Category Archives: Politics and Society

Ramdev vs Govt – Who will blink first

For the last one week, the country has witnessed swiftly unfolding high voltage drama ever since Ramdev reached Delhi onJune 2 . The state reception he got at the airport, the 5 hour hush-hush negotiations in Claridges Hotel, Kapil Sibbal displaying hand written note of Ramdev’s close aide Balkrishna, police crackdown on 20,000 protesters at Ramlila Ground, Ramdev being expelled to Haridwar, Ramdev’s allegation of Govt’s conspiracy to kill him, Govt’s allegation of RSS hand behind Ramdev, Sonia Gandhi’s displeasure over Govt’s inapt handling of Ramdev, Anna Hazare’s group boycotting joint drafting committee, Sushma Swaraj’s dance at Rajghat, Ramdev continuing his fast and reports of his deteriorating health, Anna Hazare’s group’s day long protest at Rajghat, Ramdev’s announcement to raise an army of 11,000 youth, Home Minister threatening to take action if he does so, Shoe thrower at Congress HQ, Loose cannon Digvijay Singh firing salvos at regular intervals, confused media and eventually confused public. One would never have imagined that in a country where nothing moves for years, so much can happen in a week.

The standoff between the Govt and Ramdev not only continues but is getting worse by every passing day. While the Govt seems to have presumed Ramdev to be a closed chapter and is only trying to address its vote banks in view of coming UP elections, Ramdev has refused to bite the bullet. He is continuing his fast which enters its 5th day today. He is still attracting a considerable media attention which must be a cause of worry to the Govt. What must be worrying Ramdev is that how long should he continue his fast? In spite of the rhetoric, it is unlikely that he would have imagined being in a situation like this when he started his fast. With the Govt paying no heed, the big problem for him is how to get an honorable exit. It’s a perfect Catch 22 situation – he can’t continue and he can’t end his fast. He will have to play a big gamble and continue his fast. The only hope is that if he continues the fast and his condition deteriorates to a near death situation, it will make the Govt sit up and take notice. Such a situation will also fuel public anger and the Govt will come under immense pressure to act. It will of course require the bigwigs in the Congress Party and the Govt to shun their ego and reopen talks with Ramdev. Both parties would be “once bitten twice shy” and would be more interested in an honorable exit rather that real agreement on Ramdev’s demands. As soon as the Govt restarts talking with Ramdev, the impasse would end.

The scenario sounds good but easier said than done. Firstly, how long would the fast continue or rather in how many days Ramdev’s heath would deteriorate to alarming level? Let’s look back in the history – Mahatma Gandhi fasted a total of 17 times throughout his career. Most of his fasts lasted only a few days, though the two longest (in 1924 and 1943) went on for three weeks each. Mamta Banerjee fasted for 25 days during her protest on Singur. However, the most horrible case of fasting in the history of independent India is that of Manipur rights activist Irom Sharmila who is into 11th year of her hunger strike. Her fast has lasted so long because the police has been force feeding her through nasal drop on regular basis. Ramdev is lucky that he is finally back to Uttarakhand where the BJP’s Govt is supportive of him and he doesn’t have to fear forced feeding by police.

However, the most unbelievable example of going without food is that of Prahlad Jani from Rajasthan who claims to claims to have had no food or drink for 70 years. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/7645857/Man-claims-to-have-had-no-food-or-drink-for-70-years.html) The big difference is that he has left food voluntarily and not for protest.

Both Mahata Gandhi and Mamta Banerjee are no match to Baba Ramdev’s physical fitness. With his Yoga Power, it is expected that he should be able to sustain his hunger strike much longer that Gandhi and Mamta. However, it was a bit surprising to see reports of deterioration in his condition within 4-5 days. It was claimed that he has lost 4-5 Kg weight. The possibility of such rapid worsening of his health is highly unlikely. What is possible is that this could be a tactical move to catch Govt’s attention and public sympathy. The Govt would certainly consult medical experts who would provide the necessary comfort that it is too early to be alarmed. The bad news for Ramdev is that having missed the opportunity on June 4, now there are no short cuts. He will have to carry on for at least a month to expect any softening of Govt’s stand. From Govt’s point of view also, this will not be a very comfortable situation as Ramdev will continue to hog the national headlines for these many days which will not be very helpful for the coming elections in UP.

For the time being the standoff is very much on – let’s see who blinks first!!

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Latest Update – Indian Express (June 12 2011, 10:53 hrs ) – “Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ‘persuades’ Ramdev to break nine day fast ”  ( http://www.indianexpress.com/news/sri-sri-ravi-shankar-persuades-ramdev-to-break-nine-day-fast/802506/)

Sushma Swaraj – Caught on the wrong foot

The chaotic situation followed by wide spread condemnation of police action on sleeping protesters at the Rmalila ground was a perfect opportunity for the principal opposition party, the BJP, to embarrass the UPA Government. However, the BJP has only itself to blame for the totally avoidable controversy over Sushma Swaraj’s dance during its 24 hours sit-in at the Rajghat. The Congress, to its utter surprise, got a much needed reprieve from a hopeless situation and lost no time in going on the offensive. Digvijay Singh, the favorite hatchet man of Congress, used the choicest words to criticize Sushma and the BJP for lowering the dignity of the memorial of the Father of the Nation. Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari was equally caustic in expressing his anger over this action. 24×7 TV news channels predictably kept the controversy alive throughout the day and repeated flashed video footage of Sushma Swaraj dancing to the popular patriotic song “Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawano Ka”.

Sushma Swaraj later hit back through Twitter to say that there is nothing wrong in singing and dancing on patriotic songs and this in no way lowers the dignity of the Rajghat. I have reproduced her Tweets at the end of this post.

Without going into the merit of the explanation offered by Sushma Swaraj, there can be no denying of the fact that this controversy was totally avoidable and has put the BJP on the defensive in a situation when it should have had the upper hand over the UPA Govt, under fire from the public and the media.

To start with, the planning itself was faulty. There was no need to organize a 24 hour sit-in (what BJP calls Satyagraha). Similar to the token fast and sit-in being organized at the same venue (Rajghat) by Anna Hazare group today (June 8, 2011),  BJP also should have planned a day long affair only keeping in view that most participants would find it difficult to remain awake throughout the night. The organizers missed to spot this weakness in the plan. As one would imagine, the day passed off without much problem and party leaders gave speeches one after another. Everything was going well till 2 am in the night when it would have become extremely difficult to prevent the majority of the participants from dozing off without any physical activity to ward off sleeping pangs. At this stage some of the young party workers would have started singing songs (patriotic). This would have energized the sleepy crowd and everyone joined in- some singing along, some clapping some just enjoying. Those who are familiar with Delhi culture (with Punjabi influence) can very well imagine that once songs start, dancing would inevitably follow. As soon as they started singing the popular (patriotic) song “Ye desh hai veer jawano ka” the youth brigade couldn’t resist the temptation of dancing to its Bhangra beats. For those of you who may not be aware – this song is from the movie “Naya Daur (1957)” and was composed by the legendary music director O.P. Nayyar. For the last several decades this song has been the favourite of all wedding bands in North India and participants of the wedding procession (Barat) dance with full vigour when the band plays this song. Obviously, the fact that this is a patriotic song, is not that relevant during a wedding procession and the reason behind the popularity of this song is its catchy beats styled on Bhangra (a popular dance form of Punjab).

Sushma Swaraj has stated that no place and no occasion is wrong for singing and dancing on patriotic songs. While this may be generally true but singing and dancing even though on patriotic songs, may be considered inappropriate on extremely solemn occasions. For example- in a condolence meeting on the death of a person, while singing of religious prayers is a common practice amongst the Hindus, however, dancing is a strict no-no. In this particular case, while it wasn’t a condolence meeting but something very similar. The objective, as announced by the BJP itself, was to express sympathy towards the persons injured during the police action in Ramlila ground and to protest against the same. Sushma Swaraj had herself tweeted earlier about the conditions of some of the persons who sustained serious injuries and were battling for life. It doesn’t require too much thinking to decide what is the appropriate behaviour on such occasion. To relate it to our own experiences, this occasion is somewhat  similar to visiting a relative or a friend in an hospital who is seriously injured and is battling for his/ her life. I have not ever seen, heard of or even read about any case when the visitors who had come to see the patient started dancing on songs – patriotic or religious or any kind.

Not just the occasion, but the place chosen for singing and dancing was also not appropriate. While Rajghat is not the grave of Mahatma Gandhi as there is no such concept in Hinduism, however it is the place where his funeral took place and later a memorial was constructed there. Without going into too much of technicalities, the appropriate behaviour when visiting Rajghat (or any similar memorial) is same as when visiting a grave, that too of a highly revered person. During the past six decades,  thousands of persons and perhaps hundreds of dignitaries from India as well as from other countries, have visited Rajghat to pay their homage to Mahatma Gandhi. Without exception, each and every visitor had demonstrated extremely solemn behaviour. The only time when there was a slight controversy was when former US President George Bush was to visit Rajghat and prior to his visit the US security agencies used a sniffer dog for routine security sanitization of the place.

Interestingly, the BJP has left it entirely on Sushma Swaraj to defend and justify her actions which is not fair. While the Congress Party and the media has singled out Suhma Swaraj, which is understandable, however, the BJP must take the responsibility of the behaviour of all its workers, including Sushma Swaraj. In other words, even if Sushma Swaraj had not participated in dancing and even if only ordinary party workers had indulged in such behaviour, it would have been equally inappropriate, especially because it was done in the presence of the entire top leadership of the BJP. From the TV footage, we can see L K Advani sitting seriously even when others were singing and dancing. Perhaps he didn’t join in because he didn’t consider it appropriate, however, it is not good enough. Being the senior most leader, he should have advised the party workers against dancing.

It is indeed a lesson to be learnt by the BJP for the future. For the time being – it has clearly lost the advantage.

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Sushma Swaraj’s Tweets on Dance Controversy
(Tweeter Handle: @SushmaSwarajBJP)

“Congress party is trying to divert public attention from the main issue of corruption, black money and crackdown in Ramlila grounds.”

“Our party workers were singing and dancing on ‘Ye desh hai veer jawano ka.’ “

“I was asked to step in. I did this as an act of camaraderie for a brief moment. The media is playing that short clip again and again.”

“We are patriotic people. We will sing and dance on patriotic songs till our last breath.”

“Congress Party now says that I have not clarified as to what were we celebrating.”

“This song does not require any occasion or event to celebrate. This is a song in praise of our motherland.”

“The lyrics are ‘Yeh desh hai veer jawanon ka, albelon ka mastano ka, Is desh ka yaaro kya kahna, ye desh hai dunia ka gahna’.”

“This means, ‘this is a country of brave people, distinguished and youthful people How great is this country. It is a jewel of the world’.”

“Our party workers were singing this song to express their determination to safeguard the freedom and liberty of our country.”

“My question is: Is singing a song in praise of your motherland an insult to Mahatma Gandhi? ”

“No place and no occasion is wrong for singing and dancing in praise of our motherland.”

“My brothers and sisters, Vande matram. I am not the one to be cowed down by such people who do not appreciate our patriotic sentiments.”

Police crackdown on Ramdev’s Protest

What was being feared has finally happened. After the breakdown of talks between Ramdev and the Govt, a 5000 strong police force was sent to the historic Ramlila ground to  end the peaceful protest by brute force. First, the Govt cancelled the permission granted to Ramdev to use Ramlila Maidan on flimsy security grounds and then swiftly moved in police force to forcibly evict Ramdev and his 20,000 odd supporters when they were sleeping.

The entire police action was telecast live on all news channels and those who were awake like me watched with shock and disbelief the terrible images of peaceful protesters including women and elderly being brutally dragged out and beaten. This was indeed yet another Black Day in the history of Independent India.

Brutal police action on peaceful protestors was a cruel reminder of the British Raj and Emergency days. It was in this very Ramlila Ground on the 25th June 1975 when Jai Prakash Narain along with all prominent opposition leaders addressed a mammoth rally which prompted Indira Gandhi to impose Emergency on the same day at midnight and arrest JP and all other opposition leaders.

Much in the same way as JP’s rally, 36 years after that ill fated day, in the same month of June, Ramlila ground was once again packed to capacity sending shivers down Government’s spine and much in the same way the Government panicked and resorted to use of brute force to curb a totally peaceful protest. What’s the difference between a democratic India and other Banana Republics. How can the Government justify terming a peaceful protest as a threat to security and use that as an excuse to crackdown on peaceful protesters. Has Manmohan Singh stooped to the level of Mohammad Gaddafi to see a security threat in a peaceful protest?

The reaction of the English media, as usual has been pathetic. While condemning the police action for the sake of it, they don’t seem to have much problem with what has happened. But we shouldn’t forget, there were some people who didn’t have much problem even with Emergency. Vinoba Bhave had termed Emergency as an “Anushasan Parva” (Festival of Discipline). Khushwant Singh, who represented the elite English media at that time, was also a big supporter of the Emergency.

In a matter of just two days, the UPA Government has swiveled from one extreme of sending four senior ministers to the airport to receive the Baba, to another of arresting him at midnight. It is hard to believe that a Government headed by sensible and seasoned politicians like Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram can be so foolhardy. There is definitely more to it than what meets the eye. My take is that the Government was just blindly following the directives coming from 10 Janpath and its coterie. With an eye on the approaching polls in UP and the desperate need to establish Rahul Gandhi’s credentials, 10 Janpath directed the UPA Govt to stop Ramdev’s protest AT ANY COST. So severe was the directive that the Govt panicked from day one and sent four senior ministers including the so called No. 2, Pranab Mukherjee to the airport to engage with Ramdev with the idea of nipping the protest in bud. Later when the media termed this move to the Govt falling on the feet on Ramdev, 10 Janpath cracked its whip again and even such a senior and respected person like Pranab Mukherjee had to literally apologize and accept the blame. Irritated by this faux pas, 10 Janpath asked the Govt to do everything to not just thwart Ramdev’s protest but also appear to be strong and firm. Now also confirmed by Subramanian Swamy through Tweeter –  “@Swamy39: Sonia gave a direct order to PC to show this “half naked mendicant” what she is. This was at 10.20 pm yesterday. Coup d Etat!! “.

Another angle was the murmuring in the Anna Hazare camp against Government’s non-cooperation and the possibility of a protest by them as well. It is worth mentioning that the next meeting of the Lok Pal Drafting Committee is scheduled for tomorrow i.e. 6th June 2011 when Anna Hazare camp is expected to take a final call on walking out from the committee and taking to the streets again. Last night police action on Ramdev is also aimed at sending a strong signal to Anna Hazare camp that the Govt is in no mood to allow the so called civil society to embarrass it.

However, like her Mother-in-Law, Sonia Gandhi seems to be getting all the wrong advice on critical matters like this. India has seen so many oppressive rulers that the public and its leaders cannot be intimidated by police action like what we saw last night. Baba Ramdev is a wounded tiger now and as soon as he is released by the Police, he will strike back with full force. The Govt should be under no illusion about his popularity and its own unpopularity. Evicting Ramdev out of Delhi does not kill the protest, especially in today’s era.  He will most likely resume his protest at Hardwar where the Delhi Police is expected to release him by today afternoon. If my reading is right, he is still on fast. His followers in Delhi are not too far away as Haridwar is just 4-5 hours drive from Delhi. With BJP Govt in Uttarakhand, there is no police threat to Baba Ramdev in Haridwar. Thanks to the live telecast technology and tens of news channels hungry for sensational news, we will soon see Ramdev being beamed into every household of India. From the point of view of the UPA Government, it would not make any difference whether Ramdev is fasting at Ramlila ground in Delhi or his own Ashram in Haridwar. If anything, it will make it that much more difficult for the Govt to deal with him firstly due to the bitterness generated by the police action and secondly due to the 180 Km distance between Delhi and Haridwar.

Borrowing the famous dialogue – “Picture abhi bakhi hai mere dost..” (“The movie is not yet over, my friend….”)

Baba Ramdev’s Crusade against Black Money

Reactions to his announcement of Indefinite Fast from June 4

Baba Ramdev’s announcement of indefinite fast from June 4 on the issue of Black Money has invoked mixed reactions amongst the cross-section of Indian society.

The UPA Government at the centre appears to be extremely nervous and has announced a series of measures followed by a personal appeal by the Prime Minister himself to Ramdev to call off his fast.

Timing of Ramdev’s fast is being viewed with skepticism by many as it comes within one month of Anna Hazare’s fast on the issue of Jan Lok Pal Bill. While Ramdev had personally joined Anna Hazare on the dais during his fast and offered his full support, the so called Anna Group doesn’t seem too pleased with Ramdev’s announcement of fast as they see this as a diversion to their efforts in finalizing the draft of the Lok Pal Bill. Interestingly, ahead of Ramdev’s fast, sharp differences between the Anna Group and Government representatives have come to surface during the recent meeting of the committee of drafting Lok Pal Bill on whether PM and the Higher Judiciary be brought under the ambit of the Lok Pal. Some of the Anna Group members have even threatened to walk out of the committee if the impasse continues. Ramdev has further fuelled the controversy by supporting government’s position by saying that the PM and Higher Judiciary should not be brought under Lok Pal. However, at the same time he also said that he did not want to go into the controversial issue and involve himself in a public debate on that. The media reported Ramdev’s statement in a big way and termed it as a “divide in the civil society”. Prior to this controversy, Anna Hazare had offered his full support to Ramdev. However, after Ramdev’s comments on Lok Pal, Arvind Kejriwal, one of the members of the joint committee on drafting the Lokpal Bill, said they would try to convince him about inclusion of the Prime Minister in the Lokpal ambit. On the other hand, Kiran Bedi, in an interview to NDTV, termed it as “Minority View” within the civil society.

The so called elite section of the society has not backed Ramdev and in fact many have been extremely critical to the extent of being contemptuous. NDTV has termed Ramdev’s announcement “Competitive Fasting” (with reference to Anna’s fast). Javed Akhtar in his tweet immediately after Ramdev’s announcement said – “Remember my words. Baba Ramdev is making a major mistake. He will ultimately have to end his hunger strike by eating a humble pie.” Satish Jacob, BBC correspondent in India, said on NDTV “While I have huge respect for Anna Hazare, I can not say the same thing about the Saffron Clad Baba (Ramdev)”. Tavleen Singh, famous columnist said on Twitter – “Why does our government succumb so easily to these alleged crusaders and their mad ideas?”

While the Congress Party has maintained total silence on Ramdev’s fast, the principal opposition party BJP has thrown its full weight behind him. BJP’s spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said – “We fully support Baba Ramdev’s crusade and we have great respect for him.” It is anticipated that Ramdev will get whole hearted support from the RSS and its allied organization as they consider the issue of Black Money very close to their heart. Other opposition parties have however so far refrained from commenting. It would be particularly interesting to have the reaction of Brinda Karat of CPM who had earlier accused Ramdev of mixing human bones with his herbal medicine, a charge vehemently denied by Ramdev. Brinda’s comment had revoked sharp reactions from the supporters of Ramdev and the CPM had then decided not to lock horns with Ramdev any further.

The Real Issue

There have been wide-ranging estimates of the amount of Indian black money stashed abroad from $500 billion to $1.4 trillion. The most recent Global Financial Integrity study (2006) shows that the average amount stashed away from India annually during 2002-06 is $27.3 billion which amounts to $136.5 billion during the five-year period.

The campaign against Black Money has been gathering momentum in recent years. Earlier this year, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s announcement that he will soon come out with a list of 2000 Swiss Account Holders, many of whom are Indians, had set the cat amongst the pigeons.

In April 2009, former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani, former Punjab director-general of police K P S Gill, former Lok Sabha secretary-general Subhash Kashyap, artist Gopal Sharman and academic B B Dutta filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking its directive to the Centre to bring back over $ 1.4 trillion of Black Money allegedly stashed away in foreign banks between 2002 and 2006. The petition said directions should be issued to the government so that it can instruct foreign banks, particularly the USB Bank, to freeze the deposits of Indian nationals kept illegally with them. During the hearing on this PIL, the SC has rapped the Central Government on the knuckles several times. One such controversial issue was regarding sharing of the details of 26 Indians who had accounts in the Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank in Germany. The Govt initially resisted the demand but finally submitted to the Supreme Court the list of 26 Indians but at the same time rejected its sharing in the public domain saying that it would violate a sovereign agreement between India and Germany.

Similarly, there has been a huge debate over unearthing the Swiss Bank accounts held by Indians. The opposition parties particularly the BJP and the Left have been accusing the Govt of not doing enough to seek information from the Swiss Government who, in their opinion, has expressed its willingness to share the same based on specific request from the government of any country. It is believed that approximately one third (~ $500 billion) of the total black money is slashed in Swiss Bank accounts.

What will happen now?

Many people may not be aware, but Baba Ramdev has been actively campaigning against Corruption and Black Money through “Bharat Swabiman Andolan” (http://bharat-swabhiman.com/en/) a forum founded by him in 2009.

I have already posted Ramdev’s Letter to the PM listing his demands (https://virtualopinion.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/baba-ramdevs-letter-to-pm/). Media has selectively reported only those demands which would make better headlines such a death penalty for the corrupt, recall of Rs. 500 and 1000 bills etc. It is unlikely that Ramdev would really expect all his demands to be met and therefore he may have short listed his key demands already. The Government would argue that it has already initiated action on some of the key demands such as Lok Pal Bill and a new Land Acquisition Act. On some other such as recall of Rs. 500 and 1000, the government may argue that it is not a practical demand and may cite examples of the past. By the way, for those who may not be aware as far back as in 1946 Indian had notes of denomination as high as Rs. 10,000 and demonetization of higher denomination currency notes is not a new concept. As per the website (http://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_CurrencyFAQView.aspx?Id=39#9) of Reserve Bank of India – “Rs. 1000 and Rs.10000 banknotes, which were then in circulation were demonetized in January 1946, primarily to curb unaccounted money. The higher denomination banknotes in Rs.1000, Rs.5000 and Rs.10000 were reintroduced in the year 1954, and these banknotes (Rs.1000, Rs.5000 and Rs.10000) were again demonetized in January 1978.”

Baba Ramdev certainly enjoys massive public support which explains why the UPA Government is not taking his threat lightly. Today when he arrived at Delhi, four senior ministers Pranab Mukherji, Kapil Sibal, Pawan Bansal and Subodh Kant Sahai and the Cabinet secretary K M Chandrashekhar were there at the airport to receive him. Not even the US President Obama had got such an unprecedented welcome. It will be interesting to watch the developments leading up to June 4 and beyond. My guess is that having hyped the matter so much, Baba Ramdev would not like to create an anti climax by calling off his fast. He would also not like to lose this opportunity to test and expand his mass base. However, he has to very carefully work out a strategy on how to end the fast with a winning note. Even if the Congress emissaries failed to persuade him to call off the fast, they must have certainly tried to get an assurance that the campaign is not used to directly attack the Congress Party and the  UPA Government. As the BJP and RSS have announced their full support to Ramdev, they will also try their best to extract the maximum political mileage from this event. To this extent, Ramdev’s fast is likely to polarize the Indian politics, the civil society and the media.

Public anger against rampant corruption has not died down after Anna Hazare’s fast and people would surely back any movement against corruption. Ramdev will surely use his Yoga teachings to keep the crowd glued to him and his unique and somewhat rustic oratory will provide enough entertainment for the masses. Unlike Anna Hazare, Ramdev is physically much more fit and can sustain the fast for a much longer period. It is worth mentioning here that Anna Hazare’s doctors were not too pleased after his fast and have attributed the deterioration in his heath to the long fast.

Baba Ramdev’s Letter to PM

Date 04-May-2011

To:

Dr. Manmohan Singh

Honorable Prime Minister

Republic of India, New Delhi

Sub.: Three (3) demands of Bharat Swabhiman from the central government to eradicate corruption and bring back black money in the interest of nation. (Refer Appendix A)

Dear Shri Manmohan Singh Ji:

Om with love

In a democratic system only the elected government has the power or right to grant main three demands listed in Appendix A of this letter.  Therefore the central government is bound to act immediately in a timely and systematic manner to show the whole nation orally and in writing with proof and transparency to do so, and has to clarify steps for its implementation.  If the central government did not do so then to eradicate corruption and save the nation we along with millions of citizens of this nation will sit on an “Eradicate Corruption Movement” in an indefinite fast till death in tradition of Mahatma Gandhi using our constitutional and moral rights to fulfill our demands; and at the same time millions of awakened and concerned citizens of this nation will also join this movement in all state capitals and district headquarters.  Although our whole movement and public demonstrations will be fully nonviolent and based on true values of humanity but during fasting if anybody suffers bodily harm or loss of life or resulting harm to the nation in any manner then the current central government shall be directly responsible for this.

We fully agree with the honorable prime minister who has previously accepted many times publicly that corruption is the biggest hurdle in the growth of the nation, and it is the root cause of poverty, hunger, paucity, illiteracy and Naxalites, etc.  At the same time everybody from the honorable congress president Smt. Sonia Gandhi to the honorable general secretary of congress Shree Rahul Gandhi who claim that they want to eradicate corruption and want to get the nation’s black money back to the nation will seriously consider our demands with full honesty, take an immediate decisive action on our demands in the interest of the nation, and will immediately inform us of their decision.  If the government does not take any decisive step to meet our demands to end an economy of corruption and black money from our nation which are raised in the interest of our nation then the nation has to face grave national problems of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, unemployment and resulting over population and Naxalite movement but the most important crucial loss will be our national security.  Today China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is Rs.265 trillion and her external debt is only Rs.18.3. trillions with a public debt of merely Rs.46 trillion, whereas the GDP of Bharat is only Rs.69 trillion.  Economically China is five (5) times stronger than Bharat and due to her strong economy and modern military power China can attack India anytime which she has indicated many times in the past; so if we succeed in eliminating corruption and bringing back black money then we will be five (5) times stronger than China.  Therefore, to save this nation and make her prosperous we ought to eliminate corruption at any cost and if we do not hear any positive response to our demands within a week then in the interest of the nation we will be compelled to resort to this sit-in hunger strike .

In anticipation of your positive reply.

Yours co-citizen,

(Swami Ramdev)

APPENDIX-A

Three (3) demands

1. To bring back in the nation Rs. 400 trillion (US$ 9 trillion) of black money which is a national wealth.

1.1. Create a law to declare money stashed in foreign accounts as national assets.

1.2. Create a law for foreign account policy where each citizen having a foreign account has to disclose complete information.

1.3 Sign US (or UN?) Convention against Corruption, thus paving way for getting black money back.

1.4 Recall high denomination currency i.e., 500 and 1000 Rupee notes and make 100 Rupee note as sparse as possible.

2. To stamp out corruption fully by enacting stringent laws for a capable Lok Pal Bill which should have three important points?

2.1 It should be able to punish any official irrespective of designation if found guilty.

2.2. Any person should be able to file FIR against corruption and if proofs are provided then Lok Pal should be able to take action against the guilty.

2.3. Once fast track court declares a person guilty of corruption then he or she should be given harsh punishment like death sentence or life imprisonment if corruption involves crores or lakhs of Rupees.  It should have provision of declaring all assets of such person as national assets.

3. To end foreign laws, customs and culture prevailing in the independent Bharat so that every Indian can get economic and social justice.  We should follow Mahatma Gandhi’s book named Hind Swaraj mentioning that after independence we need to remove British system and adopt Bhartiya system.

3.1. We need to abolish Land Acquisition Act 1894 because by using this Act the government is exploiting farmers.  A farmer who is the producer of food is not respected and is getting killed daily by wrong government policies.  We need to impose complete ban on genetically modified food which is dangerous for the health of citizens of this nation.

3.2. On the language issue the whole nation is suffering because 99% of people do not know English.  When countries like Japan, China, France, Germany, Denmark, Russia, etc. educate their citizens in their own language and produce doctors, scientists, engineers, etc. then why we cannot do so in our own national and native languages.  Each of our languages has more words than any foreign language.  Why we are neglecting and giving such a low importance to our own languages.  Technological innovations and inventions do not depend upon a language, it is a function of human intellect and mind and the world is a witness that Bhartiya’s thinking and mind is one of the best in the world.  Language of law, justice, science, engineering, medicine, etc. should be in our national or regional languages then only smart kids of poor people will be able to become scientists, doctors and engineers.

3.3. Why are we given Macaulay’s education system which was created to make Indians as Englishmen and why 34735 laws are created by British still imposed on this nation?  Why people of this country are still tortured and humiliated by using those laws in the same way as British used to do.

3.4. When Bharat has given the world physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, all social sciences, law and justice system, astrology, astronomy, astro-physics, social structure, time –days, years, etc., names of planets, economics, a cultured society and highly advanced philosophy, and spirituality to the whole world then why are we always taught that everything is developed by western world.  We ought to give highest preference to our own culture.

3.5. Although democratic system is best in the world but it has its demerits too.  Had we not have this faulty law and order system in our country then such a big conspiracy would not have been created, and so much corruption and such a bad condition of our people would not have happened.  So those people who are doing this conspiracy in the name of democracy and are looting this nation by corruption, it is imperative to change them and such a system.  Funding of election, mandatory voting and electing the Prime minister directly by the citizens of this nation should be there.  Thus only honest people will come to power and then only strong democracy and high value parliament will be formed.  We want to make it clear that we do not want to change the Constitution of India created by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar but want to change the system created by British and still followed. Example Land acquisition act was not created by Late Shri Bhimrao Ambedkar but by the British and so was Macaulay’s education system.

Pakistan at the Crossroads

First time after 9/11, the discovery of Osama Bin Laden’s safe heaven in the garrison town of Abbotabad and Headley’s testimony at the Chicago court, Pakistan stands fully exposed not only before the world but also in the eyes of its own citizens. The common man, the media and the intelligentsia of Pakistan who had been so far giving benefit of doubt to the Pakistani establishment have started doubting its role and actions. India has been accusing the Pakistani establishment of sponsoring terrorism for many years but no one paid any heed to it until 9/11 happened. Pakistan’s role in 9/11 was very visible yet the US and its allies deliberately chose to ignore it and focused mainly on Al Qaeda. Instead of taking the terror threat emanating from Pakistan seriously, the US continued to see Pakistan as its strategic ally in its “War on Terror” for the last 10 years until Osama Bin Laden was found and killed in a safe heaven a stone’s throw from the Kakul Military Academy in Abbotabbad.

In fact, immediately after 9/11, Pakistan was initially reluctant to support US military operation against Al Qaeda and the Taliban Regime. When gentlemanly persuasions failed, Richard Armitage, then the Deputy Secretary of State, had to warn Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, the then Head of ISI, of dire consequences – “Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age” to make Pakistan reluctantly fall in line. The US was quick to sugar-coat its threat by offering billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan which was probably more effective than the threat. It is believed that a large part of the US aid found its way into the Swiss accounts of Pakistani Generals. Even then, Pakistan’s support to the “War on Terror” was not sincere and for the last 10 years, Pakistan has very tactfully played the dangerous game of “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds” – until Abbotabad happened. For the last 10 years, the US had been ignoring Pakistan’s covert support to the Talibans and Al Qaeda – until Abbottabad happened. Ever since assuming office, President Obama had been very keen to pull out of Afghanistan and Pakistan had been eying the opportunity of reinstating the Taliban regime after US’s withdrawal – until Abbottabad happened.

Abbottabad proved to be the tipping point for Pakistan. Today everyone, both within and outside Pakistan, is asking the same questions – “How long will the Pakistani establishment continue to lie?” Today Pakistani establishment and its lies have become a laughing stock but more than that the world has finally woken up and taken notice of the danger of allowing the Pakistani establishment to continue to brew terrorism. What is even more dangerous is that the Frankenstein monster of terror has now gone out of control of the Pakistani establishment and is now destroying its own creator. Numerous terrorist attacks in Pakistan in recent years have resulted in the death of over 30,000 innocent civilians. Yet, Pakistan continues to shelter and protect various terrorist organizations in its efforts to establish its dominance over its neighbours India and Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan has in fact tried to use these attacks to deny its involvement in shielding and supporting terrorism.

Although the Pakistani establishment has vehemently denied any involvement, Pakistani Taliban has vowed to avenge the death of Bin Laden by attacking Pakistan’s army and leadership as their first target and US as their second target. The recent attack on Pakistan’s Naval Base in Karachi has proved that these were not merely hollow threats. However, the ease with which this attack was carried out has aroused suspicion that the terrorists had inside support. These are extremely confusing signals and it is very difficult to decide who is the perpetrator of terror and who is the victim.

Even before the frenzy of the attack on the Naval Base had died down, the trial of Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana, an accused in the Mumbai terror attack case, started in the Federal Court in Chicago. In his testimony, the Pakistani-American double agent and LeT operative turned state approver, David Coleman Headley, has fully exposed the links between the ISI and various terror organizations such as the LeT and JeM. Headley’s statement exposing the direct involvement of the ISI behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in a US Court will certainly add to the embarrassment of the Pakistani establishment.

While Pakistan is indeed passing through its nadir, it must seize the opportunity to introspect and rise from the ashes. For the last 64 years, it has single mindedly pursued an  anti India policy and in the process fought and lost three wars and when that didn’t work it has been engaged in trying unsuccessfully to bleed India to death. Without going into the India vs Pakistan arguments, the question every Pakistani needs to ask himself is that does it hate India more than he loves his own country? If the answer is no, there is still hope.

Pakistan is indeed at the crossroads today. It has to make the most important choice in its history. A choice that will decide its destiny. It has to decide whether it wants to get rid of the anti-India baggage and pursue nation building or continue to play with fire and get engulfed by the same.

“Geronimo EKIA” – Osama Killed

Geronimo was the code name given to world’s most wanted man – Osama Bin Laden. A code name picked from the history book, Geronimo (June 16, 1829 – February 17, 1909) was a prominent Native American leader of the Chiricahua Apache who fought against Mexico and the United States for their expansion into Apache tribal lands for several decades during the Apache Wars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geronimo).

EKIA” is the short form for “Enemy Killed in Action”. “Geronimo EKIA” said the CIA Director Leon Panetta to the President and his advisors in the White House anxiously watching him on a video screen as he was providing live update of the raid from the CIA HQ. After a brief silence, President Obama spoke up, “We got him.” This is how the biggest manhunt in the history culminated on May 2nd, 2011. It took the US, the Superpower of the world, 10 years, costed 444 billion dollars and resulted in 1,185 dead and 11,032 wounded American soldiers in addition to the military and intelligence support provided by all its allies and almost every nation in the world.

Obama in his address and subsequent White House briefings have clarified that the intelligence on Osama and the information about the US operation was shared with no other country including Pakistan and it was an all US operation. Obama telephoned Pakistan’s President Zardari after the US helicopters had left the Pakistani air space to inform him about killing of Osama.

For years, the Pakistani Government, Army and ISI had denied that they had any information on the whereabouts of Osama and had maintained that Osama was hiding somewhere along the mountainous Afghanistan Pakistan border, a region beyond their control. While all these years Osama was safely harboured in a three story mansion located less than a kilometre away from the Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad, a garrison town less than 100 Km away from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. The irony of the situation has left the Pakistani establishment red-faced. Everyone starting from US and its allies to the Pakistani public as well as Pakistan’s strongest detractor India is suspecting the same thing, asking the same questions – How is it possible that Pakistan didn’t know about Osama’s presence in such a high security military zone and if they knew why were the sheltering him?

As expected, Pakistan has strangely denied these allegations but there are not many who are willing to buy their theory. Lack of convincing answers from both sides, has led to wide scale speculation all over the world and everyone worth his salt today has his own hypothesis. I am no exception.

The fact that Osama was hiding so close to the high profile Military Academy in a garrison town is a very good reason to suspect that ISI would have been aware of his presence but is it really a good enough reason to establish this allegation beyond doubt? Perhaps not! Pakistani ambassador to the US, in an interview to NDTV, has termed it an intelligence failure but has at the same time pointed out that there have been similar or even bigger intelligence failures in the past in other countries including the US. By citing absence of WMD in Iraq as one of the biggest intelligence failure of CIA, he has tried to hit back where it hurts. Although the US would never admit but WMD in Iraq was perhaps not an intelligence failure. It was only an excuse used by President Bush to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussain to massage his father’s dented ego. However, even without counting Iraq, it would not be unreasonable to admit that the possibility of an intelligence failure can not be ruled out.

On the other hand, if Pakistan’s intentions were indeed right and if they were indeed trying their best to hunt down Osama, it is quite logical that Osama would have tried to find a hideout which was not easily accessible to the US as well as to Pakistan. Would he deliberately choose to live in a high security zone hoping for an intelligence failure? The fact that he chose this place and was living there for years (as claimed by US now) is a good indication that he had a clear cut assurance about his safety from the highest level in the Pakistani Army and Intelligence.

Osama was suffering from a number of ailments such as kidney problem, low blood pressure, diabetes etc. which required continuous medical care. If he was living in the mountains, as earlier claimed by Pakistan, how would he have managed good quality medical care? Medical care is undoubtedly a good reason to choose a city hideout over a cave in a mountain. However, the strongest reason for him to choose a high security area controlled by the Army would have been to hide from the US. Osama and his protectors in the Pakistan Army and Intelligence would have thought – firstly, the US would never suspect that Osama would hide in such a high profile place and secondly even if they did it would be very difficult for the CIA operatives to operate in this area without being detected by Pakistani Army and Intelligence.

Looking at the terrain and neighbourhood of Osama’s hideout (http://www.wikimapia.org/#lat=34.1691996&lon=73.2422742&z=19&l=0&m=h), it does appear to be an excellent choice. The house has long stretch of open field on three sides and a secluded dirt road on one side. Any person hanging around the house would get spotted immediately. And yet, the CIA had this house under constant surveillance for last 8-10 months. Difficult to imagine how. None of the old fashioned, spy movie, methods would have worked. An outsider (that too a foreigner) would get detected immediately in that lonely neighbourhood. You can’t park a car across the road or drive up and down all day long for months together. You can’t take a house on rent across road because there are very few and presence of foreigners would have become talk of the town within a day. The only safe way would have been to use high resolution live imagery from satellite or a reconnaissance plane.  I have no idea how good or how reliable this method is but I can’t think of any other safe method of surveillance.

However, more than the circumstantial evidence, we need to look at the intentions and motivation behind shielding Osama. While it is understandable that ISI would protect the Talibans with a hope to reinstall them in Afghanistan after US withdrawal, Osama had virtually very little utility left. The only benefit of keeping Osama alive would have been to use him as the carrot to extract big aid from the US. For Pakistani Army, Osama was the goose who laid golden eggs. The Pak Army would not have hesitated to trade Osama for an end game in Afghanistan at some point in future. Ever since President Obama came to office with a promise to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, Pakistani Army would have kindled a hope to reclaim Afghanistan. On the other hand, Obama administration must have been working on the withdrawal plan for quite some time and in the process would have realized that after paying such a huge price in terms of lives lost, money spent and prestige staked they wouldn’t be able to leave without bringing some sort of closure to the 9/11 tragedy. For the Obama, capturing or killing Osama bin Laden would have appeared the most honourable exit strategy as well as the best way to boost his sagging public rating. It must have been based on this rationale when he summoned the CIA Director two years back and instructed him to hunt down Osama on top most priority. While getting Osama must have always been a high priority for the US for the last 10 years, for some reason, the efforts and the desire were perhaps not as strong and as focused as displayed by Obama in the last two years.

On the other hand, Osama’s support team including the Pakistani Army and Intelligence was perhaps not aware of this subtle yet decisive change in US policy towards Osama’s hunt. Emboldened by their success in shielding Osama from US for the last 10 years, they might have also got more and more complacent and careless. These two factors were perhaps instrumental behind the success achieved by US in first tracing their target and later eliminating it in surgical precision.

The other important issue is how was the raid carried out without the knowledge of Pakistani Army? How the four US helicopters travelled over 250 Km from Jalalabad in Afghanistan into a high security zone, carried out the 40 minutes operation and managed to safely go back without being detected and engaged. They must have spent close to 5 hours in Pakistan from the time of entering Pak airspace. Much has been talked about US technical capability to jam Pakistani radars but it doesn’t appear to be a convincing theory. Helicopters are essentially low flying machines and as such are difficult to detect by radar. However, the disadvantage with low flying is the possibility of visual detection. Helicopters also produce lot of noise and hence are likely to attract a lot of attention. On top of it, Helicopters in general and low flying ones in particular are extremely vulnerable machines and can be brought down very easily perhaps even with a simple gun.

What is said above about Osama’s choice of hideout and possibility of intelligence failure also holds good here in terms of logic. While it is quite possible that in the end by a combination of technological superiority, excellent planning and execution and more importantly with heaps of luck, the US Choppers might have successfully managed to duck detection but how could the planners of the operation have taken such a big risk? As such it was highly sensitive operation and on top of it the last thing the US would have wanted is to have these choppers shot down by Pakistan. Not just this, Pakistan would have then put two and two together to deduce that the operation was targeted to get Osama and would have immediately smuggled Osama to another place. The embarrassment and consequences of such catastrophe were so enormous that it would have dissuaded even John Rambo to accept such a risky plan.

In addition to this, the 40 minutes operation itself was noisy enough to have alerted the army personnel in the Military Academy located just 800 m away from the site. To believe that they didn’t hear the gunshots and explosions is certainly a big challenge even for people with lowest possible IQ. It would have taken the army personnel less than 5 minutes to reach the spot. Even if the US commando were believed to be prepared to engage and neutralize them, this would have been perceived as a risk not worth taking. Not just risk but this would also have been a big distraction is completing the more important task of getting Osama. Imagine, if the shootout between Pak army and US SEALS had resulted in killing of say 20 odd persons on each side and imagine if taking advantage of the distraction Osama had escaped what embarrassment it would have caused to the US administration? It would have certainly meant curtains for a second term for Obama.

President’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan in his press briefing did mention that Pakistan had started scrambling to put together their assets after detecting air space violation but it was too late. Many analysts have interpreted the term “assets” to mean “fighter jets”. I am surprised how the US media has digested this inconceivable explanation without probing further. There have been reports in the media about the site of operation being cordoned off by the Pakistani Army which means they were in fact facilitating the operation.

My take is that the US must have informed Pakistan just before the Helicopters crossed the border. Even that would have been risky as the Helicopters would have taken around two hours to reach the hideout and there was enough time to smuggle Osama out. However, this possibility would have been taken into account and to prevent that the US would have had the house already surrounded by another group of commandos and would have warned Pakistan with dire consequence against any misadventure. The US would have also instructed Pakistan to provide support for the operation by cordoning off the area to prevent any external help. It is quite possible that Osama and his Al Qaeda colleagues would have had plans in place for eventualities like this and external help would have been just a phone call away. Too much is being made out of the house not having a telephone and internet connection which may be true also but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of mobile phones the most popular means of communication today. To avoid detection, the mobile might have been kept switched off and only to be used in case of emergency.

However, for obvious reasons, it suits both Pakistan and the US to claim that Pakistan had no role to play in the operation. Pakistan in fact is so desperate to hide its role even at the cost of enormous embarrassment it has to face for admitting that it had no knowledge of the operation till the US Choppers left its air space.

We will perhaps never know the real truth but inquisitiveness is our natural instinct and has to be satisfied with or without the real truth. In the absence of the truth, a bit of imagination and a bit of speculation is always helpful. The whole world is happily engaged in exactly that and I am no exception.

Anna Hazare leads People’s Uprising in India

After sweeping the Arab World, the wave of People’s Uprising has reached India. As the Uprising in the Arab World was against dictatorial rule and for bringing democracy, no one would have believed that such an Uprising could ever happen in India – the biggest democracy in the world.

Democracy alone is not a guarantee for good governance. Politicians in India have exploited the weakness of the democracy and indulged in large scale corruption. Public anger against corrupt politicians has been accumulating for last several decades and reached the tipping point after recent mega scams specially 2 G and CWG. What was needed was an outlet for people to vent their anger. Problem was that almost all political parties have been marred in corruption at some point of time and therefore the general public perception is that all politicians are corrupt. While the opposition parties were hoping to cash in on people’s anger against corruption, people were in no mood to support any particular political party.

Against this backdrop, when respected social activist Anna Hazare started his movement against corruption, it immediately touched a chord with the people across the entire country. Anna Hazare was a perfect flag bearer for the moment against corruption as he has never associated with any political party and at the same time has been working for people’s cause. The present generation of India may not have seen Gandhi but they have been recently primed in favour of the Gandhian Philosophy by the Munna Bhai series of bollywod films. Anna Hazare’s Gandhian way of protest by fasti-unto-death has invoked the Munna Bhai inspired fascinations of Indian masses.

The movement is growing manifolds with every passing hour since last two days. It has perplexed not only the Government but also the opposition parties.  On one hand the Government has been forced to sit up and take notice while on the other hand opposition parties have been unsuccessfully trying to piggy back on the movement and convert the same into votes against the ruling coalition. Thankfully, the organizers of the movement have managed to keep the politicians at bay and have not allowed them to exploit the situation. Political leaders like Chautala and Uma Bharti were stopped by the public from sharing the dais with Anna Hazare and hopefully this would have given a clear signal to other politicians also.

The government on the other hand is confused. It doesn’t know how to handle this situation. If it was a protest organized by an opposition party, it would have been so easy to rubbish it by launching a counter offensive and by pointing out the corruption cases of the concerned political party. But how to deal with a 72 year old Gandhian who owns nothing, lives in a 10ft x 10ft room, has no family, is ready to risk his life by embarking on fast-unto-death and above all has suddenly become the darling of the masses. Government can not counter attack, they are forced to be respectful, they must give the impression of not rubbishing the protest and demands of Anna Hazare and yet thwart his attempt to form an independent Anti Corruption Authority called the LokPal. The Government is already having enough troubles with the existing independent authorities such as the CAG, the Supreme Court and the goof up with CVC appointment. In that sense, the ruling parties would probably get a tactical support of even the opposition parties as no political party would like to have an independent anti-corruption authority who could investigate against any minister (including the prime minister) or bureaucrat without having to seek permission.

Anna Hazare’s Movement against Corruption is fast galvanizing all social activists under one banner. Within two days the movement has spread to nearly 440 cities and towns. TV coverage of the moment looks more like a dream movie than being real news.

Soon after the World Cup victory, once again the people are out on the streets; once again the people are on a high but this time for an entirely different cause, for an entirely different purpose.

Cash for Vote – Tehelka Story

After the political storm kicked in by the controversial WikiLeaks Cable, another equally sensational story by Tehelka has given a new twist to the whole controversy.

As per Tehelka –

“Tehelka set out to nail the UPA government on these counts. But in the course of its investigation, it stumbled upon a shocking truth that has turned the whole story on its head. It is a truth that has not been told before. The government is still guilty of a venal cover-up. But the nature of the crime has shifted drastically. It appears the accuser—the BJP—is itself guilty of immense wrongdoing. In fact, the story of the 2008 cash-for-votes scandal is the story of a trap, a trip, and a cover-up. And none of the political parties involved come out looking good, or justified in assuming high moral ground.”

Tehelka claims that BJP is guilty of trying to set-up a trap by offering three of its MPs for sale to lure buyers from the UPA Camp. As per Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary the sting operation was more of an entrapment than an exposé. She made a clear distinction between entrapment by media and that by a political party on the ground that in this particular instance, BJP was hoping to get political benefit. According to her, BJP MPs had frantically tried to approach the potential buyers and Amar Singh fell for this trap. She has also accused the BJP of conspiring to destabilize the then UPA Government.

The Tehelka story came as a big relief for the Congress which was quick to build up its defense almost entirely on the same lines by blaming the BJP of stage managing the sting operation to destabilize the government.

Two issues raised by Tehelka and carried forward by Congress have become the topic of big debate today which are – (a) Is the BJP guilty of entrapment and (b) Is the BJP guilty of trying to destabilize the government.

Tehelka has been careful in not terming the so called entrapment something that is illegal or criminal. It can hardly afford to do so having built its clientage entirely on the basis of such sting operations. Tehelka is only saying that the entrapment was not morally right for the BJP because it stood to gain political mileage from it. But what about Tehelka which  has gained huge commercial mileage by conducting similar sting operations. Why is it is appropriate to gain commercial benefits from sting operations but not political? The simple question is – is it illegal to carry out a sting operation that includes entrapment of any type. We must not forget that even the law enforcement agencies carry out sting operations that include entrapment to catch prostitution rackets and corruption cases. If sting operation with entrapment is illegal, then all sting operations of the past, including those carried out by Tehelka and law enforcement agencies, should be investigated and the persons behind them should be punished. On the other hand, if it is legal, then there cannot be any charge against the BJP.

The other charge is that of conspiring to destabilize the government. This is at best laughable. It is the right of an opposition party to try and destabilize or in fact dethrone the government whenever there is a suitable opportunity. In fact, the No Confidence Motion introduced by the BJP in the parliament was exactly for this purpose. Once again, there is nothing illegal if the principal opposition party was trying to destabilize the then UPA Government and the ruling party should not cry foul on this. Does the Congress expect the BJP to work for the stability of its government?

Not just the Tehelka story but the timing of its publication raises serious doubts about the real motive behind it. The WikiLeaks Cable story was published in the Hindu on the 17th March raising the political storm immediately as the BJP and Left demanded a discussion in the parliament on this issue. The UPA government initially tried to avoid an immediate discussion by requesting the opposition to first pass the finance bill. Finally the government agreed for a debate in the parliament on the on 23rd March. Tehelka Story was published on the same day and immediately lapped up by the Congress to build its defenses. Kapil Sibbal read out extensively from the story and P Chidambaram was quick to declare widening of the scope of hitherto dormant probe by the Delhi Police of the Cash for Vote scam.

Tehelka claims to be in the exclusive possession of at least 10 telephonic recordings of the BJP MP Ashok Argal and middleman Suhail Hindustani actively soliciting a buyer from the UPA camp.

The big question is who had originally recorded these telephonic conversations? No one but the government of the day has the authority to tape telephone conversations of anyone. Was the UPA Government recording BJP MPs phones? Strangely only one-sided account of the telephone conversation is given. If the complete conversation is available why was it not published. Tehelka may claim that only one side of the conversation is available. How is it possible? It is possible only if someone present at Argal’s residence was recording the conversations externally. If it is so, who was it? It can’t be a BJP person. Then, was it someone from the CNN IBN team? But, as per the Tehelka story, CBN INN team was busy bugging the room while Sohail Hindustani was outside the house allegedly soliciting buyers. To record all the 10 conversation, someone would have had to constantly follow both Argal and Sohail with mikes which would have looked extremely odd and would have immediately raised doubt.

Someone needs to find out whether the UPA Government had taped the telephones of BJP MPs in 2008 and provided these recordings to Tehelka.

Timing wise, the Tehelka investigation could not have started before the publishing of WikiLeaks Cable i.e. 17th March. It is surprising that within 5 days, Tehelka managed to find out which no one could for the last two years including the Parliamentary Committee set up to probe the scam and the Delhi Police. What was the big hurry to publish the story on the same day when the debate was scheduled in the parliament? Is it really possible to complete such a complex investigation within less than 5 days and unearth such clinching evidence which was not in the knowledge of anyone for the last two years?

Tehelka has always been looked at with suspicion for its bias towards the Congress Party and Tehelka’s story on Cash for Vote only strengthens such suspicion.

Operation Odyssey Dawn – War on Gaddafi

The much awaited air strikes by Western forces finally began on 19th March 2011; two days after the UN Security Council passed a sweeping resolution authorizing military action against Gaddafi’s forces.

French Air Force fired the first salvo by hitting two tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi. US and UK followed by launching around 110 Tomahawk missiles from their warships and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. Let me hasten to add for the benefit of those with a commercial bent of mind – each Tomahawk missile costs around USD 1 million so just the first round of missile strikes was equivalent of USD 110 million. Very soon the cost would run into billions of dollars – something the US and its allies can ill afford at this precarious stage when the much sought after economic recovery is playing hide and seek.

Interestingly, the operation has been code named – Operation Odyssey Dawn. Odyssey literally means – an extended adventurous voyage. Historically, Odyssey is the name of famous epic penned by Greek Poet Homer of 8th century. The poem centers on Greek Hero Odysseus and his long journey back home following the fall of Troy. It took Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War.

What is the significance of this strange code name? Does it indicate that the western forces have realized that this operation could be a long, painful and tiring haul? Given the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not too difficult to anticipate.

The decision to attack Gaddafi’s forces was imminent yet it took so long. In some way the Earth Quake and Tsunami in Japan might have helped Gaddafi for a while when the attention of the world got diverted to Japan facing the biggest tragedy since the Second World War. While France and Britain were itching to commence air strikes long back, the delay was mainly due to the reluctance of the US to get engaged in yet another conflict. Obama has won his election on the promise of pulling out from the existing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something which seemed easier said than done. On top of it, for the US to now open another military front would have been a really painful decision to make.

The recent advancement by Pro Gaddafi troops seems to have literally forced the decision on the US. Gaddafi’s troops were on the verge of entering Benghazi and fall of Benghazi would have symbolized the fall of the anti Gaddafi moment. From this point of view, the air strikes by Western forces couldn’t have been delayed even by a day.

USA has been careful to portray that it is merely supporting the attack and not leading it. Obama has repeatedly clarified that the US would not commit ground forces. The USSC waited for the Arab League’s request to implement a No Fly Zone on Libya to give out a message that this is not a Western versus Arab war. USA could have chosen to let France and Britain carry out the war but the temptation to play Super Cop would have tilted the scale in favour of the present decision of limited engagement.

Gaddafi would have been expecting and would have been prepared for the air strikes. As soon as the air strikes began, he arranged for hundreds or perhaps thousands of civilians to form a human shield around his palace in Tripoli. He has termed these civilians to be his supporters but it is difficult to say whether these people have come to his rescue voluntarily or forcibly. Whatever may be the case, it would deter any immediate air strike on his palace.

As per the US Military spokesman, the first round of air strikes has severely crippled Gaddafi’s air defence capabilities. This is not surprising given the vast gap between technical capabilities of the two sides. Very soon the Western Forces would be able to ground Gaddafi’s war planes which will significantly reduce his advantage over the rebel forces. Gaddafi may resort to the use of Surface to Surface missiles to hit the rebels and may even try Surface to Air missiles against Western war planes. However, the later may not be very effective as the missiles are technologically out dated and would not pose any serious threat to technically much superior air capabilities of the western forces. In fact, it is quite possible that the missiles available with Gaddafi may not be operational at all. In any case, this is a very limited option and would be very quickly neutralized by western air strikes.

Next option for Pro-Gaddafi Forces is to depend upon their superior artillery power in terms of tanks and armoured vehicles. France has already attacked a couple of tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi and we may witness more such strikes targeting Gaddafi’s artillery. However, the revolutionary forces are also using similar artillery equipment and therefore the air strikes against Gaddafi’s artillery would have to be much more accurate. Moreover, unlike most of the air defence installations, artillery is a mobile target and between pro and anti Gaddafi forces the frontlines are rather blurred. Gaddafi may exploit this limitation by positioning his artillery as close to the rebel forces as possible. In such situation, the Western Forces would need “Boots on the Ground” to help them direct the air attacks. This would seriously challenge the current strategy of not committing any ground troops. As a minimum, someone in the Western Camp would have to commit Special Forces to move with the ranks and files of the revolutionary forces for ground truthing.

USA and its allies would be hoping that helped by their air strikes, the Anti Gaddafi group would be able to oust Gaddafi. This may not be an easy task. They may be able to push back Pro-Gaddafi troops from Benghazi and other eastern cities but to penetrate into Tripoli would be a tough challenge. Air strikes would not be helpful once face to face engagement starts. Gaddafi would soon rework his strategy, pull back his forces and begin consolidating in and around Tripoli using Human Shield and wait for the rebels to come closer. How would the Western Forces deal with the Human Shield remains to be seen?

At this moment, a quick end to the Libyan crisis appears to be elusive. Operation Odyssey Dawn may prove to be exactly that – “an extended adventurous voyage”.