28 February 2012

India's Paid Media

The secular Indian media, especially the electronic media, are trying to outgun each other to flaunt their secular credentials in their portrayal of the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Its been ten years since the riots took place. I will not do a post-mortem  of who's right and who's wrong. 

The self-styled guardians of our secularism - NDTV, TIMES Now, CNN IBN, The Hindu, The Hindustan Times - are busy raking up the ghosts of the Gujarat riots. All they rant is how the Muslims were killed, how Muslim women were raped, how Muslim homes were burnt down.... and on they rant in endless debates, with conscience-keepers of our society -  Brinda Karat, Javed Akhtar, Manish Tiwari, Abhishek Singhvi, Suhel Seth, Teesta Setalvad, and other 'secular' folks.

Why don't Barkha Dutt, Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghosh, and Arnab Goswami ever 
raise questions on the 

(a) role played by Congress party leaders in the
1984 Sikh Riots in Delhi, which saw the deaths of more than 3000 Sikhs, in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards;

(b) plight of the
Hindu Pandits of Kashmir who are living like refugees in their own country after being driven out by Muslim terrorists and hardliners;

ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Christians in Kashmir Valley by Muslim radicals;

(d) evangelical activities carried out by Christian
 missionaries in several parts of India, especially in large parts of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Kerala;

farmers' suicides in Andhra Pradesh, the so-called 'rice bowl of India', because of the nefarious policies of the Congress government.

Yes, there are several other uncomfortable questions that are never raised on the Newshour, Big Fight, Question Time India, Face the Nation. 

Selective amnesia 
on the part of the Indian media is sowing seeds of hatred between different communities. What the media in India is peddling is half-truths and lies. They act more like spokespersons of the Congress and less like protectors of public interest.

To hell with public interest, as long as I get my kickbacks and paid holidays, seem to be the silent refrain of the secular media houses. So much for 'whatever it takes' to 'experience truth'. 

Tuesday Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

  • The probability of an attack on Iran’s nuclear programme has been increasing. But the chances of it ending the country’s nuclear ambitions are low, says The Economist. In this context I suggest you read my February 11 article, The Explainer: Will Israel attack Iran? on the much-debated Israeli plans for an attack on Iran. 
  • Wikileaks has released thousands of secret emails belonging to Stratfor, a private intelligence agency which is often described as a "shadow CIA".
  • Rahul Gandhi's Lost Widows are haunted by debt and starvation in Vidharbha. This is an old article but is highly relevant today. (India Today)
  • "Incalculable dangers if Greek plan is rejected", warns Germany's Angela Merkel. (Bloomberg)  

DC's Subhani
 has an interesting take on the prospects of a hung assembly in Uttar Pradesh. 

27 February 2012

Monday Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Sudhir Tailang, cartoonist at the Asian Age, caricatures Union Minister and Congress leader Sriprakash Jaiswal's ridiculous statement that if the Congress does not come to power in UP then it will ensure that there is President's Rule in the state. The minister's assertion only reflects the contempt with which the political parties in general and the Congress in particular hold the citizens in general and voters in particular.
  • 10 Things you didn't know about Drones. (FP)
  • Foreign investors tired of corruption in India. (ET)
  • It's tough being a woman in a man's world. (The Hindu)

26 February 2012

Sunday Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Its been eleven days since I last blogged in this space. In this time, I have given three webinars (web seminars) on the Korean peninsula, Japanese economy, Indo-Pak relations (with focus on Kashmir), What if Assad of Syria goes; Iranian nuclear ambitions (with focus on Israeli plans to attack Iran), and FDI in multibrand retail. All in all, been busy doing some really interesting work.

Let me continue the Best Reads Series. We resume with a funny take on the double game the Russians are playing in the Syrian crisis. This cartoon comes from
First Post.

  • The end of the Oil economy, as we know it. (AlJazeera)
  • Hamas dumps Syria's Bashar Al-Assad. (Reuters)
  • Stages in building a nuclear weapon. (NY Times)
  • Massive corruption in liquor trade in AP. (Outlook)

15 February 2012

Wednesday Evening Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

On Feb 11 I wrote The Explainer: Will Israel attack Iran?. Since then there have been bombings targeting Israeli diplomats in New Delhi, Tbilisi (Georgia's capital) and Bangkok. These attacks have been blamed by Israel on Iran. 

In view of the international sanctions against Iran, here is an interesting infographic from Reuters

  • Now play Angry Birds on Facebook. (CNN)
  • Disillusioned Maoist fighters of Nepal. (BBC
  • Greece heads for record books as economy slumps (Reuters

14 February 2012

Valentine's Day Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Valentine's Day gifts for Syria's dictator Bashar Al-Assad from China's Hu Jintao and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. (The Globe and Mail)

  • Narendra Modi's critics are fighting a lost battle. (First Post)
  • Is Syria's unrest spilling over into Lebanon? (AlJazeera)
  • Iran prepares suicide boats for attacks against U.S. navy. (Reuters)

13 February 2012

Monday Morning Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Let me begin the day with a topical DC cartoon.
  • Pakistan's perilous journey to the future. (Economist)
  • Icelanders avoid inbreeding through online incest database. (TIME)

11 February 2012

The Explainer: Will Israel attack Iran?

In the early years of the last decade, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shocked the world when it uncovered Iran’s clandestine pursuit of nuclear weapons programme. However, the IAEA exposé merely confirmed the worst fears of the international community that was all along merely suspecting such a possibility.
Today, the European Union, the United States, and Israel are convinced that Iran’s is out to develop nuclear weapons. The international community, including India, has made it amply clear that it does not want a nuclear Iran. The usually restrained Government of India has clearly stated that it does not want another nuclear power in the neighbourhood.
As was expected, Iran denied the accusations listed in the IAEA report and has maintained that its nuclear programme is for civil energy generation. Tehran maintains that it has no interest in nuclear weapons, but that as a member of the NPT it has an inalienable right to peaceful nuclear energy. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, critical parts of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure “include a VVER-1000 MWe light water reactor at Bushehr, a uranium conversion facility at Esfahan, an enrichment facility at Natanz, a heavy water production plant, and a heavy water reactor at Arak”.

The United States has imposed oil embargo against Iran, under which any country/entity which does trade with Iran’s central bank (most of the revenue transactions for energy sales by Iran are handled by its central bank) for purchase of its energy resources will face serious penalties in the United States. 

The EU has also boycotted purchase of oil and gas from Iran, which will take six months for full implementation. It is believed that if these sanctions are fully carried out, they could help isolate Iran’s central bank and effectively choke off the sale of Iranian oil by obstructing the means of payment, which in turn will force Iran to abandon its nuke weapons programme.
The new U.S.-EU oil embargo is in addition to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. The UN sanctions prevent all members and international financial institutions from entering into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to  Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes. Exports of arms from Iran have also been banned and member states are told to exercise restraint in selling major arms systems to Iran.
Impact of Sanctions
The current international sanctions and conflict with the West could push Iran deeper into an economic morass, which it can ill-afford. In fact, not only will such a conflict stop the flow of any foreign investment into the country, it could also lead to a flight of capital from the country. In fact, the sanctions are already having a debilitating impact on the Iranian economy. It defaulted on payment for about 200,000 tonnes of rice from India. India is considering not exporting any more rice to Iran on credit, as suppliers such as those in Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan had already stopped doing so.
Why not military action?
If there is any one thing that’s discouraging the U.S. and other major powers from taking military action against Iran, it is oil. Iran has more than 9 per cent of the world’s oil and gas reserves. It has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz through which nearly one-third of global oil supply passes every day. Any major disruption in global oil supply could lead to a serious spike in the cost of oil. Even if we discount the current global slowdown, a rise in the cost of oil (because of the fear of disruption in supply) could jeopardize any chance of a quicker recovery of the world economy.

War by covert means?
Apart from direct military intervention, it is widely speculated that the U.S. and Israel have launched a phantom cyber war to scuttle Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. 

In January 2011, The New York Times published an article on the Stu
xnet virus, which is believed to have been a joint American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian nuke programme. The Stuxnet is believed to be the most sophisticated cyber-weapon ever deployed. The computer worm has set reportedly wreaked technological havoc on the Iranian nuke programme; in fact, the U.S. and Israeli intelligence establishments believe that because of the worm, Iran has already run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015.

It is also believed that Israel, in preparation for the air attack, already has special forces in place in Iran. Also, it is likely that they were behind the killing of five key Iranian scientists (all related to the nuke programme) over the last two years. 

What are the plausible air routes that Israel could use to attack Iran?
In the light of the geographical location of Israel and Iran and the geopolitical reality of the region, there are three plausible air routes that Israeli air force may use to attack Iran.

Jordan-Iraq Route.
The most ‘comfortable’ route for Israeli aircraft to attack Iran will be through Jordanian and Iraqi airspace. Jordan, which is pro-West and not comfortable with the idea of a nuclear Iran, in unlikely to react in any major way. Iraq lacks any major air disruptive capability. In other words, Iraq, after the U.S. withdrawal, lacks the military infrastructure to stop Israel from using its airspace to attack Iran. However, a Shia-dominated Iraqi government, which is close to Iran, has already warned Israel to avoid violating its airspace, which may make flying through Iraqi airspace difficult.

Turkey-Syria northern route.
Initially when Israel was planning for the attack on Iran, one potential route they considered was the northern route: flying through the Mediterranean Sea (along Lebanese and Syrian coasts) and then close to the Turkey-Syria international border. Now let us look at why this will not work:

(a) Syria is a sworn enemy of Israel; it, along with Iran, supports the Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are anti-Israel. Also, Israel had occupied the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.

(b) Till a few years ago, Turkey was one of the very few allies Israel had in the Muslim World. However, deteriorating bilateral relations (because of a host of reasons like the botched Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship, destined for the Gaza Strip) have put the Turkey-Israel bonhomie in cold storage.

In the light of these facts, the northern route will not work for the Israeli military operation against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Jordan-Saudi Arabia route.
The third and most plausible route would be through the Jordan-Saudi Arabia air corridor. This would call for flying through Jordan and entering Saudi airspace.

Why this route may work? Saudi Arabia is Sunni while Iran is the world's largest Shia republic. For decades now, Iran has been challenging the Saudi hegemony in the Islamic World. Iran's rising power ambitions threaten Saudi Arabia's leadership of the Islamic World at large and the Arab World in particular. In short, Saudi Arabia is an ideological, sectarian, and power rival.

Established as a Jewish State in 1948, Israel is the first theocratic State in the post-Second World War world. Judaism (the religion of the Jews) and Islam have been at loggerheads for centuries. 

Also, Israel is an undeclared nuke weapons power; in this regard, Israel follows an 'ncnd' policy, i.e., it neither confirms nor denies its nuke status. Its nuke weapons make it the only nuke weapons state in the Middle East.

Ever since the Islamists brought in an Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has called for the destruction of Israel. It is in this context that reports of Israel’s planned strikes against Iranian nuke plants should be understood. Israel believes that Iran, in a moment of sheer desperation, may launch a nuclear weapons attack against it.

In this regard, in highly secretive meetings, it is learnt that Saudi Arabia has given permission to Israel to use its northern air corridor for
flyover to strike at Iran’s secretive nuclear plants. 

The U.S. is not in favour of an Israeli air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. It believes that an air strike may achieve limited gains, as most of the Iranian nuclear facilities are located in secret underground bunkers. Also, any attack against Iran may rally Islamists and liberals in the Muslim World against not just Israel but also the U.S., which many see as the Jewish State’s principal backer. Such attacks also raises the dangerous possibility of attacks against U.S. citizens in various parts of the world.

In other words, the U.S. believes that an Israeli air strike against Iran may turn out to be a massive strategic miscalculation, riddled with consequences that have the potential to disrupt global economic recovery and big power status. 

(Picture sourced from here.)

09 February 2012

Thursday Evening Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Sudhir Tailang hits the nail on political and moral corruption with his take on what ails India's leading political parties, the Congress and the BJP; cartoon sourced from The Asian Age.

  • If you had sat through my recent 220-minute session on the political, military, and economic rise of China, you may recall that I had discussed, at great length, how the hegemonic behavior of China toward its neighbours, especially in the South China Sea, is driving them into the embrace of the United States. AlJazeera has an interesting piece on The Philippines' seeking American help to counter aggressive China. 
  • New Pentagon (U.S. defence headquarters) rules blur line between physical and digital warfare. (Discover magazine
  • Almost bankrupt Greece fails to agree on austerity measures before bailout talks. (Reuters)

08 February 2012

Wednesday Morning Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

  • When did the middle finger become offensive? (BBC)
  • How 'don't be evil' became 'let's all be evil'. (Reuters Blog)
  • Iran's middle class on edge as world presses in. (NY Times)
  • Queen Elizabeth's six decades in reign: A photo journey. (TIME
The cartoon below is from The Sunday Guardian.

07 February 2012

Tuesday Morning Reads - The Best of Politics, Economics, & Ideas

Resuming the Best Reads feature, after more than a fortnight.

  • GDP growth to slow in many countries, with an interactive graph. (NYT)
  • Has the world abandoned Homs? (BBC)
  • China's soft power offensive in Taiwan. (AlJazeera)
  • Expect Mark Zuckerberg to morph into Rupert Murdoch. (Reuters)

A funny yet incisive cartoon to start the day; this one is from the
Sunday Guardian, by the super-talented Sandeep Adhwaryu.

05 February 2012

The 2G Verdict Infographic

The Kolkata-based Telegraph published an interesting infographic on the Supreme Court's landmark verdict on the allocation of 2G spectrum. 

The 2G Spectrum Scam Saga)

04 February 2012

Facebook in Numbers

Interesting infographic on the world's largest social media company, Facebook. I found it at Mashable.

02 February 2012

The 2G Spectrum Scam Saga

In a verdict that has sent shock waves throughout Indian political landscape, the Supreme Court quashed all the 122 licences awarded to 12 companies to run for 2G operations by then Telecom Minister A. Raja. 

The SC said that the arbitrary allocation of the 2G spectrum was a scam and not the consequence of a government policy.  The apex court indicted former telecom minister A. Raja for “virtually gifting away an important national asset at throwaway prices” while claiming that officers were “cowed” down fearing his “wrath”.

Writing in the Tehelka magazine, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta contends that, "the incredibly fast expansion of mobile telecommunications in India has been accompanied by a series of scandals that are a consequence of poor regulatory oversight and deliberate manipulation of policies to favour a select clutch of companies. The biggest and most brazen of these scandals relate to the undervaluation of a valuable national resource — electromagnetic spectrum or radio frequencies used by mobile phone service providers — by the Department of Tele - communications (DoT) under former Minister for Communications and Information Technology A Raja.

"According to a report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India tabled in Parliament on 16 November, the total “presumptive” or “notional” loss to the national exchequer on account of undervaluation of spectrum was in excess of Rs1.7 lakh crore or nearly $40 billion at current exchange rates, making it the biggest scandal of its kind in the country.

The enormity of the scandal was acknowledged only after the Supreme Court started asking pointed questions of government agencies and the CAG came out with a scathing indictment of DoT policies and practices. Raja was forced to resign his post and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) made to expedite its investigations that had begun in October 2009 with the lodging of a First Information Report (FIR) against “unknown” persons.

"The CAG contended that (a) by underpricing second generation (2G) spectrum, (b) by allowing companies to use two competing technologies — the global system of mobile (GSM) communications and the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology — using the same licence and (c) by allocating more spectrum to companies than what their licences specified, the total loss to the country could be as much as Rs1,76,645 crore — more than Rs10,000 for each citizen or over four times the current annual budget of the “world’s largest social security scheme”, the programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

"If the prime minister was indeed aware of what was going on, why did he not take any action against Raja? Why did he remain silent when Raja claimed that he had his approval while allotting licences whereas the CAG categorically stated that he had blatantly flouted the prime minister’s advice? These are the questions that have raised a huge political storm, completely paralyzed the winter session of Parliament for three weeks and strained relations between the Indian National Congress and its partner in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition from Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)."

Here's how the mega scam unfolded. Click on the graphic for a larger view.