The causes and effects of the Rafale deal

So the ticking time bomb has triggered a full scale explosion. The endless debates and punches and counter punches that has been happening over the course of weeks and months has given way to a full scale war. Finally, some light has fallen on the shadows of the dubious Rafale deal and it is not good news for the Modi government. The fact that Anil Ambani has been the beneficiary of an unholy deal between the Indian and French government has been brought to light by none other than the erstwhile French President himself.

Questions are raging over how a weapons manufacturing company was started by Anil Ambani just weeks before the deal was signed, HAL was sidelined and Ambani’s company was proposed as the only option by the Modi government as partner for the deal. But my problems and concerns go much deeper. I did a one year MBA program with an international business school in Shanghai. There I met people from almost every part of the world. I used to have a good time with a young Pakistani lad who incidentally knows the band members of Strings and I used to tell him that one day I will be in Pakistan and I need his help to meet them. The college had given me a fellowship and I used to work actively with the college staff most of whom were Chinese. My point is, I was not fighting with that Pakistani guy and the Chinese people I know. It made me realize that citizens of India are not at war with the citizens of Pakistan and China. When we, the people have no problems with each other, why do we have borders and armed forces? Why are the governments buying and manufacturing all the weapons? To protect the people from what?

Lets take the case of Jammu and Kashmir. It became part of India during Independence and then the war of 1948 broke it into two parts. I see reports about separatists indulging in violence and the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits and I wonder, why can’t the people who want to be with Pakistan go to PoK and the ones who want to be with India come to this side of the border? Wouldn’t that solve the problem? Why are the Indian and Pakistani governments not trying to resolve the problem? Why is the UN not trying to resolve the conflict? Same goes with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every time I hear and see about conflicts and problems, I always wonder why people are not working towards solving these issues.

Coming back to the Rafale issue, my next problem is in the way the government eventually decides from which country and which companies to buy the weapons from. The three wings of the armed forces are more than well equipped to do their own due diligence and decide what their requirements are. All the government needs to do is to provide them the required funds and clear all bureaucratic hurdles for the purchases. But when the government overrides the needs of the armed forces and initiates deals as per it’s wishes, then something murky is definitely happening in the shadows. This is what caused the Bofors issue and now the Rafale issue.

During the 2014 elections, there was a rumour that Modi’s election campaign extravaganza expenses ran upto Rs. 20,000 crore. He was always seen travelling for election rallies in private helicopters of Gautam Adani. Now why would a corporate businessman provide the services of this private choppers to a PM candidate? It doesn’t end here. Wherever Modi used to travel to for campaigning, be it as far as Thiruvananthapuram in the south or Arunachal Pradesh in the east or Jammu and Kashmir in the north, he used to always return to Gujarat the same day itself. Those journeys themselves must have cost a monstrous amount of money. Why was Adani spending so much money on Modi? So it was clear that Modi was going to be the next PM. Now Modi has himself admitted to being a chaiwala (tea seller). So how does all of this reflect on him? Like the story of Kalidasa, an ancient Indian poet. Kalidasa was a stupid and ignorant woodcutter who was found by some wise men cutting a branch of a tree he was sitting on. These wise men had a grudge on a princess because of her haughtiness at her wisdom. So they dressed up Kalidasa, asked him to keep quiet, spoke for him and interpreted his actions and claimed to the world that he was the most knowledgeable guy in the world and managed to defeat the princess in a debate. The same seems to have happened with Modi as well. The corporate seems to have installed him as the PM to be at their whims and fancies and to get their business deals signed off without understanding anything and without asking any questions. The Rafale deal seems to be just one of them. If there were scams during the previous UPA government the present government itself is a corporate scam.

Now how did Anil Ambani and the Modi government manage to pull off such a deal brazenly without the fear of any repercussions? They thrive on the ignorance of people. Most people in rural India especially in the North do not have even basic facilities like drinking water and electricity. They do not even have enough education to spell Rafale properly. Political parties have been exploiting them every 5 years by baiting them with the offer of basic amenities in return for their votes. They get nothing after each election and since they are all stuck inside vote banks, they continue voting for the candidates from their caste, religion etc. Most importantly, political parties ensure that people do not get proper education. Education increases our understanding of the world and we start asking questions. Questions are the biggest threat to the existence of political parties. This is why government schools are in dilapidated condition in many of the states and private schools charge such exorbitant fees. The objective is to keep people away from education. This is why Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP party had to go through all sorts of dire situations and repercussions when they tried to revive government schools in Delhi. Five of the biggest Indian states from where maximum representatives go to the Lok Sabha (lower House of Parliament) are stuck in this situation. BJP won maximum seats from these states in 2014 which clearly reflects the pathetic condition of Indian democracy. The consequence is that apart from the fragmented urban voters, no one will question Modi about the Rafale deal. He can happily go and campaign for the 2019 elections in the rural areas of India. This is what emboldens political parties and the corporate to take the country and the people for granted in their quest for money and power.

Finally, why a deal for weapons manufacturing? Which are the most booming business industries in the world? Weapons, drugs, prostitution and trafficking in that order. What generates maximum revenue in the world? People’s fear and people’s lust. We need to look at nothing beyond the first movie of the Iron Man franchise. What prompts billionaire businessman and playboy Tony Stark to become Iron Man? Because he finds the weapons manufactured in his company Stark Industries in the hands of terrorists and he realizes that weapons manufacturers sell weapons to both sides of wars and conflicts. The best commodity for sale has become the human life itself. Anil Ambani seems to be thirsting to enter that realm of business and make some money for himself at the cost of human lives. This is why Kashmir, Palestine and many other areas continue to be conflict zones. More is at stake here. Financial institutions move in into conflict areas once some sort of deal for peace is made, invest money and basically enslave people’s lives in that region. If all conflicts stop, financial institutions and weapons manufacturers will have to close down their shops. The stakes are much higher than the comprehension of common people and political class is just a puppet in the hands of the corporate all over the world.

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The aftermath of floods in Kerala has been as tumultuous as the floods itself

The devastating floods in Kerala has shaken and stirred the country in an unprecedented manner. Nature’s fury, tragic scenes, political wrangling, communal rhetoric, diverse India uniting and a dash of comedy have ensued in the past fortnight. It all started when the Home Minister of India made a quick visit to Kerala and announced a immediate relief fund of Rs. 100 crores. Problem was, Kerala Govt. had asked for more than Rs. 1000 crores. Then the PM wanted to do an aerial survey and assessment of the affected areas with his team. Problem was, thousands of people were stranded in the floods in inaccessible areas where only helicopters could reach them. For rescue, military personnel deployed were only in hundreds. All state TV channels were impressively covering flood affected areas to the best they could. Politicians and government officials in the name of aerial survey were using helicopters that could have been used to rescue people. Moreover their aerial survey was inhibiting the rescue operations. They should have simply stayed at home and watched TV.

Then the Central govt. announced a flood relief package of Rs. 600 crores. The simmering social media erupted. A Govt. that has thousands of crores to give as loans to other countries and for building statues did not have enough money for saving it’s own people’s lives. The reasons were quite evident. The communally harmonious society of Kerala has never allowed BJP to plant it’s roots in the land even though RSS has been actively trying to find some ground. The frequent clashes between RSS and Communist cadres is the clear testimony of that. RSS has even gone to the extent of eliminating it’s own people for defaming the Communists as has been found out from police investigations in some of the cases. The Left parties won the last assembly elections and are in governance of the state now. Moreover Keralites have unanimously rejected any ban on eating beef. The Central govt. has been at loggerheads with the state govt and the Kerala society as a whole which got clearly reflected in the callous approach of the Central govt. towards the time of crisis.

What the Central govt. needs to understand is that Kerala is a part of India and is one of the highest payer of central taxes and excise duties to the Central govt. Kerala govt. had only asked for the support and assistance it is entitled to get. As per 2015-16 estimates, Kerala has 2.7% of India’s population and contribute 4.4% of its GDP. For every ₹1 Kerala pays to the centre, they get only 25 paisa back. And Kerala gets only 3.25% of its GSDP from centre. Every Malayali who stays in Kerala pay ₹12572 per year to centre in different form of taxes (2015-16 data). Rejecting the requests of Kerala govt. and offering measly sums as relief packages is clearly a violation of the federal structure of governance of the country.

Meanwhile a comical episode started off on the side when the ruler of UAE met a prominent Indian businessman and apparently told him that he would be willing to give a relief package of 100 million USD to the Kerala govt which was in turn conveyed to the Kerala CM. Then the ruler of UAE tweeted a statement of support and solidarity towards the people of Kerala which was responded by the PM with a tweet of gratitude. The next thing everyone got to know is that the Central govt. had rejected the offer of help from UAE citing an incident from the past when the erstwhile UPA govt had refused to take help from foreign countries. The ruler of UAE in turn stated that he never made any explicit offer of help. All of this made me wonder why people in important places are tweeting and talking about providing assistance for such a huge calamity on social media when they should be working towards getting help to the affected people. So essentially the Central govt. neither showed willingness to do enough for flood relief nor allowed governments from other countries to help which got totally exposed with this incident.

The communal elements across the country did not sit idle either. RSS was trying to spread it’s own organizational propaganda in the name of helping flood victims. Posts and comments started pouring in on social media about why the people of Kerala should suffer because Keralites still continue to eat beef and the women of Kerala are trying to desecrate the sanctity of Sabarimala by trying to get equal rights to enter the temple. Arnab Goswami has even gone on record to call the people of Kerala as shameless ones. All of these are stark reminders that we have only found freedom from foreign rule and we are a long way away from cleansing our society of the many evils and darkness that has taken control over our minds and thoughts.

In the meantime, the govt. of Kerala got pulled into a couple of raging debates. One was about the handling of excess dam water and the opening of dams which ensued in large scale flooding. OPIndia, an online news platform has falsely interpreted a NASA weather report and claimed that the timing of the opening of the dams resulted in the floods across Kerala (http://www.opindia.com/2018/08/nasa-confirms-delayed-opening-of-dams-coupled-with-rains-led-to-kerala-floods/). NASA’s report (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-captures-monsoon-rains-bringing-flooding-to-india/) only mentions that above average rainfall caused floods in certain parts of India. Nowhere does it link floods with the management of the dams. Commonsense says same amount of water would have flowed out regardless of when the dam was opened. Only difference would have been in the amount of pressure of the released water. In normal case, rainwater swells rivers which ultimately flows out into the sea. In this case, excess rainwater swelled up river banks and water flowed into human settlements where it got stuck causing floods. Excessive rainfall, human encroachment of land, poor maintenance of drainage systems can all be blamed, but questioning the timing of opening of dams is blatant blaming and false propaganda against the Kerala govt. The Minister of Fisheries of Kerala has stated in an interview on a state TV channel that people had claimed land from the rivers for their constructions and farming and the rivers simply took back those lands which was the best way to explain what had happened. Flooding in human settlements should not be blamed on any governments in particular. The civil administration (municipalities, corporations) should be taken to task for illegal constructions, unplanned expansion of towns and cities and poor maintenance of infrastructure.

The second one was about a 2011 environmental report which stated that large scale sand mining and deforestation is damaging the environment and destabilizing the natural ecosystem of the Western Ghats. This is not for any one govt to take blame. When there is no control over population growth and we venture out into destroying nature for our needs, nature will take it’s own course of corrective actions to stabilize itself. Destruction of nature has been happening across all the states. Nature conservation and environmental protection is a national level problem which the Central govt. and all state govts should come together and discuss upon. Maybe it is time we took a leaf out of China’s development model. Every year a certain amount of forest land is acquired for development activities and at the same time a certain amount of unused or waste land is marked for conversion back into forest area.

In between such a massive tragedy and all the ensuing chaos and mud slinging three factors have stood as silver linings and shining beacons. The first one is the communal harmony of the Kerala society which has only grown stronger in the face of the calamity. In the aftermath of the floods, pictures have emerged of Muslims cleaning a temple compound, something unimaginable in most places in India. Second is the absolutely massive level of support and solidarity Kerala has received from all over India. Support in the form of relief funds and materials have flowed to Kerala right from Jammu and Kashmir. Just the ideal reminder that we may be divided by many reasons but it takes just one reason to unite our minds and thoughts.

The third one is the best of it all. The fishermen of Kerala swooped into the flood waters to save lives as if they were from another world. None of the military might of the world can match their skills in water. They ride the huge waves and choppy waters of the seas in their boats and ships like normal people walk in the park. They moved in silently into the flood waters, saved thousands of lives and went back expecting nothing in return and earning the highest respect from all quarters. When high seas ravage their dwellings and they have to rebuild their lives year after year the rest of the state lives in complete ignorance about it. It is high time the state govt. starts working towards the betterment of the fishermen community.

I am not sure if we have seen the last of the controversies yet. Someone has tweeted questioning the possibility of using the gold stored in the vaults of the Padmanabhaswami temple in Thiruvananthapuram. I am waiting to see if this is going to stir the hornet’s nest. The problem with using the gold is, if we knew why so much gold was accumulated and stored we would also know when to use it.

India’s journey from 2014 to 2019 and beyond

The general elections in India are a year away but preparations and build up towards it has already started. The recent state elections in Karnataka was dubbed as it’s precursor or the ‘final before the final’. The situation is identical to how it works in the corporate sector. In a Business to Business (B2B) relationship, one party will usually be the client and the other it’s vendor or service provider. If such a contract is created for say 3 years, the vendor will not wait till the end of 3 years before trying to extend the contract. By the half way mark the vendor will start preparations and by the end of the 2nd year, they will initiate discussions with the client. They have a single critical objective which is to ensure that the client does not start evaluating other vendors. If the client starts evaluating other vendors, it means the client is not satisfied with the current vendor and the most likely outcome will be the contract not getting renewed and going out into the market. This is all about perceptions and the vendor needs to ensure that the perception the client has about them is favorable to them. The game of politics is also about perceptions especially in India since politics in India is governed by religious, caste and community based vote banks.

The tone of 2019 elections was set during the elections of 2014 itself. The 2014 elections were dominated by two factors, the scams that happened and were subsequently unearthed during the 10 year rule of the UPA government and the rise of Modi and his Gujarat model of development. The UPA government’s tenure was plagued by the financial meltdown of 2008 and it’s after effects. Indian economy did not experience the full blown effects of the situation like most countries did but overall growth of the economy became grinding slow. The GDP tanked, inflation and unemployment flared up and when the scams came out in public view, discontent against the government soared to an all time high. BJP did not have a prime ministerial candidate until about 2012 and was a headless party. Modi’s team took advantage of both these situations and used the Gujarat development model as the premise to project Modi as a national leader which worked remarkably well.

But as the trail towards the elections heated up, I realized that what was being projected about Modi and Gujarat weren’t hunky dory after all. From my neighbours who had moved to Gujarat, I learned that except some cities like Ahmedabad, nothing much had changed. Ravish Kumar of NDTV ran extensive coverage of some of the major cities and villages of Gujarat where there were no signs of any development. Most importantly, the perception that Modi becoming the PM will make all the problems go away and bring the economy back on the path of growth did not sit well with me because this was explained away by his Gujarat development model and was not quantified enough by facts and figures. This, especially after the country’s economy and stock market were getting affected even by variations in the valuation of the US government bonds. Modi’s much vaunted plan to bring back the flushed out black money also sounded hollow after Arvind Kejriwal, in a televised interview mentioned that the more urgent need was to first stop the flow of black money before chasing the money already funneled out of the country.

To summarize, the Modi chant never rose high enough to become a wave. The country’s GDP no longer seems to reflect the ground level economic conditions. A country’s GDP and inflation are related in 5 ways as per Investopedia (https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/112814/why-does-inflation-increase-gdp-growth.asp) and none of these conditions match India’s present situation. When crude oil prices were falling globally, India’s fuel prices were still going up and inflation along with it. Yet the GDP was being shown as growing which makes no sense at all. GDP growth can trigger inflation but inflation can never affect GDP positively. Also GDP and unemployment cannot rise together. Two major initiatives of the government, demonetization and GST have failed completely in their stated objective to curb the black money menace. Money laundering and loan defaulting by big time corporate players like Vijay Mallya which started during the UPA rule continued unabated during the last 4 years as well. All banks are struggling to cope up with increasing NPAs. Possession and auction notices of houses and properties along with the auction notices of pawned gold throng the daily national and local newspapers which tells the sordid story of how common man is suffering from lack of employment and earnings. To add to the woes, farmers across the country are taking their lives. But the rich have been getting richer despite all of this. In the last 4 years, India has been successfully added to the list of countries where 99% of the wealth is under the control of 1% of the world’s population.

The deeper impact of what transpired in 2014 is only becoming apparent now. BJP did not seek the support of other political parties to fight the 2014 elections. Instead, they chose to go on their own with Modi as their face effectively making him a single point of success or failure. Given the circumstances under which the elections of 2014 were conducted, I am inclined to assume that the INC did not want to win the election because they were helpless to stop the downward slide of the economy and they did not want to continue taking the blame for the economic conditions. I had realized in 2014 that if Modi wins and fails in the next 5 years, it will unite the opposition and it will become a battle between Modi and the rest of India. The country has seen the fiasco that unraveled in Karnataka after the state elections last month. INC and JD(S) which had fought the elections against each other joined hands to form the government and then started bickering over allotment of portfolios. So if the condition arises that so many regional and national parties unite to form the government in 2019, bickering among them over portfolios would rise to preposterous levels.

For political parties in India, elections have always been more about seizing control over power and money and less about governance. In the supposedly fastest growing economy in the world, election manifestos are still filled with empty promises to provide clean drinking water, electricity and education. How can a country’s economy grow when a large part of it’s population still does not have access to clean drinking water, electricity and education? These are the fundamental rights of every citizen of the country and it is the primary responsibility of the government to ensure that people have access to their basic rights irrespective of which political party is in control of the government. People should not vote over promises to provide them their basic rights. Arvind Kejriwal and his government claiming success in transforming the lives of the people of Delhi with cheaper electricity, access to water and improving the education and healthcare sector actually reflects poorly on the country in the world arena because in spite of Delhi being the seat of the country’s government, the sordid and miserable condition of it’s population for such a long time is getting exposed.

What will happen in 2019 elections and it’s aftermath already seems like a nightmare to me. Modi and BJP seemed to have assumed in 2014 that governing his home state for 12 years was enough credentials to govern the world’s most diverse country. Their spectacular rise and fall in the last 4 years have proved that they do not have the firepower to govern the country. The alternative is a united opposition with possibly the INC at it’s helm, united only with the intent to grab power. When it comes to Arvind Kejriwal and his party, all other parties unite against them because they seem terrified of his people oriented governance agenda. So they will keep him bottled up in Delhi itself. 5 more years of uncertainty seems to be definitely in the offing.