Ganga pollution load has increased four times between 2009 and 2016 – Ritwick Dutta

Ganga at Varanasi

Ritwick DuttaThe river Ganga is viewed as a sewage drain even in areas where it is regarded as the most sacred, for example in Varanasi, Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad) and Rishikesh. – Ritwick Dutta

In 1985, the Supreme Court of India issued directions to various authorities to clean up the river Ganga. The Supreme Court’s intervention in M. C. Mehta versus the Union of India was seen as unprecedented at that time. The apex court became the epitome of judicial activism and innovation. The concept of “continuing mandamus”, the “polluter pay principle”, and “liberal locus standi”, led to judgements of the Supreme Court being quoted the world over. Environmental jurisprudence in India was born principally out of the various orders to clean the most polluted, yet, sacred river. The “Ganga Pollution Case” as it is known,  is a test case to examine the efficacy of public interest litigation (PIL) as a panacea for environmental problems.

The Supreme Court itself acknowledged the ineffectiveness of its directions in order of October 29, 2014.

“We regret to say that the intervention and sustained effort made by us over the past 30 years notwithstanding no fruitful result has been achieved so far, except shutting down of some of the polluting units. This is largely because while orders have been passed by us, the implementation remains in the hands of statutory authorities including the CPCB and the State PCBs which have done practically nothing to effectuate those orders or to take independent steps that would prevent pollution of the river. A total lack of monitoring by the statutory bodies has contributed to the current state of affairs”.

The above observation reflects the sorry state of implementation of orders and disdain for the orders of even the highest constitutional court of the country. The court felt that given the necessity of close monitoring of the cleaning of the river, the National Green Tribunal is better placed to adjudicate on the issue and in October  2014, transferred the case to the NGT.

The National Green Tribunal on July 13, 2017, delivered a 543-page judgement on the river Ganga. The Tribunal, painstakingly, went into minute details and perused report after report on a “drain to drain” basis on the stretch of the river Ganga between Haridwar to Kanpur. The Tribunal’s task was not easy: It had less to do with the actual cleaning and more to do with getting information from the agencies and balancing conflicting interests. The varied and conflicting stands of Central Pollution Control Board, the various State Pollution Control Boards as well as the Municipalities and Industry Association made the task of the Tribunal difficult.

One of the most startling facts that has come out in the judgement is that the pollution load in the river Ganga has increased by nearly four times from 2009 to 2016 in the stretch between Haridwar to Kanpur. This is the same stretch which has seen the maximum judicial orders as well as government expenditures for cleaning up of the river. The judgement refers to the challenges faced in the cleaning of the river Ganga. Firstly, there is open and indiscriminate dumping of both industrial and domestic sewage into the river with no treatment of the effluents. This is the most important reason for the pollution. Secondly, while common effluent treatment facilities/sewage treatment facilities exist, they are not equipped to treat major pollutants such as faecal coliform and finally, where the technical facilities exist with the capacity to treat pollutants, they are not operated in order to reduce the costs. How this will change with the NGT’s direction, only time will tell. We must not forget that we live in a culture of tolerance toward those who have a disdain for rule of law. Violation of the law is seen as a democratic right and the “right to pollute” is seen as a component of the fundamental right of expression.

The Supreme Court, in order to deal with the Ganga pollution case, used the legal tool of “continuing mandamus”. A mandamus is a direction (writ) issued by the Court and the government is obligated to implement it in letter and spirit. Given the complicated nature of the issues related to the cleaning of the river, the Court felt that rather than a single comprehensive direction, there is a need to issue directions on a continuing basis. “continuing mandamus” was, therefore, an innovation of the Supreme Court and is now followed by many judiciaries across the world. However, the fact that despite series of directions, the orders of the Supreme Court were not followed, raises serious questions about the efficacy of continuing mandamus as a tool for ensuring compliance. The NGT, in its latest judgement on the Ganga pollution, has taken some innovative and not so innovative steps. First, rather than an adversarial approach of litigation it has followed what it has termed as “stakeholder consultative process of adjudication” which involves judges, officers and scientific bodies sitting across the table and trying to resolve complicated issues in a more cordial atmosphere. The second is the Tribunal’s recognition that there needs to be segmental watershed based approach to rivers and that a river basin approach needs to be adopted. However, in place of a more decentralised model for treatment of effluents, the Tribunal has, in fact, approved an “end of the pipeline of each drain as a solution”.

Only time will tell how seriously the NGT’s order will be followed. History does not inspire much confidence. The Supreme Court’s orders for cleaning up the Ganga were flouted with impunity. After 30 years of effort, not a single officer was held guilty for wilful and deliberate violation of the orders of the highest constitutional court armed with powers of contempt. Sadly, river Ganga’s plight is no different from the holy cow. The sacred view towards the cow does not insulate it from the unimaginable cruelty the animal suffers throughout its life as both a dairy and draught animal. The river Ganga is viewed as a sewage drain even in areas where it is regarded as the most sacred, for example in Varanasi, Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad) and Rishikesh. As a result, ironically, the river regarded as sacred by a large number of people in the world, is also among the worlds’ most polluted river. The latest judgement of the NGT is one more effort by the court to clean the river. Hopefully, the efforts of the court will not go down the drain. – Business Standard, 19 July 2017

» Ritwick Dutta is an environmental lawyer.

Alain Danielou

 

Netaji didn’t die in an air crash, says secret French report – M.T. Saju

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

M.T. SajuA French secret service report dated December 11, 1947 at the National Archives of France, [says] that Bose didn’t die in an air crash and was still alive in 1947. – M. T. Saju

How did Subhas Chandra Bose die? To find the answer, the Indian government had appointed three commissions. The Shah Nawaz Committee (1956) and Khosla Commission (1970) said that Bose died in an air crash on August 18, 1945 at Taihoku airport in Japanese-occupied Taipei, while the Mukherjee Commission (1999) concluded that he did not die in an air crash. The government, however, rejected the findings of the Mukherjee Commission. But that didn’t stop scholars from dwelling deep to find the truth.

Paris-based historian J.B.P. More, who recently stumbled upon a brief French secret service report dated December 11, 1947 at the National Archives of France, has come up with a finding that Bose didn’t die in an air crash and was still alive in 1947.

“It is not stated in the document that Subhas Chandra Bose died in the air crash in Taiwan. Instead, it is reported that Bose’s present whereabouts were unknown as late as December 1947, which again implies that the French did not buy the theory that Bose died in the air-crash on August 18, 1945,” said More, who teaches at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Economiques et Commerciales, Paris.

 The gist of the matter for the French secret service, according to More, is that Bose did not die in the air crash on August 18, 1945, as commonly held. “But he escaped from Indochina alive and his whereabouts were unknown as late as December 11, 1947, as reported in the secret document. This implies that he was alive somewhere but not dead in 1947,” said More, quoting the report written for the Haut Commisariat de France for Indochina, SDECE Indochinese Base, BCRI No. 41283 csah Ex No. 616, under the title, “Archival Information on Subhas Chandra Bose.” “In this report, it is clearly stated that he was the ex-chief of the Indian Independence League and a member of Hikari Kikan, a Japanese organisation. It is further stated clearly that he escaped from Indochina, though it does not state how,” he said.

The British and the Japanese too declared that Bose died in an air crash after he took off from Saigon on his way to Tokyo. But the French government had always been silent on the issue, though Vietnam/Indochina was a French colony during the 1940s. So the findings of More attain significance. “Very quickly after the Japanese debacle and surrender on 15th August 1945, the French arrived in Saigon, along with British troops and took charge of Saigon. But unfortunately they left no direct accounts of Bose’s death in the air crash. They had never endorsed the theory that Bose died in the crash,” said More.

Scholars like Kingshuk Nag said the findings in the report should be taken seriously. “Even though the Mukherjee Commission concluded that Bose didn’t die in an air crash, the government didn’t recognise it. The Centre’s idea to ‘declassify’ secret files on Bose may not help. But findings like this have significance,” said Nag, a noted journalist and author of the book Netaji: Living Dangerously. – The Times of India, 16 July 2017

» M. T. Saju writes on heritage, art, and archaeology for The Times of India in Chennai.

National Archives of France

 

 

Anarchists stoking campus unrest – K. G. Suresh

AISA at JNU

K. G. SureshPseudo intellectuals who have made a fortune through the liberal largesse of successive governments in the past, are finding themselves cornered today with the new regime strictly implementing academic discipline and norms. – K. G. Suresh

A planned, deliberate exercise is being undertaken by sections of frustrated, desperate and ideologically isolated faculty and students to denigrate and destabilise prestigious educational institutions, including universities, across the country. That these anarchist elements, who have enjoyed the fruits of power over the last several decades at the cost of academic discipline, accountability and standards, are becoming unnerved by the loss of their empire, is evident from the artificial protests and propaganda being unleashed from time to time ever since a new dispensation has taken over the reins at the Raisina Hill.

From Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the north and Film and Television Institute of India in the west, to Hyderabad University in the south and Jadavpur University in the east, these elements have been trying to foment trouble and orchestrate campaigns over flimsy issues to project the government and its appointees as anti-Dalit, anti-women and anti-minorities, in connivance with fellow travellers in the media.

The pattern is the same. The foot soldiers of an ideology, which carried out the inhuman purge in Russia, the ruthless cultural revolution in China, the ethnic cleansing in Tibet, the gross human rights violations in Siberia and Xinjiang, the suppression of democracy by crushing students under military tanks in Tiananmen Square, have become ironically the self-proclaimed champions of democracy and human rights in India.

From Gajendra Chauhan to Pahlaj Nihalani and B. B. Kumar, among others, all appointees of the present regime are portrayed as ‘mediocre’, agents of the RSS and accused of saffronisation. The spit-and-run tactics of these foreign-funded activists in the garb of academics and students include making wild, sweeping, unsubstantiated allegations the moment any effort is made to make them accountable or disciplined.

They are trying to build a new narrative—that students should be consulted before the appointment of any head of the institution, and administration should not take any decision without taking faculty into confidence, even on non-academic matters. Any effort to make them accountable, including insistence on biometric attendance, is outrightly rejected. Any attempt to get vacated their long-held positions or ineligible occupation of hostels are construed as undemocratic acts, and licence to abuse is touted as freedom of speech and expression.

These pseudo intellectuals, who have made a fortune through the liberal largesse of successive governments in the past, are finding themselves cornered today with the new regime strictly implementing academic discipline and norms.

Over the years, they had penetrated every institution thanks to undeserving patronage extended to them by their godfathers. In the process, they also ensured that those who disagreed with their world view were denied their due. Being a nationalist became the albatross around the neck of many deserving academics. Nobody talked about their freedom of thought and expression—their academic freedom. They were at the receiving end in academic appointments and promotions. The nation’s academia was dominated by a mafia, which determined their fate and pushed them into the netherworld with contempt and ruthlessness.

The current protests and propaganda are only acts of desperation by these so-called scholars who have realised that their time is over, their game is up and the golden days of their dominance over national institutions are no more. The crusade undertaken by institutions such as JNU to remove the scourge of political untouchability, discrimination and apartheid that have been pursued over the last several decades, must be appreciated by all right-thinking people and supported by the government. Only then can Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of a New India be fully realised. – The New Indian Express, 16 July 2017

» K. G. Suresh is the Director General of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi.

AISA anti-national protest at JNU

India & Israel: The fruition of bonds made in the hoary past – Sandhya Jain

Modi & Netanyahi (2017)

Sandhya JainIndia will always be grateful for the affection and respect showered upon Prime Minister Modi, with Prime Minister Netanyahu accompanying him at almost all his engagements, “as befits the leader of the world’s largest democracy”. – Sandhya Jain

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated his maiden visit to Israel with a lead article written jointly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and published simultaneously in India and Israel that reflected the efforts of both to make the trip memorable. “Hand In Hand Into The Future” (TOI July 4) commemorates the establishment of full diplomatic relations 25 years ago and celebrates India as the only nation where Jewish refugees were welcomed and never persecuted. This is also the ‘return visit’ India owes Israel after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit in 2003.

The article set the tone for the visit in a sense that a similar exercise with US President Barack Obama did not, if only because Netanyahu did not lecture Modi on “tolerance” and “pluralism”, values the West is now revising in the face of growing terrorist incidents in its front lawns, not to mention the rising incidents of rape and molestation by those to whom it opened its doors.

India will always be grateful for the affection and respect showered upon Prime Minister Modi, with Prime Minister Netanyahu accompanying him at almost all his engagements, “as befits the leader of the world’s largest democracy”, as he so engagingly put it. Such attention is normally reserved for American Presidents. Astonishingly, in the G20 that followed, Donald Trump left the front row during the ceremonial photograph and stood with Modi in the second row!

Some writers have dwelt excessively upon Modi de-hyphenating the Israel visit from Ramallah (Palestine). But the real achievement is the skill with which India has negotiated the regional cauldron to further its interests with Iran, the Gulf kingdoms, and Israel. The visit to Tel Aviv was preceded by visits to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Iran; while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was received in New Delhi. Previously, the Syrian deputy prime minister was also received in India.

More fundamentally, a civilisational bond forged in the hoary past has reached natural fruition. Judaism is at least a thousand years older than Christianity, and words of Sanskrit origin are said to have appeared in the Hebrew Bible 3,000 years ago. Also, Jewish authors of the Roman era, rabbis of the Talmud (religious law), Jewish traders and philosophers in the Middle Ages all spoke of India. It is possible that the Jews who arrived in Kerala after the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 70 A.D., like Parsis many centuries later, knew the route to India.

The Prime Minister gifted Netanyahu replicas of two sets of copper plates, likely inscribed in the 9-10th century. The first describes the grant of hereditary royal privileges and prerogatives by Cheraman Perumal (possibly Bhaskara Ravi Varma) to Jewish leader Joseph Rabban. Jewish tradition claims Joseph Rabban was later anointed Prince of Shingli, a place in or equated with Cranganore, where Jews enjoyed religious and cultural autonomy for centuries before moving to Cochin and other places in Malabar. Shingli was revered as a “second Jerusalem”, and Jews would place a handful of earth from Shingli in each coffin after migrating.

The second set is perhaps the earliest documentation of the history of Jewish trade with India, and records the grant of land and tax privileges by the local Hindu ruler to a church [ca. 345 CE]. Prime Minister Netanyahu reciprocated with a photo of Indian soldiers leading a British military column to liberate Jerusalem. More gratifyingly, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem has recreated a replica of Cochin’s Kadavumbagam synagogue, built in the 16th century. The visit revealed that some eminent Mumbai Jews are descendants of Baghdadi Jews, which suggests further streams of migration, about which little is known. Perhaps Indian Jews need to record their Indian story, as Parsis have done. Currently, Whatsapp groups are reviving memories of Nawanagar ruler, Jam Saheb Digvijaysinghji, caring for 600 Polish Jewish children escaping Hitler’s heel. In all, approximately 20,000 Polish Jews took refuge in India during the War.

The visit includes cooperation in agriculture, culture, tourism, business (especially startups) and military and strategic affairs. Israel has avoided public mention of Iran, which periodically threatens its existence, but is a major trade and investment partner of India. Despite not supporting Tel Aviv on regime change in Syria, New Delhi has shown sensitivity to some of its legitimate concerns, shifting voting patterns at the United Nations and abstaining from resolutions on the Palestinian issue. In July 2014, India abstained in the vote on the UN report condemning Israel for Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza strip.

Israel’s generous military support at critical times has been appreciated by Gen. V. P. Malik. During the war with China in 1962, she provided 81 mm and 120 mm mortars and pack howitzer artillery guns, with ammunition. In the 1971 war for Bangladesh, Israel reportedly delayed sending back Pakistani F-86 Sabre aircraft sent to it for maintenance. And during the Kargil war, Israel speeded up delivery of the previously ordered UAV Searcher-1, sent UAV teams to train Indian crews, along with ammunition and satellite pictures; all while the war was still on.

Today, Israel is one of India’s most important weapons suppliers, after Russia and the US. Early this year, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries announced a US$2 billion deal to supply air and missile defence systems to India; other deals are in the pipeline. The defence ties will involve co-development and co-production projects.

As the world’s best “start-up nation”, Israeli involvement could help with much needed technology and knowhow on water (managing, recycling, and desalinating water), agriculture and food security. There are already 15 fully operational joint Centers of Excellence under the Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project. Israel also has much to offer in health, environment, education, communications, cybernetics, space and security. Cyber security now transcends military security with the spread of banking, e-commerce, virus attacks, money laundering, and the need to protect sensitive digital data.

A highlight of the visit is the creation of a $40 million Innovation Fund to promote cooperation in hi-tech between the two countries. Israel has several military technology projects based on the “Make in India” programme, which include development of drones; thermal imager-based systems; air surveillance aerostats; strategic electronics and medium UAVs. Israeli scientists have used India’s excellent space technology to launch a nano satellite. Some of our big industrial houses have also begun to invest in Israel, though much more can be done in this field. All in all, this relationship could be a very giving one on both sides. – Vijayvaani, 11 July 2016

» Sandhya Jain is an author, independent researcher, and writer of political and contemporary affairs. She writes a fortnightly column for The Pioneer, New Delhi and edits an online opinions forum, www.vijayvaani.com

Jews arrive at Cochin (ca. AD 68)

Copper plate grants given to Joseph Rabban by Raja Bhaskara Ravi Varma (ca 1000 BCE-CE)

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple: Do not open Vault B! – Megha Varier

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple Vault B

Megha VarierConveying the family’s stand that Vault B should not be opened, Adithya Varma, member of the royal family, told TNM that the “secret and the sacred needs to be preserved.” – Megha Varier

The demand to open the last of the six vaults in the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram has once again created a divide in opinions.

Vault B, a chamber said to contain mysterious treasures remains closed even as other vaults in the temple were opened to take stock of the inventory as per directions of the Supreme Court.

While the CPI-(M)-led LDF government in the state has begun to hold discussions with the erstwhile Travancore Royal Family (that once managed the temple), members of the family continue to stick to beliefs that Vault B must remain closed.

Conveying the family’s stand that Vault B should not be opened, Adithya Varma, member of the royal family, told TNM that the “secret and the sacred needs to be preserved.”

“It is a sacred and a secret place. It is said that there is a passage from this Vault B that leads to the sreekovil (sanctum of the temple). Why should it be exposed to the public? And we have heard so many stories about the consequences of opening it,” Adithya Varma argued.

Even while maintaining that the family is bound to obey the Supreme Court’s decision on the matter, Adithya Varma said that Vault B shall remain closed, so that the “sanctity of the temple is preserved.”

Kadakampally Surendran, Minister for Devaswom, held a round of discussions with the family on Monday, regarding the opening of Vault B. However, the family reiterated their opposition.

Adithya added that although the family will not blindly oppose the opening of the chamber, the final call was to be taken by the Thanthri of the temple.

“Even when this issue came up in the past, we (the family) relied on Thanthri’s decision. That will be so this time around too. In the past when Devaprashnan (a ritual to ask God’s opinion) was done, the Thanthri advised us against opening the vault. People’s movement will only disturb the sanctity of the chamber and that is not advisable,” Adithya Varma said.

Asked whether the family was trying to hold on to its powers, even in a democratic set-up, the young member of the family said, “See, we don’t have anything to hide. People are saying that there is something in there that we are trying to hold on to … in the sense that we have some personal interest in keeping it closed. But we have seen what happened when they tried to open the vault previously. Justice Rajan and Justice Krishnan had, in 2012, tried to open the vault. But one person sustained injury and began to bleed profusely, after which, they had to drop the idea,” he said.

Former CAG Vinod Rai in his report to the SC had said that the royal family’s opposition was incorrect as Vault B had been opened several times in the past.

Responding to this, Adithya Varma said, “Vault B has two chambers. Only the ante-chamber, a small room, was opened in the past. The inner chamber has never been opened.”

Adithya Varma, however, added that it was up to the SC to give its decision and that everyone, including the family was bound to obey it.

“The state government is of the opinion that the Vault B should be opened. They will give their affidavit to the court, we will do so too. But ultimately, we have to go by what the apex court decides,” Adithya Varma said. – The News Minute, 10 July 2017

» Megha Varier reports for The News Minute from Kerala and Karnataka.

Sonia Gandhi and the toxicity of the Congress party – Minhaz Merchant

 

Sonia Gandhi & Rahul Gandhi

Minhaz MerchantIn 1998, when Sonia Gandhi took over the presidency of the Congress, the full toxicity of the party became evident. – Minhaz Merchant

Without quite realising it, the Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi has become a toxic force in Indian politics.

The 1975-77 Emergency, during which more than one lakh journalists, Opposition leaders and civil society activists were jailed (including L. K. Advani and Arun Jaitley), exposed the first autocratic gene in the Congress. Indians’ fundamental rights were suspended for nearly two years. The Constitution was subverted.

The attempt by the Congress to censor Madhur Bhandarkar’s new film on the Emergency, Indu Sarkar, underscores how keenly aware the Congress is of the human rights violations it committed during the Emergency.

In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi—an essentially decent man whose career was impaled by bad advisors—planted the seed of communalism in mainstream politics by overturning through parliamentary legislation a 1985 Supreme Court order that had granted maintenance to an elderly divorced Muslim woman Shah Bano.

But it wasn’t till 1998, when Sonia Gandhi took over the presidency of the Congress, that the full toxicity of the party would become evident. The crude, thoughtless overnight eviction of then Congress president Sitaram Kesri was an early sign.

When the Congress took power at the Centre in 2004 after a hiatus of six years, it showed its true colours. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the gentle, erudite face of the Congress-led UPA government for ten years, Sonia called the shots behind the scenes.

The party had four organisational layers. The first comprised senior lawyer-ministers P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid and Veerappa Moily. The second was made up of senior loyalists Jairam Ramesh, Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma.

The third layer was led by ground-level operators Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad. The fouth layer comprised Rahul’s young turks – Jyotiraditya Scinda, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Deepender Hooda and Jitin Prasada—all dynasts.

Working seamlessly, monitored closely by a stentorian Sonia, the four-tiered Congress team presided over the UPA’s two terms from 2004-14, widely regarded as India’s decade of scams and sectarian politics.

The communal seed planted after the Shah Bano case in 1985-86 had by now grown into a forest of trees with “saffron terror” carved on the bark of each tree trunk by the Congress’ slick four-layered operation.

The greatest disservice the Congress did was to set back by decades the cause of bona fide secularism. As I wrote in the article, “The Ayatollahs of Secularism”, in The Times of India: “The two real enemies of the Muslim—communal politicians masquerading as secular politicians to win votes and mullahs deliberately misinterpreting the holy book to retain power over their flock—form a natural alliance. Together they have enriched themselves but impoverished India’s Muslims, materially and intellectually, in the name of secularism. Influential sections of especially the electronic media, suffused with hearts bleeding from the wrong ventricle, are part of this great fraud played on India’s poor Muslims: communalism dressed up as secularism. The token Muslim is lionised—from business to literature—but the common Muslim languishes in his ghetto.”

Scams meanwhile profilerated. Three years after the Congress plunged from 206 MPs to 44 in May 2014, most though inexplicably remain unresolved—to the NDA government’s and the judicial system’s discredit. But each one—AgustaWestland, 2G, Scorpene, CWG, Coalgate—is a reminder of how corruption became the new normal in 2004-14.

Cut to the present. The Congress clearly hasn’t learnt its lesson. K. C. Tyagi, a Rajya Sabha MP from the JD(U), the party on whom rests the Opposition’s hope of stitching together a credible mahagathbandhan in 2019, had this to say of the Congress: “We are very upset at the behaviour of the Congress. The character assassination of our leader, Nitish Kumar, has also happened. The Congress today is not the Congress party of 1952, 1962 or 1984. It is not even a legitimate Congress party.”

When even a chronic Modi-baiter like Tyagi berates the Congress as not “legitimate”, Indian politics has clearly reached a point of inflection.

Borewell of toxicity

The Congress today is in real danger of immersing itself in a self-made borewell of toxicity. Its decision to boycott the special session of Parliament on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is only the latest in a series of self-destructive moves.

Note the other parties which joined the Congress’ GST boycott: RJD, DMK, TMC and the Left. What do they have in common? Serious charges of corruption.

1. The RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav is looking at fresh jail time in the fodder scam. He is meanwhile battling charges of undeclared assets against his two sons, daughter and wife.

2. The DMK’s A. Raja, in and out of jail since the 2G scam broke, has implicated senior Congress ministers in the telecom license corruption case.

3. The TMC’s top leadership faces charges in the Saradha, Rose Valley and Narada scams which have singed Mamata Banerjee’s reputation for probity, quite apart from her inaction over communal riots in West Bengal.

4. The Left has been implicated in a slew of brutal communal killings in Kerala where its government is accused of complicity.

Virtually every other Opposition party, including the SP, BSP, JD(U), NCP and the JD(S), was represented at the special midnight GST parliamentary session. The four holdouts—RJD, DMK, TMC and the Left—who joined the Congress boycott spoke volumes for the party’s diminished reputation.

Sonia has over the 19 years of her presidency converted the Congress into a family business ruled with an iron fist. Rahul has been inheritor-in-waiting for three years. It is an indictment of Indian democracy that India’s second largest political party continues to operate like a feudal family firm.

India deserves better. – Daily-O, 7 July 2017

» Minhaz Merchant is an author and journalist in Mumbai.

UPA-2 Scams

Asia’s big bully threatens tiny Bhutan – Brahma Chellaney

Soldiers at the India-China border crossing Nathu-la

Brahma ChellaneyChina’s strategy of territorial creep is based not on chess, which is centered on securing a decisive victory, but on the ancient Chinese game of Go, aimed at steadily making incremental gains by outwitting the opponent through unrelenting attacks on its weak points. – Brahma Chellaney

Bhutan, one of the world’s smallest nations, has protested that the Asian colossus, China, is chipping away at its territory by building a strategic highway near the Tibet-India-Bhutan trijunction in the Himalayas. Bhutan has security arrangements with India, and the construction has triggered a tense standoff between Chinese and Indian troops at the trijunction, with the Chinese state media warning of the possibility of war.

Bhutan says, “China’s construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation” of its agreements with Beijing. China, however, has sought to obscure its aggression by blaming India for not respecting either the trijunction points or the boundary between Tibet and the Indian state of Sikkim, which is also contiguous to Bhutan.

In the way an increasingly muscular China—without firing a single shot—has waged stealth wars to change the status quo in the South and East China seas, it has been making furtive encroachments across its Himalayan frontiers with the intent to expand its control meter by meter, kilometer by kilometer. It has targeted strategic areas in particular.

If its land grab is challenged, China tends to play the victim, including accusing the other side of making a dangerous provocation. And to mask the real issue involved, it chooses to wage a furious propaganda war. Both these elements have vividly been on display in the current troop standoff at the edge of the Chumbi Valley, a Chinese-controlled zone that forms a wedge between Bhutan and Sikkim, and juts out as a dagger against a thin strip of Indian territory known as the Chicken Neck, which connects India’s northeast to the rest of the country.

In recent years, China has been upgrading its military infrastructure and deployments in this highly strategic region so that, in the event of a war, its military blitzkrieg can cut off India from its northeast. Such an invasion would also leave Bhutan completely surrounded and at China’s mercy.

India-Bhutan defense ties

Bhutan, with a population of only 750,000, shares some of its national defense responsibilities with India under a friendship treaty. Indian troops, for example, assist the undersized Royal Bhutan Army in guarding the vulnerable portions of Bhutan’s border with China.

The 2007 Bhutan-India friendship treaty states that the two neighbors “shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests.” The 2007 pact—signed after the Himalayan kingdom introduced major political reforms to emerge as the world’s newest democracy—replaced their 1949 treaty under which Bhutan effectively was an Indian protectorate, with one of the clauses stipulating that it would be “guided by” India in its foreign policy.

Recently, after days of rising Sino-Indian tensions at the trijunction, the People’s Liberation Army on June 16 brought in heavy earth-moving equipment and began building a road through Bhutan’s Doklam Plateau, which China claims, including Sinicizing its name as Donglong. Indian troops intervened, leading to scuffles with PLA soldiers, with the ongoing standoff halting work at the 3,000-meter-high construction site.

Significantly, the standoff did not become public until June 26 when China released a complaint against India, just as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was about to begin discussions with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. The statement—timed to cast a shadow over the Modi-Trump discussions and to remind Modi of the costs Beijing could impose on India for his pro-U.S. tilt—presented China as the victim by alleging that Indian troops had “intruded” into “China’s Donglong region” and halted a legitimate construction activity. It demanded India withdraw its troops or face retaliation.

This was followed by a frenzied Chinese public-relations blitzkrieg against India designed to obfuscate the real issue—the PLA’s encroachment on Bhutanese territory. Chinese officials and state media fulminated against India over the troop standoff but shied away from even mentioning Bhutan.

It was only after Bhutan’s ambassador to India publicly revealed on June 28 that his country had protested the PLA’s violation of its territorial sovereignty and demanded a return to status quo ante that Beijing finally acknowledged the involvement of a third party in the dispute. The fact that an insecure and apprehensive Bhutan (which has no diplomatic relations with China) took eight days to make public its protest to Beijing played into China’s hands.

China piles on the pressure

The Chinese attacks on India for halting the road construction, meanwhile, are continuing. For example, the Chinese defense ministry spokesperson, alluding to India’s defeat in the 1962 war with China, asked the Indian army on June 29 to “learn from historical lessons” and to stop “clamoring for war.” The Indian defense minister, in response, said the India of today was different from the one in 1962.

The same trijunction was the scene of heavy Sino-Indian military clashes in 1967, barely five years after China’s 1962 trans-Himalayan invasion led to major Indian reverses. But unlike in 1962, the Chinese side suffered far heavier casualties in the 1967 clashes, concentrated at Nathu-la and Cho-la.

Today, to mount pressure on India, China has cut off Indian pilgrims’ historical access to a mountain-and-lake site in Tibet that is sacred to four faiths: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and the indigenous religion of Tibet, Bon. While Manasarovar is the world’s highest freshwater lake at 4,557 meters above sea level, Mount Kailash—the world’s legendary center—is worshipped by believers as the abode of the planet’s father and mother, the gods Shiva and Uma, and as the place where Lord Buddha manifested himself in his super-bliss form. Four important rivers of Asia, including the Indus and the Brahmaputra, originate from around this duo.

By arbitrarily halting the pilgrimages, Beijing is reminding New Delhi to review its Tibet policy. India needs to subtly reopen Tibet as an outstanding issue in order to fend off Chinese pressure. After all, China lays claim to Indian and Bhutanese territories on the basis of alleged Tibetan (not Han Chinese) links to them historically. India must start to question China’s purportedly historical claim to Tibet itself.

More broadly, by waging stealth wars to accomplish political and military objectives, China is turning into a principle source of strategic instability in Asia. The stealth wars include constructing a dispute and then setting in motion a jurisdictional creep through a steady increase in the frequency and duration of Chinese incursions—all with the intent of either establishing military control over a coveted area or pressuring the opponent to cut a deal on its terms.

This strategy of territorial creep is based not on chess, which is centered on securing a decisive victory, but on the ancient Chinese game of Go, aimed at steadily making incremental gains by outwitting the opponent through unrelenting attacks on its weak points.

China has long camouflaged offense as defense, in keeping with the ancient theorist Sun Tzu’s advice that all warfare is “based on deception.” Still, the fact that the world’s fourth largest country in area, after Russia, Canada and the United States, is seeking to nibble away at the territory of a tiny nation speaks volumes about China’s aggressive strategy of expansion. – The Japan Times, 4 July 2017

» Brahma Chellaney is a public intellectual, geostrategic thinker, author of nine books, and columnist for The Japan Times.

India-Bhutan map