHA along with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Policies like the Tribal Land Act and Minor Forest Produce have given land ownership to the tribals. Bamboo has been declared as an exclusive ownership of the tribals. As a result, income of inhabitants has sharply gone up. To illustrate, tribals auctioned their produce themselves, eliminating middle men and earned 30 million annually as against earlier half million. The Police, Revenue and Forest departments were exploitative departments from a point of view. Officials are unwilling to be posted in naxal affected areas and look at such postings as punishments. Thus they are not interested at all. It’s a challenge to post and retain the best officials. So far government has achieved only 30 per cent success rate in this regard. Besides, vacancies in schools and police postings remain, which is an impediment in improving civic administration in these areas. It is extremely necessary to improve basic infrastructure in these areas to sustain recruitment and postings. PISA is monitored by the MHA. However situation is improving in a way that marriages are taking place, buses are running, markets have opened, and contractors are willing to build roads in naxal affected areas. Trust in government is improving; local population has demanded presence of police troops for another five to ten years. So far, the government has recovered 4000 sq. km of area from naxal occupation.

Third, efforts should be made to regain political space in the problem areas. Naxals do not desire popular tilt towards government and want to terrify people with their brutality. In 2011, out of 1100 persons killed by the naxals, 700 were tribals. In many areas affected by naxalism, political parties do not exist but it is important to put political presence. To understand the positive impact of political parties in arresting naxalism, the state of Uttar Pradesh is a classic example. LWE has not exceeded in Uttar Pradesh owing to Bahujan Samaj Party’s stronghold in villages. Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh former Chief Minister Y S Rajshekhar Reddy made efforts for political resurrection in naxal affected areas. A commonplace problem or limitation in such efforts lies in the different perceptions of naxal problem in different state governments and the limitations posed by slow movement of federal dialogue. Though political parties are realising the gravity of the issue and the need for political presence, much work needs to be done. LWE areas are mineral rich therefore we cannot afford to make any mistake. In a scenario built by the MHA, by taking control of resources, Naxals have the capabilities to cut off power supply to Delhi in three days. Government does not expect naxals to give up arms; rather give up on violence; to which naxals would never succumb as their ideology is founded on violence. They fear that people will not support them if they give up armed struggle. Naxals cannot be tamed or brought to talks unless put under pressure. It is crucial to show them that they are not at any advantage over the government.

Last, the criminal justice system needs an overhaul. About 1.8 Lac offences are laid on tribals under the FRA. There is immense harassment due to procedural bureaucracy. Several cases were withdrawn and the MHA is pushing for the withdrawal of all cases with hope that the move would bring in some relief. [IPCS Report #38]

This does sound like a plan – well thought out and cogently articulated. No one can doubt the good intentions of the Union Home Ministry in tackling the Maoist crisis. While this plan will lead to some improvement in the situation, it won’t achieve full success. The reason for that is simple. Both law & order and development are subjects in the domain of the state governments. By taking ownership of the Maoist problem and prescribing centralised solutions across 7 states, the union home ministry is actually allowing the state governments to get away scot-free.

With all the Maoist-affected states ruled by non-Congress governments, it is impossible for the Congress-led central government to buy them all into any centralised plan. There has been little effort by the states to build capacity to either enforce the rule of law or undertake development, where rule of law has been established by the security forces. For eg, Saranda Action Plan in Jharkhand is being funded and directly controlled by the Centre, and even there, the progress is slipping.

For the state governments, the Maoist problem has become an useful tool to extract more central grants for development and security. Every state wants more districts covered under the SRE (Security Related Expenditure) and IAP (Integrated Action Plan) schemes of the MHA and the Planning Commission respectively. Indirectly, this is an acknowledgement by the state governments of their own failure.

But to blame only the states would be ignore the important role which the centre must play. The centre is to the states what a parent is to a shaky kid on the bicycle for the first time. She needs both support and freedom.You prolong the support and the child will never learn to ride the bicycle. You leave her without support and the child will shun the bike.

The central government has got that balance wrong.  Centre’s support has become a crutch for the states. This prescription of centralised solutions from the top must stop. The states must own the problem, and find the solutions that suit them best.

PS – Just in case you missed it, Mr Pillai actually said this: “In a scenario built by the MHA, by taking control of resources, Naxals have the capabilities to cut off power supply to Delhi in three days.” That outage is perhaps needed to wake this country up to the graveness of the Maoist threat.

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A win for Suu Kyi in Myanmar

 But it’s not a loss for India

Recent events in Egypt should warn us of premature euphoria about the victory of people power in countries under authoritarian regimes. But the images of iconic pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest until November 2010 running for elections in a country that till an a year ago was a quiet, fearful military dictatorship are bound to leave most observers intoxicated. In any case, Myanmar is not Egypt, although the military junta still holds power in that country.

First the facts. Myanmar’s Lower House of parliament has 440 seats (of which 330 are elected) while the Upper House has 224 seats (of which 168 are elected). Before the bye-elections, the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) dominated with 348 seats while serving soldiers had 166 seats. By-elections have been held for 45 seats to fill vacancies of those elected in 2010 polls who became ministers and deputy ministers in the government. These by-elections have been contested by 176 candidates from 17 parties and eight independents. The most famous candidate running in these by-elections is Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) has put up candidates in 44 seats.

Although the official results are not yet out, NLD is expected to win 40 of those seats. Suu Kyi herself has reportedly got 99% of the vote and won at 128 out of 129 polling booths in Kawmhu, the seat where she contested from. More surprisingly, NLD is claiming to have won 3 out of 4 seats in the new capital city of Naypyidaw, which is populated largely by government employees believed to be sympathetic to USDP.

These by-elections have been largely free and fair, with few reports of rigging or electoral irregularities. The one rather interesting complaint has been about the use of wax in the NLD box of the ballot paper.

…reports from all around the country that wax had been fixed on the NLD box on the ballot paper, making it hard for voters to put a clear tick in the box. The idea being, presumably, that a lot of scratching to write a tick would disfigure, and thus invalidate, the ballot paper. Certainly, a couple of furious people whom I spoke to at polling stations complained of this, and said that when they asked for a new ballot paper they were told there were none spare.[Banyan]

Notwithstanding this allegation, even if the NLD wins most of the seats, Suu Kyi is not going to be in power: the army and the USDP will still hold about 80% of seats in parliament. Let us also not forget that when Suu Kyi’s NLD had won the multi-party elections in 1990 (winning 392 of the 492 seats), those results were never accepted by the army. Those elections were not meant to form a parliamentary government, but only to form a parliament sized constitutional committee to draft a new constitution for Myanmar. How different could it be now?

Understanding the situation fully, Suu Kyi has promised to use her voice to push for further reforms. But she will need to continue her engagement with the President, Thein Sein. Both have taken big risks over the last year to get to this stage and the response from the international community should encourage them to go further.

What is in this for India? Unlike the Chinese or the Americans — and despite tremendous pressure from the US, India has maintained a working relationship with both the sides: Suu Kyi and the army. This will keep India in good stead in that country in the foreseeable future. India has three goals in Myanmar. One, to deny insurgents from India’s Northeastern states a sanctuary in Myanmar, and deny the Maoists access to arms smuggled via Kachin rebels in Myanmar. Two, to prevent China from gaining complete control in Myanmar, thereby countering China’s growing regional influence. Three, to use Myanmar as a gateway for furthering its relationship with other South-East Asian countries, as part of its Look East policy.

Of course, India can also help nurture Myanmar on to a path of full democracy. Peace and stability in Myanmar will allow India to focus on the development of Northeastern states. For once, India seems to be playing its cards right with a neighbouring country. It has been announced that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will soon visit Myanmar — the first visit to that country by an Indian PM in 25 years. This is one move which will allow the two countries to further strengthen their relationship. From here, it will take something out of the ordinary for India to mess it up with Myanmar. That’s some solace. Because anything out of the ordinary is beyond the current government in Delhi.

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The criminalisation of Maoists

Reinforcing the rule of law is paramount

From India Today:

That is because the silent abduction industry of the Maoists has been behind as many as 1,554 people being kidnapped by the rebels in the past four years. Every fifth such kidnapped person has been killed by the Maoists in their custody. Union home ministry figures show that 328 people were killed by the Maoists after they were abducted while the rest were released unharmed.

These damning figures collated by the home ministry show that the abduction industry is in fact three times the scale of the Maoists’ extortion business though the latter is a far more publicised activity. Compared to more than 1,500 kidnappings executed by the Maoists since 2008, there have been only 535 incidents of extortion by the rebels in the same period.

As many as 489 people have been kidnapped by the rebels from Chhattisgarh and 463 from Jharkhand in the past four years. In comparison, Orissa has seen only 137 such abductions since 2008.[IT]

There are two strands to abduction and kidnapping. The first is is to attract media attention for their cause and display their strength. Maoists abduct government officials, policemen and foreigners to seek release of imprisoned comrades or demand a temporary stop in security operations. Way back in 1987, the Maoists had abducted a group of IAS officers in the forest area in East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh. These officers were set free in exchange for the Maoists detained at the Central Prison in Rajahmundry, a few days later. This phenomenon was again witnessed in Orissa last year, where district collector of Malkangiri, RV Krishna was kidnapped. He was released after Ganti Prasad, a senior Maoist leader was set free by the Orissa government. The recent case of abduction of Orissa MLA and two Italians in Orissa would also fall in this category.

However, it is the other category — of kidnapping — to earn money for the Maoists which should be more worrying. The larger number of kidnapping incidents in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand add to the growing evidence of criminalisation of Maoist cadres. The Maoist groups continue to kidnap businessmen because it is a lucrative business. It is not merely a politician-Maoist-criminal nexus. In many cases, the local Maoists have morphed into criminals, and have now little to do with the core Maoist ideology.

Practitioners of counterinsurgency focus on the need to criminalise the insurgent as the main means of isolating him from the people. Even though the Maoists have already been criminalised in the public view in some areas, an ineffective police force and broken criminal justice system are constraining the states in defeating the Maoists. Reinforcement of the rule of law is paramount, which will happen once police is reformed and criminal justice system reinvigorated. No amount of development or security operations will deliver the final blow to the Maoists, unless the government reinforces the rule of law.

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Barking at the top of the list

Don’t want India to be world’s top arms importer? Increase the FDI cap in defence manufacturing.

“Why Has India Become the World’s Top Arms Buyer?”, screamed the headline at India Ink blog of the New York Times. Of course, the question itself is wrong. India is not the world’s top army buyer; it is merely the biggest arms importer in the world. At least, that is what the data produced by SIPRI for 2007-2011 suggests.

The headline may be misleading but it is borne out of a fundamental belief held by many left-liberal commentators. The usual “Guns v Butter” argument. As a poor country, India should not be spending so much money on weapons when the same money can help the vast swathes of poor and the downtrodden across the land. India tried to focus on development — at the cost of security — between 1947 and 1962.  The lessons of that military disaster with China have taken deep roots in the Indian psyche now. In any case, India spends less than 2% of its GDP on defence and around a quarter of that goes towards buying weapons every year. When you have China and Pakistan in your neighbourhood, and have to maintain presence in the Indian Ocean to safeguard your Sea Lines of Communication, half a percentage of GDP spent on buying weapons is explicable.

This leads us to the second strand in the argument, which is espoused by many conservative commentators. India must buy weapons but it should buy them only from Indian manufacturers. Of course, that is the ideal situation. But defence technology is not easy to master and India has spectacularly failed in its efforts to produce modern military equipment. Providing more money to DRDO and Public Sector defence manufacturers, which is what the government promises to do, is not going to make any difference. The rot runs deep and vested interests have led to government’s own restructuring plans, such as the Rama Rao Committee recommendations, either not being implemented or being implemented only partially.

Meanwhile, Indian private sector lacks the capacity and the resources to produce modern military hardware. The offset requirements, stipulated in the Defence Procuremeny Policy, were supposed to get the requisite capital and technology to Indian private manufacturers from their foreign counterparts. But neither has happened and the offset requirements have since been diluted. Even worse, the offsets are being used to billow the already bloated and inefficient public sector defence manufacturers.

Not that there is no way out of this conundrum. There is. India imposes a 26% FDI cap on defence manufacturing in India. Increasing that cap to 74% — or at least 51% — will motivate foreign manufacturers to shift production to India. They can take advantage of India’s cheap labour and technological base, while fulfilling the offset requirements of the Indian government. The larger benefits accruing to the Indian economy need not be recounted here.

There is, however, little chance that any increase in FDI cap will happen. The defence ministry is opposed to it. Indian trade bodies like FICCI and CII are not in its favour either. Many analysts will shoot the poisoned arrow of preserving India’s strategic autonomy to mortally wound this proposal whenever it is raised. Moreover, FDI is a politically taboo term in the Socialist UPA government, guided by the ideologues of the NAC.

Let us look at it in another way. India should not be buying weapons from foreign manufacturers but its own industry, both public and private, is incapable to producing these modern weapons. The next best alternative is to get the foreign industry to manufacture these weapons in India. That needs an increase in the FDI cap on defence manufacturing. If not, the status quo will continue. And so will the laments — and misleading headlines — every time SIPRI comes out with such a report.

Related post: What is the purpose of our defence acquisitions?

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