Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sitting on a powder keg?

As many as 20 bombs were found and defused in Surat – one right where the chief minister had been during his tour – in two days, ending 30th July. This after several bombs had gone off in Ahmedabad causing mayhem and death. Before that bombs had gone off in Bangalore, too, causing, mercifully, only one death and minor damage.

Surfeit of bombs in Surat raises at least two questions. One, despite the red alert having been sounded, the Central or the state Intelligence outfits did not have so much as a whiff of the massive terrorists’ plans to blow off the “diamond city”. Planting of as many as 20 bombs at various places – sensitive or otherwise – in the city must have been a sizable operation involving scores of people. And, yet the Intelligence outfit of the state had no clue. This is surprising, as also depressing, pointing, as it does, to its utter ineffectiveness. True, the Police virtually in every state have become ineffective, mostly because of being thoroughly politicised. Yet, this has been a failure of Himalayan proportions. Obviously, there is something basically wrong with our intelligence outfits. Either their “sources” have dried up or their informers, if any, are plain duds. Clearly there is no “humint”, i.e. intelligence gathered from human sources. Bomb after bomb was recovered and defused and yet the Police or its Intelligence wing had no information. But for the alertness of the general public Surat could well have been devastated.

The other issue that stands out is the facile ease with which the terrorists – home-grown or foreign – are able to acquire or import the deadly materials, transport them from one place to another, assemble the stuff taking shelter in the safe havens of collaborators/sympathisers or of “sleeper cells” and then plant those using local foot-soldiers at places selectively chosen. The organisation and methods of the operations and the secrecy with which they are conducted are remarkable. Worse, the terrorists – widely dispersed as they seem to be – are able to issue threats to all and sundry in various parts of the country, which virtually has been held hostage by their terror. Clearly, with its leaking borders, inept internal security establishments, apathetic general public and, above all, soft and ineffectual politicking governments at the Centre and the states, this country is harbouring within its confines hundreds and thousands of dedicated men whose sole aim is to inflict on it “thousand wounds” and to destroy it from within. Uncannily, this is precisely what the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants used to shout from house-tops in Assam not too long ago.

It is such a sorry commentary on our governments and their governance. Despite scores of bombings in recent years in various parts of the country things have not improved. The systems considered necessary have all been put in place at great cost to the public exchequer; but, these never function, more so, in crunch situations. Every time the innocents have to pay with their life.

If we do not put our house in order and run no-nonsense, businesslike governments at the Centre and in the states, giving no quarter to the pervasive chalta hai syndrome, this country is going to implode sooner than later. We seem to forget that we are surrounded by enemies, whose agents move in and out of the country with great facility to commit acts of violence, killing our people and destroying our public and private property. Unless we put our act together it is they who one day will prove to be our nemesis.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The "poodle" that the CBI is

The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) is again in the news and, as usual, for the wrong reason. After soft-pedalling for years, it has decided to revive the case of accumulation of disproportionate assets against Ms. Mayawati, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. No wonder, she has charged the CBI of doing so at the behest of the ruling combine at the Centre as she has withdrawn her party’s support to it. None is impressed by the protestations of its Director that his organisation functions independently – without being influenced by its political bosses. After all, this has been the general paradigm in which CBI has been functioning for the last so many decades.

It may claim to have found the culprit in the NOIDA double-murder case but its track record of booking corrupt in high places has been dismal. Its history is replete with instances where it knowingly let corrupt politicians slip out of the clutches of the law.

From the times of Indira Gandhi it has been (mis)used for political purposes. It was used by her and Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency as their instrument for harassing all those who wouldn’t fall in line and be party to their gross and vicious acts. The then Director CBI did regular duty at the PM’s House (PMH) and played the role of their hatchet-man only too willingly. Bishen Tandon, the then Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, has given graphic descriptions of the goings-on in the PM’s Office and PMH in his PMO Diaries.

Things haven’t changed over the years. How Ottavio Quattrochi, an Italian ‘soldier of fortune’, a fixer and a friend of the Gandhi family, was repeatedly let off the hook despite his pocketing a hefty commission for fixing the purchase of the Swedish Bofors guns is recent history. Not only was he allowed to walk out free after being arrested in Argentina, his ill-gotten millions, sealed in a UK Bank at CBI’s behest, were curiously allowed to be released.

A former Joint Director, BR Lall, in his recent book “Who owns the CBI”, has exposed the perversity of at least two Directors of his times. K Vijay Rama Rao, an Andhra Cadre IPS officer, would in no case allow Lall to investigate at the PMH even though evidence collected by him in Jain Hawala case led straight to Late Narsimha Rao, the then Prime Minister. In order to scuttle the case, charge sheets against several alleged recipients of hawala money were deliberately filed without any supporting evidence so that the court could throw the case out. The court did just that.

Rao’s immediate successor, tried his best to scupper the investigations in the famous fodder scam of Bihar involving Lalu Prasad Yadav and his cronies. He tried all the tricks, including transfer from Patna of his own investigating Joint Director. His highhandedness and brazen bias provoked the court to isolate him from the investigation of the scam – an unprecedented action by the Supreme Court against the chief of the prime investigating agency of the country. Soon after assuming, charge he broke the security barrier to take a lift form Narasimha Rao, the former PM, as he was leaving a wedding reception. Queried by the media, he brazenly told them he travelled with him only to seek his “blessings and guidance”. He also brought back with fanfare from Switzerland what he claimed were documents which would provide clinching evidence against another former PM in the Bofors case. All those, however, proved to be duds in the court, being only unauthenticated photocopies.

In the current scenario CBI-watchers are sanguine that a case similar to that of Mayawati pending against Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son will get placed in the cold storage. After all, his party’s support may prove invaluable at the time of the confidence-vote. CBI, as is well known, is nothing but a “poodle” of the party in power.

The Transparency International, in its annual assessments, has been rating India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Politicians, including the current PM, have only paid lip-service to the fight against corruption. Elaborate systems have been put in place at enormous public expense to arm the state for the fight. But, hardly any politician or bureaucrat occupying high office has ever been brought to book.

It is generally believed that politicians are self-serving and corrupt. Indeed, they mostly are. But they cleverly have their nefarious plans implemented by officials who, being no less self-serving and corrupt, willingly collaborate with them. So, politicians and bureaucrats – big and petty – have together made the country what it is today – corrupt to the core. In this process, however, the CBI, headed by members of the Indian Police Service, supposedly the guardians of our law, has made no mean contribution.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Nuclear Deal - some reservations

The die has been finally cast. The UPA government has decided to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to finalise the India-specific Safeguards Agreement. Although there is a huge amount of support within the country for the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, one wished the government had been a little wary of some of its implications. There are several issues which needed in-depth consideration before the plunge was taken.

Firstly, the extraordinary interest shown by the US in the Deal raises suspicions about its intentions. In whatever the US does its national interest is always paramount, in pursuit of which it tends to become overbearing and brash. Its Administration is not really one which is known for altruism – without any motives. There is, surely something more to the Deal than what meets the eye – something vital which is at stake for the US and which, seemingly, hinges on it. Nobody knows what it is. If it’s only commercial, and not political, we could consider ourselves somewhat blessed.

Secondly, the government should have been mindful of various intimidating clauses of the Hyde Act. Touted as a domestic legislation that enabled the Administration to negotiate the 123 Agreement for the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, it contains tell-tale signs of the US intentions to bring India within its fold – a veritable close embrace, seemingly, of more sinister nature than the “Soviet bear-hug”. The very Preamble of the Act has the unseemly provision that India could be a “fit partner” if it, inter alia, had a foreign policy that is “congruent” to that of the United States and that it works “with it in key foreign policy initiatives related to non-proliferation.” Section 105 of the Act demands certification by the US President that “India is fully and actively participating” in the efforts of the US to “contain” Iran’s nuclear programme. More importantly, it requires US Administration to scrap the 123 Agreement if India conducted a nuclear test. The government’s claim that the 123 Agreement overrides the Hyde Act seems a false belief. In a crunch situation the latter can be used to force scrapping of the Deal. One wished the government had been more transparent about the matter.

Then, US ratification of the Deal will surely bring the two countries much closer than they have ever been before. This, at once, is likely to make AlQuaida see India as a collaborator of the US and, consequently, a major target for its foot soldiers for devastating terrorist attacks. AlQuaida surrogates are already operating against the country from Pakistan and Bangladesh where they happen to be well-entrenched with official and unofficial support. For them, our borders virtually do not exist; they have a free run of the country and are able to launch at will terror attacks on our sensitive locations. Unless, like the US, we take strict and uncompromising security measures, empowering, strengthening, upgrading and modernising the entire internal security apparatus, proxy AlQaida warriors could do the same with our atomic power facilities. Hopefully, steps in these directions have been initiated.

Another issue that has remained unaddressed concerns the vital question of disposal of the radioactive nuclear wastes that will be generated by nuclear power plants. Classified into three categories – low level, intermediate level and high level wastes (HLW) – disposal of the nuclear wastes has to be managed with great care for protecting people and the environment from lethal effects of radiation. Atomic power plants mostly generate HLW, some of which take thousands of years to decay to half of their potency. Hence after being stored for around 40-odd years in leak-proof sealed casks, these have to be permanently buried in deep underground geologically suitable repositories. The US is still to find a suitable site for its HLW which are now due for burial, having been around in sealed containers for some 40 years. One feels a little uneasy about our capabilities, as we have made heavy weather of disposal of the dangerous chemical wastes of the now-defunct Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. Twenty years on, the wastes are still lying at the site, polluting the surroundings and damaging the health of the people of the area.

It is not yet too late to seriously consider some of these vital issues that cast a shadow over the Deal. They need to be brought out into public discourse for clarity and comprehension even as the Deal cruises along on its pre-determined trajectory towards fruition.

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...