Expensive mistakes on national security

Yes, it was the UPA’s political persuasions that got in the way of fighting terrorists

On June 8th, 2004, the UPA government presented its programme in parliament, in the president’s speech:

My government is concerned about the misuse of POTA in the recent past. While there can be no compromise on the fight against terrorism, the Government is of the view that existing laws could adequately handle the menace of terrorism. The Government, therefore, proposes to repeal POTA. [IBEF, emphasis added]

In his address to the Governor’s Conference, on September 17th, 2008, four years and umpteen acts of terrorism later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared:

The public debate on the issue of terrorism has, unfortunately, tended to get driven by politics, and has centered on certain laws enacted or repealed by Governments of different political persuasions. Our Government has no fixed, inflexible or ideological view in this regardWe are actively considering legislation to further strengthen the substantive anti-terrorism law in line with the global consensus on the fight against terrorism. [PMO, emphasis added]

Dr Singh’s sanctimoniousness, as usual, is gratuitous. If the issue with POTA was “basically (related) to the procedural aspects of investigation and prosecution of terrorism related offences”, and the need was to “address the apprehensions”, then surely repealing the entire act (instead of amending it) is not merely about the UPA government being wrong its view about the efficacy of “existing laws”. It is about a deliberate decision to subordinate internal security to political persuasions.

As for attributing the need to change to a global consensus, Dr Singh is on an even weaker wicket. That global consensus—to the extent that the term is even meaningful—was much stronger in 2004 than it is now. Even so, that Dr Singh should say—even for the purposes of saving face—that the ‘global consensus’ should determine India’s internal security policies reveals just how lost he and his government are on this subject. (Mercifully, he did not think that the global consensus on nuclear non-proliferation ought to determine India’s nuclear weapons policy)

Terrorists strike once every six weeks

And why they are permitted to do so

Looking at press releases issued by the India’s home ministry since March 2006, Jagadish calculates that India has suffered a terrorist attack approximately once every six weeks. (Most of them involve Shivraj Patil condemning the attacks, not the the attackers.) And that’s not counting Naxalite attacks.

The need to fight these terrorists has crossed the chasm and is now an electoral issue. This should have been clear to the political establishment at least since August last year. Yet, the only significant successes have been in Gujarat. Now, it is abundantly clear that the Congress party believes that its deliberate go-easy approach to countering terrorism will play well to its ‘minority’ vote banks, and therefore also pay electoral dividends. While we are likely to see this myth being destroyed in the coming Lok Sabha elections, Jagadish offers another explanation for the chalta hai doctrine: “the terrorists will keep getting away with these attacks as long as they target civilians. The moment a politician is affected, that’s when the representatives will wake up and take action.”

Because of the practice of handing out ex gratia payments and other entitlements to the victims of terrorism, the political class manages to prevent public outcry from coalescing around interest groups consisting of the direct victims of terrorism. That inverts the incentive structures necessary to get the political class to commit itself to taking the fight to the terrorists. Atanu Dey’s solution may well be too radical to be implemented but linking “benefits”, perhaps taxpayer funded personal security cover for politicians, to performance indicators linked to terrorism is a good idea in itself.

It is long past the time to demand some accountability from India’s presumably accountable political leaders.

Tailpiece: GreatBong is wrong: the term mujra-hideen is better suited to describe those, like Shivraj Patil and Manmohan Singh, who do the tired old routine after the mujahideen have finished theirs.

Mr Patil’s zen-like mastery!

India burns while Shivraj Patil works on a grand plan to recruit more policemen

Over at Tehelka magazine they have a curious defence of Shivraj Patil, arguably the worst home minister in the worst government in Indian history (linkthanks Gautam John). The article tells us that “sources close to the Home Minister said that is precisely how he is expected to function — by not taking sides. They said that Patil understands his job differently: he will not speak except when seeking “balance and tolerance”. They said that Patil keeps everybody at bay.” As an example it cites how he did not make a call on whether or not the governor of Jammu & Kashmir should impose a curfew in Srinagar in the face of separatist protests. “Patil said it was for the Governor to take a call. As the man on the spot, Vohra had to decide, not Patil.”

Most people would call this evidence of high incompetence. They would think that the honourable home minister would drop everything he was doing to handle a crisis of national, not municipal importance. But according to Mr Patil, they would be wrong. According to him, his job is not to take sides. And he’s doing it admirably well. He’s not taking sides in the battle against Naxalites, in the war against jihadi terrorism, between terrorists and victims, and evidently, in Jammu & Kashmir.

But there’s more. “Patil’s zen-like mastery lies in what he does not say or do. He will act exactly in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.” The writer obviously has no idea of what zen-like mastery is but that’s not Mr Patil’s fault. But “act exactly in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”? That’s no virtue, that’s expected. That he should think it’s a virtue speaks a lot for the values of his colleagues. But more importantly, it’s untrue: how is taking Sonia Gandhi for a free ride on an IAF aircraft in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution?

And there’s even more. Mr Patil’s main job is to “oversee Centre-State relations. If these relations haven’t deteriorated despite the terrorist attacks it is because of Patil’s calm”. There’s that little business of BJP-ruled states complaining of Mr Patil’s ministry playing partisan games with anti-terror legislation. And there’s that business of Jammu & Kashmir. Just what is Mr Patil overseeing, calmly?

The pièce de résistance is this: “Patil has concluded that things cannot improve until there are more and more policemen on the streets. Patil is working on a grand plan to change the nature of policing in India.” This would have been half-believable in 2004, when his term started. But months away from the next election, after presiding over unprecedented damage to internal security on all fronts, Mr Patil is still working on a grand plan to recruit more policemen! So why did the Supreme Court, in despair, legislate police reforms from the Bench?

Let there be no mistake—Shivraj Patil is an unmitigated disaster. The worst part is that he is just one of a constellation of individuals in the UPA government who will vie for the infamous position of having done the worst damage to India’s national interests.

The article concludes that “On available evidence, Patil has a long way to go.” Not quite. He has a very short way to go—the distance between his desk and the door.

The answer is good governance, not lily livers

Defeatism spreads under ineffective leadership

It is nice to see the Indian Express correctly hold the the nincompoops in the UPA government responsible for allowing the situation to come to such a sorry pass.

Discussions on Kashmir always bring up history. Here’s a little bit of history to help contextualise the current state of state response: probably not since the early 18th-century ruler Muhammad Shah Rangila, who wrote the book on awesomely ineffective security governance, has India had administrators who have been so brilliantly incapable of discharging their basic remit. Needless to say 21st-century India can’t afford Rangilas in government. And all responses to the Kashmir crisis must start with this recognition. Also, let’s ask ourselves: is India to cut and run because of some weeks of violence when years of patient diplomacy, dogged army work and good politics had blunted the hard edges in Kashmir? The country has dealt with violence within before. It has dealt with groups calling loudly for a divorce with the Union. If we decide to take a particular course on Kashmir, what will we do when politicised violence erupts elsewhere? Drawing-room solutions can look pretty and neat. Nation-building, sadly, isn’t always pretty and neat. It calls for clarity and determination. That’s what Delhi — and Srinagar — need. [IE]

Indians should concern themselves with asking who can provide this leadership—and how their current leaders might be persuaded to provide it—rather than boosting the morale of India’s enemies at this time.

Oops! We were counting on Musharraf (2)

India’s Pakistan policy was founded on false hopes

Just what did those who substituted hope for policy think? That Pervez Musharraf would enjoy a political longevity that would extend into a long-lasting political legacy? And that Mr Musharraf would remain committed to the ‘peace process’ with India come what may? The wistfulness and the expressions of regret over “lost opportunities” to do deals with him while he was riding high confirm that such was the prevailing in and around the corridors of power in New Delhi.

Now, that it was necessary to deal with a dictator next door was never in question. But building the entire edifice on the basis of the good intentions and longevity of one person was folly. Not least when that person was the meretricious General Musharraf. No, you can’t charitably say that this is a conclusion we can draw from hindsight. It was entirely predictable, and The Acorn has been warning of the risks ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee made his trip to Islamabad.

The real “lost opportunity” was not settling the Kashmir issue along one of General Musharraf’s numerous formulations of essentially the same idea. The real lost opportunity was failure to use the relatively peaceful environment to strengthen the foundations of the Indian economy through greater investment in infrastructure, education and power. The greater the disparity in the relative power between the two countries, the better equipped India will be to ensure stable relations with Pakistan. And specific to India’s relations with Pakistan, the lost—but one still available—opportunity was to deepen bilateral trade, even if this required unilateral liberalisation on India’s part.

Here’s the balance sheet of the peace process: The situation in Jammu & Kashmir is being compared to the late 1980s, the Pakistani army is firing across the Line of Control and the international border, and that country’s leaders are talking about “aspirations of the Kashmiri people”.

Manmohan Singh, the prime minister who shocked reasonable people by setting up a joint mechanism to fight terrorism with Pakistan, declared from the Red Fort, as if it were a striking new revelation, that if the “issue of terrorism is not addressed, all the good intentions that we have for our two peoples to live in peace and harmony will be negated.” They ran trains between across the border, but among those who used it were terrorists fleeing, to sanctuary in Pakistan.

If you think the situation is bad just imagine if any of those “joint management” formulas or pipelines had already been implemented.

Killed by bad policy

A thousand Lalit Mehtas will risk their lives fighting corruption. And how entirely avoidable this could have been.

There is an outcry over the murder of Lalit Mehta, an upright public-minded citizen, who was allegedly killed while attempting to expose the corruption in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Palamau, Jharkhand. The public attention should help focus attention on the crime and bring the guilty to justice.

The murder provides a convenient excuse for proponents of the dubious scheme to reiterate their argument that the NREGS is being undermined by corruption. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Jean Drèze, the scheme’s chief proponent, have already done it. It is easy for Dr Drèze to blame the intermediaries and district officials for Mr Mehta’s brutal killing. But those who designed the system—and that includes Dr Drèze—can’t escape their share of the blame.

Any fool can design a scheme that would work if only there were no dishonest people in the world. As The Acorn has argued, the way the NREGS is designed creates huge new incentives for corruption. The proponents claim that the controls they had put in to check corruption would somehow work better than the controls that had been put in place to check corruption in the past. It should be clear to everyone by now that those controls don’t work. They only put good people like Mr Mehta in harm’s way.

Let’s remember now that among the UPA government’s acts of monumental irresponsibility ranks the extension of the NREGS to all districts in India, despite knowing that it is not quite working as touted. There are hundreds of Palamaus out there and thousands of Mr Mehtas will face threats to life and limb. These would have been avoidable with some clear thinking, competent policy design and responsible leadership.

In fact bad policy design only compounds a more fundamental flaw: bad policy vision. As Rohit Pradhan notes, the NREGS is designed to keep people in villages. And as Atanu Dey writes, it is also a scheme that is designed to keep them poor.

Slapping cess

How you should react if the government increases taxes to subsidise petrol

Over at Barbad Katte, Ramesh makes a startling call:

Here is a possible response to the Petroleum Minister’s proposal to levy a cess on income tax payers in lieu of a hike in the price of fuel. Get hold of your neighbourhood Congress man and give him one tight slap. [Barbad Katte]

No, no, it’s not a partisan thing. Go read his post to understand why.

Now, this blog deplores the use violence to make political points (and this has to be said, because there are always some irony-deficient, metaphor-deaf people). Instead, it recommends that taxpayers to line up in large numbers and vote against the simians making economic policy.

Toasting the UPA’s four years in power

Notes from a party-goer

And you must read Saakshi Dutta’s post:

I wanted to go to the UPA party, and since I do not belong to any party which Congress can form a coalition with, I had to fight hard for it. Finally, the only condition imposed upon me was to come in Khadi. I also gained permission to make a toast to the 4 years bygone. I prepared hard and long to prepare a list of achievements that the UPA had made and wrote them in the book that I carried that day. [Saakshi—Tracking Thoughts]

Sack Shivraj

Incompetence is perhaps his lesser crime

In one of his famous annual reports, General Electric’s Jack Welch classified managers into four types, according to their performance and their values. The first were those who delivered results and lived by the values espoused by the organisation. For them, the “sky is the limit”. The second were those who missed their targets, but lived by their values—these, according to Mr Welch, deserved a second chance. For Mr Welch the “the toughest call of all was the manager who doesn’t share the values, but delivers the numbers”. This type of manager had to sacked “because they have the power, by themselves, to destroy the…culture we need to win.” He didn’t have to say it, but the easiest call of all was the manager who “doesn’t share the values; doesn’t make the numbers”. That person had to be shown the door.

Now, that Shivraj Patil has been an “unmitigated disaster” at the home ministry has been clear for some time. The charitable explanation for his brazen denial of his ministry’s decision to intern illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in camps is cluelessness—that he didn’t quite know what policies his ministry was coming up with. Considering that the question of illegal immigration is among the more important ones for his ministry, his cluelessness further confirms the allegations of incompetence against him.

If competence were the only criteria—as it ought to be in a country were a significant fraction of the population is poor, and hence can least afford the luxury of incompetent leaders—Mr Patil should have been sacked a long time ago. In fact, voters had already sacked him in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004. It was the Congress Party that inserted him—like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself—into the Cabinet.

Mr Patil’s failings though are not merely in the area of competence. His greater failing, arguably, is in the domain of values. Now it is acceptable—though highly objectionable—for someone to see moral equivalence between the death sentence of an Indian citizen guilty of terrorism in India by the Supreme Court of India and the death sentence handed out to an Indian citizen pronounced guilty of espionage and terrorism in Pakistan by the Pakistani judiciary. But that someone cannot be a member of the Cabinet. There are such things as values: constitutionalism, due process, transparency, independence of institutions and rule of law. If Mr Patil can’t see the difference in the processes that led to the similar result—the death sentence—he reveals a lack of basic values that disqualify him from any position of constitutional office. [via Rational Fool]

In fact, Mr Patil’s comparison of the two cases reveals a deeper flaw in his understanding. If Sarabjit Singh was indeed a spy, then the UPA government should not have succumbed to the pressure to ask for the waiver of his death sentence. In this scenario, official intervention on Mr Singh’s behalf was a foreign policy mistake. On the other hand, if the UPA government knows that Mr Singh is innocent, then surely, hanging him is injustice. So how is Pakistan’s hanging of an innocent man similar to India’s hanging of a man declared guilty by the Supreme Court? The only explanation is that Mr Patil is implying that Mr Mohd Afzal is innocent. He has no authority to do that—the task before the President, and the Cabinet which will advise her, is whether or not Mr Mohd Afzal deserves clemency, not whether he’s innocent or guilty. [See an earlier post on death sentence dilemma].

India must be the only country in the world where the government finds ever more dubious reasons to prevent a convicted terrorist—guilty of planning an attack on the national parliament—from being punished according to the law.

Just how shameful is Mr Patil’s statement? Compare his views with those of Sukhpreet Kaur, Mr Singh’s wife. “Myself and my daughters would never like Sarabjit freed in exchange for any hardcore Pakistani terrorist lodged in Indian jails” she said, “nothing is above the nation and we can’t go against the interests of our motherland.”

Neutron Jack would have no qualms in sacking Mr Patil. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though, is quite unlikely to do so. Neither performance nor values matter to this government. It has already robbed from India’s material future. It is also robbing India’s national dignity. Yet it is important for us, the shareholders, to demand his sacking.

A version of this post appears in Saturday’s Mail Today, in an op-ed titled “It’s high time Shivraj Patil was shown the door”

The knave of bad times

They destroyed the paddle. Schitt creek* is coming up

Growth in industrial production fell to 3%, the lowest in six years, indicating that bad times might be ahead. There’s worse. As Niranjan Rajadhyaksha demonstrates, the UPA government has frittered away the opportunity to put the economy on the footing to handle the coming problems. In the “misery index” he constructs, among emerging market economies, only Pakistan and Egypt fare worse than India.

But there is little doubt that the economic fundamentals are deteriorating. The hole in the government’s finances is getting bigger. It could now be close to 1991 levels, if measured correctly. The current account deficit, too, is growing and could conceivably touch 1991 levels by the end of this year. The foreign exchange market has already picked up these worrying signs. The rupee has been slipping against most major currencies over the past few weeks. Somewhere in some tax haven, a few hedge funds must be seeing these trends and sharpening their claws.

It is unfortunate and inexcusable that India is now at a point when it seems far more vulnerable than most other emerging market economies. The government should have used the splendid five-year economic boom and soaring tax collections to slash its deficit and prepare the economy for an economic downturn. It did not.

History will not judge the United Progressive Alliance government too kindly on this score. It is distressing that some of the same people who helped pull India out of trouble in 1991 have done so little to prepare for the next round of economic turmoil. One expected more from a team led by Manmohan Singh.[Mint]

Mr Rajadhyaksha is being charitable to Dr Singh and the UPA government. Not only did this crew fail to prepare for the coming storm, but actually damaged the boat. It’s a sin of commission. [Also see Swaminathan Aiyar’s piece on fiscal deficit]

* Thanks to Chidanand Rajghatta for revealing the decorous use of that euphonious euphemism