Monday , Jun 15, 2009 at 1635 hrs Special to Indian Express
Of course, I would have liked the election results to have been the other way round.  But, of the remaining alternatives, what the electorate has handed down is the best one. While many had been celebrating the trend towards coalitions – “The real India is coming into its own… India’s vibrant diversity is asserting itself…” – I had been alarmed by the descent towards more and more fractured results; leading to more and more splintered legislatures; leading to more and more unprincipled and weaker and weaker “coalitions” – in which each partner is a law unto itself, weaker and weaker coalitions; not just coalitions with more and more parties as members, but coalitions with weaker and weaker cores. In the event, that perilous trend has been stemmed.
And the team that has taken office this time is more reassuring. The principal ministers are persons of substantial experience; none of them has the sort of taint that marred several ministers in the first Manmohan Singh Government; equally important, the principal ministers are ones who are less liable to ignite the acrimony that characterized the last five years.
As a result, the Government will have none of the alibis it relied on last time – the Communists, the allies. And the Opposition will have to work much harder to discharge its proper role. Indeed, for all parties, there are the same two lessons.
• Inside Parliament, each should seek to engage others in a competition for advancing the better ideas and proposals. No one will gain merely by shouting about problems – people know the problems that afflict them; after all, they live them. They will have to be convinced that this side rather than the other has the better solutions, that it has worked out the solutions in detail, that it holds better promise of implementing the solutions rather than its rivals.
• Outside Parliament, the singular course for each party is that wherever whoever is in office should provide exemplary governance.
All this is to the good, and it is imperative that we act accordingly. We must remember that, yes, the country has enormous potential – and in the last ten years, we have had but a glimpse of what can be achieved; but, it is just as true that, unless we mend our ways, unless we improve our governance and discourse, the country can get stuck in that well-documented pit, the middle-income trap: Brazil Mexico, Thailand, Philippines and so many other countries also registered spurts of high growth rates, only to get stuck before attaining their full potential. In a word, all sides have been afforded an unexpected opportunity to do right by the country; they must seize it, inside Parliament as much as outside.
Nor is the way ahead easy and smooth. In many respects, the situation facing the country is far more complex, indeed treacherous than is evident from the Address that the President has read out on behalf of Government.
I shall begin with the challenges the country faces in foreign policy and defence; turn briefly to the economy and Reforms; and conclude by drawing attention to the most important respect in which the legacy of the last five years has to be reversed, a matter that finds no mention at all in the Address of the President.
I begin with paragraphs 41 to 44 that deal with foreign policy.
The paragraphs contain all the familiar homilies:
“My Government’s foreign policy will continue to pursue India’s enlightened national interest, maintaining the strategic autonomy and independent decision-making that has been its hallmark. India has vital interest in the stability and prosperity of its neighbours. The highest priority will be accorded to working with our friends in SAARC… My Government will seek to reshape our relationship with Pakistan depending on the sincerity of Pakistan’s actions to confront groups who launch terrorist attacks against India from its territory… The momentum of improvement of our relations with the major powers will be maintained. The transformation of our partnership with the United States will be taken forward. Our strategic partnership with Russia has grown over the years, and we will seek to further consolidate it… With countries of Europe and Japan my Government will continue the sustained diplomatic efforts… The multifaceted partnership with China will be expanded… My Government will continue to work with other developing nations. It will contribute to all efforts at peace in West Asia… The traditionally close ties with countries in the Gulf will be strengthened. The process of engagement with Africa… will be further expanded. The multi-dimensional partnerships with countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific as well as Central Asia and the Latin American region will be consolidated…” And so on.
Such phrases may be customary; they may even be useful if they are intended to hide what is actually intended; but when, as in this case, they represent the farthest-reaches of cerebration, they are hardly reassuring.
When the House discussed the assault in Mumbai, and its aftermath, I had warned, first, do not put Pakistan in the position of becoming the judge by offering to provide evidence; second, do not rush to Mummy, that is the US. Unfortunately, these are the two things that the Government did, apart of course from planting stories in the media – legitimizing whatever it had done as well as whatever it was not able to do.
As a result, we are today in the same position vis-à-vis Pakistan as we have been for the last five years. In addition, we have become precariously dependent on the United States for dealing with Pakistan as well as China. “Why does the US not see that what it is doing to arm and assist Pakistan will only be used against India?” we ask. “Why does the US not see that we are the ones who can be made to stand-up to China?” we ask.
We must remember two points about the position of the US today:
• First, it is dependent on Pakistan.
• Second, it is dependent on China.
The US is dependent on Pakistan so that it may – somehow, anyhow – continue the fight which it has started in the region – till the time it can find an honourable exit. It is dependent on China to finance the bailout packages that are necessary to save its economy and financial system today: and remember, in any case, the US cannot afford to forget, that China has thrice shaken the tree in the last six months. Unfortunately, we continue to fool ourselves that, in spite of these realities, the US will look after our interests vis-à-vis Pakistan, our interests vis-à-vis China.
Three developments are imminent, and the House should be alert to them.
First, the steps which were not just implicit, but explicit in the Nuclear Deal will now commence. In the coming months the country will be under pressure to sign on a slew of follow-up agreements which will freeze the power imbalances of today:
• The NPT review is scheduled for 2010, and there will be extreme pressure on India to sign up – without being recognized as a Nuclear Weapon State;
• There will be similar pressure to sign the CTBT – without there being in place an international mechanism of verification;
• And then to sign the Fissile Material Control Treaty or, if the Treaty is long delayed, to in effect declare adherence to the walls that are going to be prescribed in it – remember that during the Nuclear Deal negotiations, and under the Hyde Act India was told that it must declare a cut-off date for producing fissile material even before the FMCT comes into force. Here also, we will be under pressure to abandon the stand we have hitherto taken: namely, that there must be an internationally controlled, and not a nationally controlled verification mechanism.
The slightest reflection will show that the stance that the verification mechanism must be an international one and not one in the control of one or two countries that have the technology for verification as of now is a substantive and not a semantic one. Today the US does have the ability to verify. But can one rely on it to be even-handed? It has been well-documented, after all, how the US agencies knew for years about the bazaar that A.Q. Khan had set up: they chose to do nothing; indeed, they squashed researchers who had nailed the evidence. Hence, when verification is left to mechanisms that are under the control of – the very few – countries that today have the requisite technical capacity, they will proceed by their convenience.
• We will also be told to sign the PSI – recall that the PM had himself said that India has reservations about this in its present form.
• And a much tighter Additional Protocol of the IAEA is also in the works.
Second, we will be under pressure to resume the so-called peace process with Pakistan, without insisting on the condition that we have hitherto advanced – a condition that was stated again just day before yesterday by the Foreign Minister, S.M. Krishna – namely, that we shall not resume the peace talks with Pakistan till it takes effective action against those who were behind the Mumbai attack, and till it demonstrably dismantles the terrorist infrastructure that has been set up for assaults on India. The peace process, so called, resumed, pressure will build to make concessions to Pakistan. Last time, we barely escaped by the skin of our teeth being made to withdraw our forces from Siachin, and that too just at the penultimate moment. By now, the US has concluded that
• It is stuck in Afghanistan;
• For it to get out with some shred of honour intact, Pakistan is central;
• In Pakistan, the Army and ISI central;
• Hence, the US just has to make available what the Pakistan Army and ISI want.
And as the Army of Pakistan and the ISI want the arms that they can eventually use against India, such arms and aircraft, etc. just have got to be given. As the Army of Pakistan and the ISI will not be placated till concessions – in regard to Siachin today, Kashmir tomorrow – are wrested from India, well, they just have to be wrested.
Just recall the sequence that has transpired in regard to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the last two weeks. The New York Times published a report saying that American sources had evidence that Pakistan was rapidly increasing its nuclear weapons production programme. In the hearing on May 14, 2009 of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, Senator Webb asked the Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, “I have [seen] written reports in the general news area, but from reputable commentators, that Pakistan is at the moment increasing its nuclear programme, that it may be actually adding on to weapons systems and warheads. Do you have any evidence of that?”
Admiral Mullen replied in one, unambiguous word: “Yes.”
Senator Webb remarked, “That strikes me as something that we should be approaching with enormous concern. We are – we are spending a lot of time talking about the potential that Iran might have nuclear weapons capability, and this is a regime [the regime in Pakistan] that is far less stable and that should be a part of our debate. Do you have any idea of the percentage of the $ 12 billion, since 2001, that has gone toward – to Pakistan that has ended up with their security interest toward India or other non-terrorist or Taliban related threats?”
Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen just waffled in response.
Four days later, on May 18, 2009 the subject was taken up repeatedly at the briefing given by the spokesman of the State Department, Ian Kelly. He was repeatedly pressed on this question about Pakistan expanding its nuclear arsenal and was asked, again and again, whether the US would make its aid contingent on Pakistan desisting from such expansion. Again and again, and yet again, Kelly refused to answer the question. In fact, he went further and said that the US shall not link the two.
Reflect too on the sudden somersault of the Pakistan Army in regard to the Taliban. One reason would, of course, be that by taking over Swat and advancing into Buner, the Taliban had reached within 60 miles of Islamabad. The second reason could well be that the US, having just orchestrated announcement of massive aid from the Friends of Pakistan club, may have conveyed to the rulers there that the aid would be held back unless they went hard against the Taliban. These would be substantial reasons. But I would think they would be insufficient, and would surmise that, in addition, the US would have assured Pakistan, “You go after the Taliban, and we will get India to make concessions on Siachin and Kashmir.”
Third, we must expect greater and more persistent interference by the US in our decisions even in regard to our own security. You will recall the great outrage and helplessness and consternation throughout the country in the wake of the attacks on Mumbai: outrage at the attacks and consternation at the fact that the Government of India did nothing and was able to do nothing to those who were behind the perpetrators.
One explanation for the Government merely going through the motions of response was what I had pointed out at the time – namely, that we are a country without options, and that is so because we have just not built up the capacity for the only thing that would work – namely, the capacity to “do a Kashmir” to Pakistan in Pakistan.
But there is another explanation also and this you will glean once you recall the testimony that was given by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, herself recently. In her remarks on April 23, 2009, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes, while discussing the attacks in Mumbai she said
“We worked very hard, as did the prior Administration, to prevent India from reacting. But we know that the insurgents and al Qaeda and their syndicate partners are pretty smart. They are not going to seize their attacks, inside India, because they are looking for exactly the kind of reaction that we all hope to prevent.
“So we do have a lot of work to do, with the Indian government, to make sure that they continue to exercise the kind of restraint they showed after Mumbai…”
She assured the Subcommittee that these efforts were continuing. Referring to the meeting that President Obama and PM Manmohan Singh had in London on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting, she told the Subcommittee:
“There have been a number of high-level discussions, including between the US President and the Indian Prime Minister on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in London, ‘raising the issue of how India can do more to tamp down any reaction on any front, like Mumbai could have provoked’.”
It is pointless blaming the Americans for any one of the three preceding dangers. What we have to remember is that:
• Every country, including the US, will act in its own national interest.
• It will act in its own national interest as that interest is perceived by a handful.
• It will act in its own national interest as that interest is perceived by a handful at that moment.
Today Saddam Hussein is good as a counter to Iran, and so he must be financed, encouraged, armed; tomorrow he is the Devil. Today the Taliban are the phalanx of Freedom against the Soviet Union, and so they must be financed, trained, fired up, organized, armed; tomorrow they are the soldiers of the Devil, and so must be exterminated.
In a word, we must develop close relations with a series of countries, including the United States. But first and foremost we must build up our own “Comprehensive National Strength.” Second, we must stare facts in the face. In particular,
• We must look not at what some sundry ruler of Pakistan says – remember Musharraf when he visited Delhi, “Main naya dil leke aayaa hun,” and he continued doing exactly what he had been doing through his puraanaa dil; we must look at the nature of the Pakistani State and society – is there any evidence that that is changing?
• Similarly, we must look at China’s aim; the capacity it is acquiring; we must look at what it is actually doing, and not construct yet again a world of make-believe, the sort of fairy-land which landed us in a ditch in 1962.
• And, third, we must look at the real interests of the US in this region, the current perceptions, and the current compulsions of the United States in regard to these before we outsource our national interests and security to it.
In a word, much more is required than the customary homilies that are set out in the paragraphs on foreign policy in the President’s Address.
Unfortunately, the same is true of paragraph 12 that deals with Defence.
The paragraph is worth reading as an illustration for what passes these days as statement of policy, and that too in regard to the defence of the country:
“Our Armed Forces are the nation’s pride, a symbol of our values of sacrifice, valour and the spirit of national integration. India’s defence forces stand committed to the task of defending the territorial integrity of the country. They will be fully enabled with modern technology to repel any threat from land, sea or air. To enhance combat efficiency as also to address the requirements of modern day warfare, a number of steps are underway. The welfare of ex-servicemen will continue to be accorded high priority. The Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary, to look into the issue of One Rank One Pension has already commenced its work and expects to complete it by the end of June 2009.”
Both in regard to internal security as well as fortifying ourselves against external aggression, we face a dire situation. I do hope that at some stage the House will get the opportunity to discuss the entire gamut of issues connected with Defence. For the moment I will confine myself to four issues.
First, acquisitions as well as the development of new weapons systems have certainly fallen behind: in rocketry, for instance, we are behind even Pakistan, to say nothing of China. This is often blamed on the fact that, from time to time, allegations erupt against acquisitions that have been made and inquiries are launched. It is said that these allegations and inquiries are what lead officers to postpone decisions. This is far from being the case.
The fact is that two other features, features that are the complete opposite of what this charge entails, are what cause decisions to be shirked.
• First, inquiries drag on.
• Second, the guilty are never punished sufficiently and conspicuously enough.
This is why the honest officer concludes, “Why not just pass the file around, till the time I transit to my next posting?”
Hence, the way forward is:
• Expedite inquiries, make sure that they are concluded with lightning swiftness.
• Second, make sure that exemplary punishment is meted out to those who are guilty; and have that punishment echo in every nook and corner of the country.
• Third, demonstrate by your actions that you will stand by the honest officer, even if he makes a genuine mistake.
The second point relates to civil-military relations. We have never, but never had a situation of the kind that erupted in the last few months in which the senior-most officers of the Armed Forces, officers and men who have staked their lives in defence of the country, have felt compelled to take to the streets, to return their medals to the President.
The question here is not just of one-rank one-pension, as someone reading paragraph 12 would seem to conclude. The entire gamut of recommendations that were made by the Sixth Pay Commission, and which were adopted by the Government, have caused great disquiet among the Armed Forces. There is a definite feeling that bureaucrats who assisted the Commission were able to get their way in the interest of their services, in particular that they were able to reinforce the superior status of their services vis-à-vis the Armed Forces. This, in spite of the fact that our Army today suffers from a crippling shortage of officers. By now that deficit exceeds 25,000 officers. And the deficit affects field formations the most – that is one reason for the sharp increase in incidents of breakdown among jawans. All this is obvious to even the casual observer. It must have been obvious to the Pay Commission. It is obviously within the knowledge of the Defence Ministry. Yet, the pay revisions that have been decreed are certain to exacerbate the problem.
The second aspect of this question of civil-military relations is the balance between civilians, in particular civil servants in the Ministry of Defence, and the Armed Forces in the formulation of defence policy, defense strategy, and, therefore, to take one example, the planning, acquisition and development of weapons systems. The Armed Forces were asked to prepare a National Strategy Paper in 2006. They worked hard at it, and finalized it before the end of the year. Does it not alarm us to learn that this paper has been lying on a civilian’s desk since January 2007? Are we not concerned when we find that no less a person than the former Chief of Army Staff, General Ved Malik, has felt compelled to refer to this fact in public?  More than pay and allowances, more than one-rank one-pension, it is this which the Armed Forces want – a greater participation in the assessment of threats to the country, and in the formulation of the proper response strategy.
The third deficiency which we have to make up is what has become evident time and time again during the last 10 years: inflicted by yet another assault, we come out as a country without options. That is so because, while we have acquired some types of capacity – for instance, of nuclear weapons; we have not acquired the capacity that a country that is committed to peace, requires: that is, the capacity to counter the entire spectrum of violence. For it is the enemy who shall select what kind of violence he shall unleash on the country. To give just one example which springs from the President’s Address, consider the last sentence of paragraph 9, the paragraph that deals with internal security: “and hence information and intelligence sharing on a real-time basis, would be made possible by the creation of a net-centric information command structure.”
We must assume that these words are not there just because they are fashionable. The net-centric information and command structure is necessary. But it is also obvious that as societies develop, they become more integrated, and, hence, by striking at just a few nodes, an enemy can paralyze them; for that very reason, net-centric information and command structures, while they extend the capabilities of forces, become more vulnerable. Since 1989 China has been, as the then President of China said, marshalling “an army of hackers”. Its strategic planners have declared time and again that they will acquire the capacity to strike at the acupuncture points of their enemies and thereby completely paralyze the societies within a few minutes: they are far into acquiring the wherewithal to disrupt air and rail traffic control systems, financial transactions, stock markets, communications and broadcasting services, and of course information and command structures of the Armed Forces – massively, simultaneously, instantly. Every other week, we learn of penetration by Chinese hackers, backed no doubt by the PLA and other agencies of China, into the computer, information and communication systems of countries as far apart as US, UK, Germany and others. And we have had warnings upon warnings, what with countries like Estonia and Georgia being completely paralysed for a month at a time through these very means. But in our case, our defences in this area remain weaker than rudimentary. In fact, I have watched with great dismay as the initiatives which were begun 7/8 years ago for putting security systems around our infrastructure, around our financial systems, around governmental information and communication structures, have all languished, indeed most have lapsed into neglect.
An illustration from an allied sector will also bring home how oblivious we are of security. Countries like the UK and the US have totally banned the adoption of communication systems – for instance routers and servers in Telecom and information technology systems – from potentially hostile countries – in particular, from China which has been proven to plant backdoors and triggers in such hardware and software. In India the very same companies have, in spite of the strenuous objections of intelligence agencies, been allowed to install the very same sort of equipment across the country.
And look at the asinine “arguments” on which these decisions have been rammed through. When the intelligence agencies pointed to the dangers that using Chinese telecom equipment would entail, the representative of the Department of Telecommunications, so as to meet their concerns, proposed that restrictions on using such equipment be confined to areas bordering China! How is handing China the ability to disrupt networks in Mumbai with its financial activity, or Nasik with its defence production facilities, or Pune with its airbase, or Bangalore with its IT hub be any less consequential than giving it that ability in Pithoragarh? How will the capacity to disrupt the power grid in the South be any less consequential than to disrupt it in the North? And can the disruption not be programmed to cascade across the system? Even a fool knows the answer. Representatives of the Department of Telecommunications too would have known it. The only “reason” on account of which they could have advanced such an absurd proposal must have been that they were directed to do so. And they prevailed!
In a word, much greater alertness is needed, and much greater work on net-centric affairs, and the rest, work across a much wider swathe than is indicated by that last sentence of paragraph 9.
For, there is the challenge of China – a challenge and a threat that is intensifying by the week:
• China has a definite view about its own place in the world and in Asia;
• It has an equally definite view about India: that it is a potential nuisance, that it is one of the claws of the crab, the US, which is trying to encircle China;
• And that, therefore, it must be kept busy in South Asia.
For this purpose, China has encircled India. Two further turns in this encirclement have been facilitated by the paralysis of the Government during the last three years:
• First, the paralysis in regard to the developments in Nepal, a paralysis which eventually culminated in the complete outsourcing India’s foreign policy to the CPI(M), gave China a wide opening to entrench as never before its influence in Nepal: this is the first time that China has acquired a firm position on the southern slopes of the Himalayas.
• Second, because of the nature of the last coalition, India’s policy in regard to developments in Sri Lanka also remained paralyzed: Pakistan stepped in with arms, China provided intelligence and even handed over persons of Tamil origin who were ferrying arms via the waters off northwestern Indonesia. The result is that Pakistan and China have acquired a great deal of goodwill among both, the people of Sri Lanka as well as the Government.
Nor is it just a matter of encirclement. The capacities that China is acquiring vis a vis, say, the US – the capacity, for instance, to disrupt its power grids, or to blind its satellites –will be no less effective against India. And look at what it does by the month:
• China continues to reiterate with ever-greater force its claims to Arunachal. Earlier this year, it blocked a loan from the Asian Development Bank because the proposed loan had a component – minuscule though it was – for a project in Arunachal.
• It has blocked every proposal for reform of the Security Council which might have secured a seat at the table for India.
• It has consistently put speed-breakers to slow the development of India’s relations with ASEAN.
• China has also used its enormous economic muscle to establish its influence among countries from Latin America to Central Asia to Africa to Southeast Asia. Ask yourselves: which of these countries will go by the preferences of China in regard to Security Council reform and which will go by our preferences?
• Even more ominous, it has systematically continued to intrude into Indian territory all across the border from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. The Director General of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police had stated publicly that there had been close to 170 intrusions in 2007 alone. In 2008, the number of intrusions was even higher. The most reliable sources tell me that this year, and we are yet just at the beginning of June, there have been close to 80 incursions. Unfortunately, the Government continues to follow the suicidal policies of the late Fifties that culminated in the slap which was administered to us in 1962. To cite just one instance, in the first week of January 2009, Chinese armed personnel pushed back Indians from the SPANGUR GAP, very close to Chishul in Ladakh. Using the local language, they kept shouting, “You Indians get out, You Indians get out.” The area was being guarded by personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. The Chief Executive Councilor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council as well as other officials rushed to the place. The ITBP officers told them, “We have no instructions to reverse what has happened.” Officials at all levels were told to hush up the matter. The result of such instances is that, in the last few years, in this area alone, we have lost another stretch of territory – 90 km long, 20 km wide – to China. The Chinese used to be 15-25 km away from the Line of Actual Control. They would come and go, as we would. But today they have advanced and now sit on the Line of Actual Control. And what is the response of our Government? Look the other way, and hope that no one else will notice either.
In a word, much more will be needed in regard to the defence of India than is evident from paragraph 12 of the Address.
I turn next to the paragraphs that deal with the economy.
The economy and Reforms
In spite of the fact that a “dream team” was said to have been in place during the last Government, Reforms remained at a standstill. Apologists of the Government blamed the Left. The fact is that its principal leaders were not prepared to stake anything for Reforms, and little can be accomplished – especially in regard to Reforms, which, after all, will necessarily dislocate some persons – if one is not prepared to stake something. And that difficulty, namely that there will be some resistance, continues today. This is what dampens hope in regard to the promises which have been made through surrogate microphones, for instance in the media and in industry – that, with the Left out of the way, this time round Reforms will be pushed swiftly and decisively.
For we should not forget that, because Reforms had been brought to a standstill, the momentum of growth had already begun to slow down – well before the international economic meltdown. By March 2008, to cite just one example, over 25 lakh jobs had already been lost in the textile sector. Several reforms, like the dismantling of the Administered Price Mechanism in the petroleum sector, were actually reversed. Similarly, several initiatives which were going to restore our competitiveness, had been brought to naught: when we met industrialists in October 2008, we were astonished to learn that for almost nine months there had been absolutely no disbursements from the Textile Modernization Fund.
It is never enough to execute one or two specific reforms. The momentum of Reforms has to be kept up. There are a host of reports waiting to be implemented: the report of Raghuram Rajan on the Financial Sector; of the Knowledge Commission on the entire system of higher and technical education.
Furthermore, as the tsunami of the international economic crisis began to reach our shores, the Government remained in denial. As a result, corrective measures were delayed too long. By now, as the Economic Advisory Council of the Prime Minister himself has stated, there is little fiscal headroom for stimulus packages; and most of the monetary policy instruments have already been deployed.
Therefore, the Government must
• Expedite the measures it intends.
• It must deploy the measures in time, it is better to risk being before time.
• The measures must be deployed, not by half-hearted incrementalism but as an avalanche, to overwhelm the problem that is emerging.
One thing necessary above all
The most important step that the Government can undertake, however, is not one reform or another, not this project rather than that, it is to implement the myriad schemes and projects that it already has in hand. To cite a single contrast, recall that we guarantee, by law, a rate of return of 16.5% on investment in mega power plants. Japan’s post office bank alone sits on deposits of around 2 trillion dollars, earning just 0.05 to 0.383 per cent interest. Yet they do not invest in our power plants – as they have little confidence that the plants will come up in time.
The point becomes obvious when we see that this Address is studded with the same desirables, the same hardy perennials that have featured in government proclamations without number.
Paragraph 35 of the Address proclaims, “This will require that all subsidies reach only the truly needy and poor sections of our society. A national consensus will be created on this issue and necessary policy changes implemented.” Reports after reports of successive governments have listed evidence that the subsidies are not reaching the needy, that food meant for them is being sold in black markets. Bibek Debroy recalls that in his first term, Dr. Manmohan Singh declared on twenty-four solemn occasions that the country must review the subsidy regime, and ensure that subsidies reach the intended beneficiaries. As for finance ministers, each time Chidambram takes on the portfolio, he has a paper prepared on subsidies – their incidence on the Exchequer, the leakages, the alternatives… He is soon reduced to pleading the need for a national consensus so that some improvement may be affected. He went through the sequence this time round also.
The exact same thing is true for Administrative Reforms. Once again, in the President’s Address we are treated to declarations of determination to carry these out. The Department of Personnel has just put out a CD on this subject: guess, how many task forces, Committees, Commissions have been set up to study the matter, and have produced detailed reports and road maps, and governments have vowed to implement the recommendations? Seventy three!
By now, these Commissions and Committees have been reduced to reiterating, I won’t say reproducing the recommendations that have been made by earlier Committees and Commissions. You just have to compare what the new Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily has recommended on a slew of matters with what the Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by Justice Venkatachalaiah had recommended on the same matters. 
The five proposals
So, expeditious implementation is the key. And this is where the President’s Address is particularly disappointing. When it comes to ensuring better implementation, the Address contains five proposals:
• “A Delivery Monitoring Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor flagship programmes and iconic projects and report on the status publicly.”
• “Suitably institutionalized quarterly reporting on flagship programmes as ‘Bharat Nirman Quarterly Reports’ where ministers would publicly report on progress through the media.”
• “Strengthening public accountability of flagship programmes by the creation of an Independent Evaluation Office at an arm’s distance from the Government catalyzed by the Planning Commission” - at an arm’s distance from the Government but catalyzed by the Government’s component and habitual legitimizer, the Planning Commission!
• “Establishing mechanisms for performance monitoring and performance evaluation in Government on a regular basis” – it isn’t quite clear whether the Address promises that the mechanisms will be established on a regular basis; or that they will be performing their monitoring and evaluation functions on a regular basis. If truth be told, the unvarying record of our governments is that such mechanisms are established on a regular basis!
• “Five Annual Reports to be presented by Government as Reports to the People on education, health, employment, environment and infrastructure to generate a national debate.”
Now, the website of the Planning Commission has an entire section on the Programme Evaluation Organization. The website tells us that the PEO “was established in October, 1952, as an independent organization, under the general guidance and direction of the Planning Commission…” This “independent organization” was merged with the Planning Commission in 1973. The website tells us that the PEO “undertakes the evaluation of selected programmes/ schemes under implementation,” that “the PEO is conducting external evaluation, independent of the administrative channels, through direct observations, sample surveys and social science research methods.” Compare each expression with what the President’s Address says the new office, etc. will do.
What happened to the PEO was exactly what JP Naik’s law forecasts: a problem erupts; we ignore it; the problem swells, we shut our eyes tighter; it explodes, we set up a Commission to recommend corrective steps; the Commission recommends that we set up an institution to deal with the problem; we set up the institution; five years later, the problem is still there and the institution has become a new problem!
Compare what the Address presents as if it were some novelty with what the 11th Plan said. “Mechanisms for this coordination, convergence & synergy at all levels have atrophied or are non-existent,” it noted, in particular that “the capacity of the PEO has suffered even though the need for evaluation of Plan programmes has grown…” As is its wont, the Commission made the predictable recommendation: “A committee with representations of both the Centre and the states would be set up to formulate a plan of action to improve the quality of public expenditure in key result areas and enable its public monitoring. This committee would have a timeframe of three months to give its report and would be part of the 11th Plan monitoring.” That was in November 2007.
Similarly, in budget after budget, Chidambaram emphasized that what is important is not just outlays but outcomes. In his Budget Speech of 2005/06 he put it this way: “At the same time I must caution that outlays do not necessarily mean outcomes. The people of the country are concerned with outcomes. The Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasized the need to improve the quality of implementation and enhance the efficiency and accountability of the delivery mechanism.” So, what did he propose? “During the course of the year, together with the Planning Commission, we shall put in place a mechanism to measure the development outcomes of all major programmes. We shall also ensure that programmes and schemes are not allowed to continue indefinitely from one Plan period to the next without an independent and in-depth evaluation…”
Accordingly, a new Central Plan Scheme, “Strengthening evaluation capacity in government,” was introduced in 2005/06. The Planning Commission’s website informs us that the outlays for this scheme to monitor schemes and programmes during the three subsequent years were pegged at Rs. 8.55 crore, Rs. 26 crore and Rs. 12 crore respectively. These amounts were sanctioned to the same, admittedly enfeebled PEO!
Chidambram repeated similar declarations in his subsequent budgets. The Prime Minister kept emphasizing the same point in speech after speech.
As little happened, in his Budget Speech for 2008/09, Chidambaram took decisive action:
“I think we do not pay enough attention to outcomes as we do to outlays; or to physical targets as we do to financial targets; or to quality as we do to quantity. Government, therefore, proposes to put in place a Central Plan Schemes Monitoring System (CPSMS) that will be implemented as a Plan Scheme of the Planning Commission. A comprehensive Decision Support System and Management Information System will also be established. The intended outcome is to generate and monitor scheme-wise and state-wise releases for about 1000 Central Plan and centrally sponsored schemes in 2008-09.”
Given the words that were fashionable at the time, he added,
“Government also intends to strengthen evaluation. Some ministries have started concurrent evaluation. This needs to be supplemented by independent evaluations conducted by research institutions. The Planning Commission will authorize such evaluations of the major schemes and complete the task by the time of the mid-term review of the 11th Plan.”
What will the new reports and mechanisms that the Address proposes accomplish that the schemes and mechanisms that were set up in the last four years could not?
As for the new proposals of setting up a Delivery Monitoring Mechanism in the PMO and an Independent Evaluation Office “catalyzed by the Planning Commission,” we seem to forget that
• A committee has already been functioning under no less than the Prime Minister himself to ensure the expeditious implementation of and to monitor the implementation of all major infrastructure projects.
• Similarly, as the projects under the National Highways Authority had come to a near standstill, an “independent evaluation” of their implementation was entrusted to the Planning Commission. The Prime Minister himself took a much-publicized review. Decisions were taken at the review. The result was that, while the prescribed period for awarding contracts had been laid down as five months, the NHAI, after the review, and the decisions taken at the review, has been taking 20 months to award the contracts.
• As power projects have been falling behind at a rate even greater than other infrastructure projects, yet another committee was set up – this one under the then Finance Minister, Chidambaram – to ensure that all bottlenecks were removed. The committee continued to function, the power projects continued to take longer and longer.
And yet, what the President’s Address promises is another “Delivery Monitoring Mechanism in the PMO”, another “Independent Evaluation Office catalyzed by the Planning Commission”!
As for the “institutionalized quarterly reporting”, and the five annual reports, they will be of assistance only to the extent to which the reporting is candid. If all that happens is what has been happening in the Action Taken Reports that follow commissions; if all that happens is what has been happening in the Action Taken booklet that is now being appended to budgets, no object will be fulfilled – people will not be better informed, officials will not be any more accountable, nor will implementation be nudged to become more expeditious. Recall what was said in those documents about drinking water, about power, about the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyuti Karan Yojana, and what the facts actually were. Inquire if a single person – official or minister – suffered – either for the shortfalls or for the suggestio falsi. The problem is that the same culture of insinuating the false, and suppressing the true, continues. Reading paragraph 22 of the Address the President has given this year, you would conclude that the Government has, in fact, achieved what it set out to do under the Bharat Nirman programmes five years ago. In fact, on every single item the achievements have been far, far below targets.
In a word, on the crucial point of implementation, the new Government augurs no new beginning.
What we need is an approach that is much sterner, and at the same time much more generous:
• A massive system of rewards – to states as well as to firms which implement projects within the time frame and cost estimates that had been agreed to in the beginning. This is what will be the real stimulus package: it will get money to those who work on these projects and thereby stimulate demand; even more important, it will leave in its wake completed capital assets.
• A corresponding system of penalizing those firms and officers that do not implement projects in time and within the stipulated cost.
An illustration will bring home the culture that prevails and what we need instead. To rein in the enormous cost over runs and time overflows that were typical of projects, the Cabinet decided that, when and if a proposal came for approval of additional funds, it would be accompanied by an inter-ministerial report fixing responsibility for the over runs. At one stage, I read 30-odd of these reports. Each and every one of them without a single exception concluded that no one was to be blamed, that the over runs had taken place because of “systemic failures”, that mantra of universal absolution!
• We must quickly pass whatever changes in the law are needed: for instance, the Address mentions the Land Acquisition Bill. Compensation should be based on market price, not some artificially notified governmental figure. Save in the rarest of rare cases, the entrepreneur should purchase the land directly, governments should not acquire it for him. Rehabilitation must be full. The persons who were displaced must be given both – a stake in and jobs in the new project. This is not rocket science. The components have been enumerated times without number. Indeed, one consequence of Nandigram and Singur has been that all governments and political parties have deliberated on alternatives. These can be swiftly taken into account, and the Bill passed.
These are the sorts of things on which we should all join to ensure expeditious implementation.
In regard to the specific reforms that have been listed in the Address, I urge two cautions.
The first is in regard to disinvestment. What has been proposed – that up to 51 per cent shares in governmental enterprises will be sold, while government control over the enterprises will be maintained – is the worst possible alternative.
• This is what was tried between 1991 and 1998. The entire amount realised from sale of government shares went into, and will now go into the black hole of fiscal deficits.
• Such sale of government shares while retaining control in government hands, does not change the governmental character of the enterprise, which is the real malady: for instance, look at what has happened to Air India in the last five years, the very years in which Civil Aviation is the one sector in which Reforms have continued apace.
• In fact, this device of selling shares to raise resources, encourages fiscal indiscipline: wasteful, populist expenditures are made, and then deficits are sought to be plugged by selling shares.
The only justification for what is being proposed today is that fiscal mismanagement in the last five years, particularly in the last two years has now left no alternative at all.
Therefore, I sincerely hope that a seasoned person like Pranab Mukherjee will steer the Government’s finances back to prudence, and that we will get back to the discipline of the FRBM.
Second, I must caution against attempts, ever so visible once again in the President’s Address, to justify everything in the name of “inclusiveness”. “My Government will continue to accord the highest priority to the welfare of Minorities,” the Address says. Why not to the security of the country? Why not to the families of those who have laid down their lives in defence of the country? Why not to the poor, whatever their religion? When expenditures are made which will, to everyone’s knowledge, leave no capital assets in their wake, they are justified in the name of “inclusiveness”. Now the absolutely suicidal schemes which are being launched for the ostensible purpose of helping Minorities, are again being justified in the name of “inclusiveness”.
I am for the fullest possible help to every deprived section of society. But there are four principles of secularism that must form the banks within which such assistance is given:
• First, the individual must be the unit of State policy, not a group.
• Second, in selecting the individual, secular criteria must be used: for instance, income and asset levels – the sort of criteria that are used in identifying individuals and families that fall below the Poverty Line.
• Third, we should never give to a group of one religion what we will not give to groups of another religion.
• Fourth, we must never give to a religious group or institution, what we will deny to a secular group or institution.
And, fifth, the help which is given must not be in the form of an entitlement as in Reservations, as in the Prime Minister’s declaration, “Muslims have the first claim on the resources of the country.” It must be positive help, help that will lift that individual to a level where he can compete with others on an equal footing.
The lesson of history is that discourse, perceptions, politics, eventually power, gets congealed around the criteria on which allocations are made by the State, schemes are formulated, or help is proffered. The classic device of the British divide and rule policy was exactly this: a group could get assistance or a privilege if it remained, and to the extent that it remained separate from the rest of society. Recall their diabolic decision to decree separate electorates for Muslims. And recall its fatal effect: in his book written in the 1940s, W. Cantwell Smith put the point in prescient words:
“A Secretary of State for India, Lord Olivier, once admitted the playing-off of one community against another: ‘No one with any close acquaintance of Indian affairs will be prepared to deny that on the whole there is a predominant bias in British officials in India in favour of the Muslim community, partly on the ground of closer sympathy but more largely as a make-weight against Hindu nationalism.’ The government’s method of encouraging communalism has been to approach all political subjects, and as many other subjects as possible, on a communalist basis; and to encourage, even to insist upon, everyone else’s doing likewise. The principal technique is separate electorates: making the enfranchised Muslims, and the enfranchised sections of many other groups, into an increasing number of separate constituencies, so that they vote communally, think communally, listen only to communal election speeches, judge the delegates communally, look for constitutional and other reforms only in terms of more relative communal power, and express their grievances communally. Even the British government has admitted on occasions that the system serves to keep India from gaining independence by political means: ‘Division by creeds and classes means the creation of political camps organised against each other, and teaches men to think as partisans and not as citizens… We regard any system of communal electorates, therefore, as a very serious hindrance to the development of the self-governing principle.’ [Edwin Montague, Secretary of State for India, and Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy, Proposals for Indian Constitutional Reforms.] And as this same statement goes on to say, the principle works so well that once it has been firmly established, it so entrenches communalism that one could hardly then abandon the principle even if one wished to do so.”
It is this seed which eventually led to the partition of India. The identical result has ensued from the decision to base Reservations on caste – that evil fissure, caste, which was being dissolved by modernization, has been bolstered. What is being done in a state like Andhra today – repeated decrees, in spite of their being struck down by courts, making reservations for Muslims as Muslims; grants of Rs. 12,000 to every Muslim and Christian couple on their marriage; subsidies for journeys to Mecca and now Jerusalem – and what is being planned in the wake of the Sachar Committee Report are an exact replay of that sequence of the first half of the last century. What happened then, will happen now: such communal measures will widen the earth-faults of our society; they will foment separatism, and the country will be reduced to fending off demands for separation.
Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Government will think again about where the measures which it is pushing for the ostensible purpose of helping Minorities will eventually lead the country.
The principal legacy
We all remember, the Prime Minister’s repeated pledge during the last term: there will be “zero tolerance of corruption.” There is absolutely no mention at all in the President’s Address of any step towards translating this resolve into fact.
By contrast, the Address the President read out in June 2004 on behalf of the first Government led by Manmohan Singh proclaimed,
“The Government is determined to rid the country of the scourge of corruption. The root causes of corruption and the generation of black money will be effectively tackled. For this purpose, procedures will be streamlined and processes will be appropriately re-engineered to bring in transparency in governance.”
Can it be that corruption has been completely wiped out and, therefore, there is no need now for such a pledge and programme? Is it that the tolerance has risen somewhat above zero? Or is it that realism has crept in? The realization, “As we are not going to be able to do anything about it at all, why mention it?”
And recall what this year’s Address says in paragraph 31: “An area of major focus for my Government would be reform of governance for effective delivery of public services. Reports of the Administrative Reform Commission would guide the effort…” Well, that very Commission has made a series of detailed recommendations about things that need to be done urgently to eradicate that “scourge of corruption.” There is not a word about any of these recommendations either. Should the sentence in this year’s Address, therefore, have read, “Reports of the Administrative Reform Commission would guide the effort – except in regard to wiping out corruption?”
The reason I mention this omission is that the singular, and most debilitating legacy of this Government’s first term has been the erosion of norms, and the perverse use of institutions:
• From inducting into the Council of Ministers persons against whom criminal cases were proceeding, to
• Gross corruption, to
• The complete abandonment of even the semblance of collective responsibility, to
• Wanton disregard of the verdict of courts, even the Supreme Court – as on the IMDT Act.
And the conversion of institutions into instruments. Recall how the CBI was converted into a posse of convenience: the cases against Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Yadav swung as the need for their support swung. Recall the disgraceful way in which Quattrochi was allowed to spirit away his money from banks in London even though it had been frozen by court orders. Recall the even more disgraceful way in which he was allowed to fly free from Argentina where he had been caught because of a Red Alert Notice of Interpol. Recall the most disgraceful and shameless way in which all proceedings against him were dropped, on the so-called “opinion” of a rubber-stamp of a law officer. The office of the Governor also was prostituted time and again, and the Supreme Court passed the strongest possible strictures against what was done by the Governors in the interest of their controllers in Delhi.
But a State, even a Government runs on iqbal, on esteem, on institutions discharging their dharma, on being obeyed spontaneously for doing so.
Unfortunately, neither the President’s Address nor anything said or done till now gives any indication whatsoever that things will be any different on this, the central legacy of the first term of this Government. On the contrary, there is every prospect that victory will make them feel vindicated in their ways. The consequences will be upon the country. And therein lies the case for maximum vigilance.
“My Government shall…,” “My Government has…,” My Government will…” The expression jars – for several reasons. It is a relic of the British times – the Government is no more the President’s than it is of the ordinary citizen. Worse, there have been instances when a President has spoken of “My Government” doing this and the other, and extolling what it has done, and immediately having had to speak as the mouthpiece of the Government that replaced it, and which was keen on showing how the previous Government had in fact not done what was needed! Indeed, such a reversal had to be executed in the term of the immediate predecessor of this President! In the case of hapless Governors such somersaults are frequent. In addition, every other year, in some state or the other, they have to suffer the indignity of legislators not letting them read the Address at all: on occasion, Governors have had to read just the first and last sentences, and declare that the rest of the Address may be taken as having been read; on others, Governors have had to go on reading the text in the din with not one word audible!
And look at the dhobi lists that governments make the President read. Not just dhobi lists, but carelessly drafted dhobi lists. Look at the list of things in this Address that the Government says it will do “in the next 100 days.” Among these are the following:
• “The next three years would be devoted to training panchayat raj functionaries in administering flagship programmes”. Three years compressed into 100 days? Or 100 days stretched to three years?
• “Five Annual Reports to be presented by Government as Reports to the People on education, health, employment, environment and infrastructure to generate a national debate.” Five annual reports in 100 days?
• “Electronic governance through Bharat Nirman common serve centres in all panchayats in the next three years.” Three years compressed into 100 days? Or 100 days stretched to three years?
• “A roadmap for judicial reform to be outlined in six months and implemented in a time-bound manner”: Six months within 100 days?
Similarly, it would be a miracle if some of the things which have been pledged for the next hundred days can be accomplished within that time period. Consider as examples, the following:
• “Revamping of banks and post offices to become out reach units for financial inclusion complemented by business correspondents aided by technology”;
• “Targeted identification cards would subsume and replace omnibus below poverty line list. NREGA has a job card and the proposed Food Security Act would also create a new card…”
Such things will get done in just 100 days? Such proclamations are no more than what John Kenneth Galbraith had identified as one of the features of Indian planning: namely, therapeutic targetry! It has become habitual with our governments. Should we implicate the President of India in such inanity?
What the President or Governors are asked to read out is the programme of the government of the day. The Prime Minister or Chief Minister should read it out, and take responsibility for the contents.
In a persuasive paper,  Justice Rama Jois has set out the constitutional provisions that bear on the matter, and also the shouting and walkouts that he had to endure as he tried to read the Governor’s Addresses to the Assemblies in Jharkhand and Bihar. He has correctly concluded that the constitutional requirements would be perfectly met were the President or Governor to address the legislators merely as follows:
“This joint session of the Parliament has been convened in terms of clause (1) of Article 87. I hereby inaugurate the session and declare it open. I call upon the Prime Minister to place a statement of his Government regarding the policies and programmes of his Government and direct each House of the Parliament to discuss the same in terms of clause (2) of Article 87.”
1) Based on speech delivered on 8 June 2009 in the Rajya Sabha on the Address of the President, June 2009.
2) The Tribune, 25 April 2009.
3) As a single example, take the Report, Ethics in Government, of the new Administrative Reforms Commission. On each of the following matters, its recommendations are exactly the ones that were urged by the Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution:
4) M. Rama Jois, President’s Address to Parliament and Governor’s Address to Legislature, Need to change the practice,” Vijnaneshwara Research and Training Centre in Polity, Gulbarga, 2008. The same words would hold for state Assemblies and Governors, substituting “Article 176” for “Article 87”, “Assembly” for “Parliament”, “session” for “joint session”, and “Chief Minister” for “Prime Minister”.