Wednesday, September 12, 2012



Shri Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, never allows grass to grow under his feet. While the Congress Party is still confused as to what should be its strategy and tactics for the forthcoming elections to the State Assembly later this year, Shri Modi, like the proverbial hare, has already started racing ahead. He has inaugurated his and the BJP’s State election campaign with a powerful indictment of the state of corruption in the Government of India.

2. It is evident Shri Modi will have a two-pronged election strategy which will focus on his record as the Chief Minister and highlight what he projects as the injustices and step-motherly policies of the Government of India towards his Government.

3.Will the Congress tortoise be able to catch up with the hare and overtake it ultimately? The answer to this will depend not only on its stamina and winner instinct, but also on its ability to project before the voters of Gujarat a credible alternative to Shri Modi in terms of individuals and policies. One sees no clear sign of any logical thinking  in the Congress.

4.The 2009 elections to the Lok Sabha clearly showed that demonization and denigration of an individual does not bring in poll dividends. Instead of placing before the voters an attractive policy alternative package, Shri L.K.Advani focussed the entire campaign  of the BJP on an attempt to demonise and denigrate Dr.Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. It did not pay.

5. Similarly, the BJP’s current campaign of demonization and denigration of the Prime Minister is not showing signs of bringing in any significant poll return. The people are increasingly disillusioned with the Prime Minister and the Congress because of their perceived sins of commission and omission.

6. This disillusionment with the Congress and the PM has not been translated into a fascination for the BJP and its leaders. There has been a definitive corrosion of the support enjoyed by the Congress, but this corrosion has not been to the significant benefit of the BJP and its leaders. There are no signs of a gathering pro-BJP wave in the country. Disillusionment with the Congress and scepticism towards the BJP are the defining characteristics of the current public mood in the country.

7.Against this background, the Congress has to realise that any election campaign in Gujarat based on a continuing demonization of NaMo for the communal violence of 2002 will bring in ever-diminishing returns. The time has come to jettison the policy of demonization of NaMo.

8. The Congress election campaign has to be based on a clear understanding of the ground situation in Gujarat and the electoral strategy of NaMo and his supporters in his party and from the diaspora.

9. NaMo enjoys three formidable assets---- his record as an effective administrator, his achievements in developing the economy of the State and his reputation as an honest leader who has not allowed corruption to flourish under his watch. The public perception of his record as the Chief Minister is going to be his best poll ally.

10. But NaMo is not a paragon of all positive qualities. There are two negatives in his personality and leadership which have not been brought out by the Congress. The first is his drive to build a personality cult around him by skilfully exploiting the modern means of communication and the virtual world and the backing of a group of IT-savvy individuals from the diaspora  about whose background and credentials the voters of this country know very little.

11. The entourage of Mrs.Sonia Gandhi and Dr.Manmohan Singh is a relatively open book. One cannot say the same thing about the entourage of NaMo, particularly the diaspora members of his entourage. This entourage, with the diaspora members driving from the back seat, has been seeking to bulldoze NaMo’s way forward towards winning another term as the Chief Minister and ultimately occupying the Chair of the Prime Minister.

12. This lack of transparency regarding his entourage and particularly of the NRIs who have flocked to his flag should be a matter of concern to the right-thinking persons in our country. In the attempt to build a personality cult around him and make him seem 15 feet tall, his entourage has been quietly trying to identify and undermine the potential challengers to his way forward.

13. NaMo has been in power for a decade now. Has the time not come to discourage the trend towards a personality cult by trying an alternate leader? An accepted principle in many democracies is that a personality cult would prove detrimental to the health of democracy. That is why many democracies have put a limit to the number of years  a head of Government or State can hold office. There are two-term limits in the US and France where the head of State/Government is directly elected. Even in authoritarian societies such as Russia and China there are two-term limits. No leader, however brilliant, should be allowed to occupy the chair of the head of the Government for a long period.

14. In countries such as the UK, where the head of Government is not directly elected, there is no constitutionally laid down limit, but their political culture sees to it that there is no bulldozed attempt to build a personality cult. The most worrisome aspect of NaMo’s personality is not his attitude to the religious minorities which has become more benign and positive now than it seemed to be in 2002, but his attempt, with the backing of his entourage, to build a personality cult around him.

15.Secondly,NaMo’s economic achievements seem so dazzling that nobody has gone into them in depth. Who are the ultimate beneficiaries of his economic policies---- certain corporate houses or the common people as a whole? Is his gathering support thanks to people-friendly policies or corporate-friendly ones? These are questions that have not been posed and discussed in depth.

16. Nobody can question NaMo’s achievements. They are there for all to see. But, nobody can fail to be disturbed by the personality cult being built around him. And one should not hesitate to raise questions about the ultimate beneficiaries of his economic policies.

17. Has the time come to seek an alternative to NaMo and his policies? That question has to be addressed in the weeks ahead before the Gujarat elections. ( 13-9-12)


(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)






















As the world observes the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US Homeland, one hears less and less the pre-2001 calls of Al Qaeda for a global jihad against the Crusaders and the Jewish people and for the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate and one hears more and more calls for local jihads against local rulers and local enemies of Islam. This is so whether it be in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia, or Iraq or  Algeria or Mali or Nigeria. Al Qaeda talks no more of the International Islamic Front formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998.

2.The call now is no longer for an international Caliphate. It is now for myriad Islamic States ruled according to the Sharia and for waging a jihad against what they look upon  as the pollution of Islam by enemies of Islam masquerading as Muslims. Whereas in the past, the Christians and the Jewish people were projected as the principal non-Muslim enemies of Islam, the Shias are now projected as an equally despicable enemy to be ruthlessly eliminated.

3.One increasingly finds this growing anti-Shia dimension of the Sunni/Wahabi terrorist ideology in Pakistan. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), an affiliate of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which has been spearheading the jihad against the Shias in Balochistan, Karachi, Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab and the Kurram Agency, has declared them “wajib-ul-qatl”  meaning deserving of death.

4. Pakistan has had a long history of anti-Shia violence from its birth in 1947. In Afghanistan too, when the Taliban was in power before October 2001, there were brutal attacks on Hazara Shias. But this anti-Shia violence has now acquired an ideological approval and a religious sanction.

5. The worrisome development is that Pakistan’s elite and other so-called liberal sections, which occasionally even condemn the atrocities against the Balochs and the Ahmadias, have been silent on the atrocities against the Shias. Newspapers like the “Daily Times” of Lahore do draw attention to the anti-Shia acts of terrorism, but large sections of the media are maintaining a silence.

6.Over 300 Shias are reported to have been massacred since the beginning of this year, many of them dragged out of buses, lined up and shot dead. The so-called elite of Pakistan, barring some individual exceptions, has hardly protested.

7. The systematic and ruthless elimination of the Shias by the pro-Al Qaeda LEJ and the inaction of the State against the perpetrators are accepted as unavoidable by the elite and other liberal elements. The human rights of the Shias do not get the same support as the human rights of other minority groups.

8.Even the judiciary’s tolerant attitude to the perpetrators of anti-Shia atrocities in the name of pure Islam has escaped strong condemnation. On September 11, 2012, a Lahore court granted bail to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s chief Malik Ishaq, who had been recently arrested by the police for instigating attacks on the Shias. The leniency of the court reminded one of a similar lenient attitude by the judiciary towards Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) last year, when he was ordered to be released from police custody despite the evidence of his role in the organisation of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.

9. The increasing violence by pro-Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan has taken two forms----against the security forces by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and against the Shias by the LEJ. These are Pakistani organisations dominated largely by Punjabi Sunnis and Sunni Pashtuns.

10. There has, however, been a decrease in violence against Pakistani targets and interests by the Arab-dominated Al Qaeda operating from North Waziristan and headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian. After the death of Osama bin Laden (OBL) in the US raid on Abbottabad on May1/2 last year, the Arab Al Qaeda suffered one more major set-back on June 4,2012, when its No.2 and ideologue Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed in a US Drone strike in North Waziristan. His death was confirmed by Zawahiri in a special video message released on September 11, 2012, coinciding with the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US was a cleric and a good religious motivator and his absence is being felt by Al Qaeda based in North Waziristan.

11. The repeated successes of the Drone Strikes are having an impact on Al Qaeda of North Waziristan, which has not been able to carry out any major strike in the West for nearly two years now.

12. Next to the Afghan and Pakistani Talibans, the LET and the LEJ, the most capable and lethal terrorist organisation today is the Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).Its reach, motivation, reservoir of cadres for suicide terrorism and lethality  were demonstrated on the 9/11 anniversary on September 11.A car bomb targeting Yemeni Defence Minister Major General Muhammad Nasir Ahmad exploded outside the Prime Minister’s office in Sanaa , killing at least five bodyguards but the Minister reportedly escaped. The attack was reportedly in retaliation for  the death of AQAP’s No.2  Said al-Shehri, in an attack in eastern Yemen last week.

13. The AQAP, which is also called the Ansar al-Shria (Supporters of the Sharia), operates from Yemen. It used to be headed by Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen of Yemeni origin. After his death in a US Drone strike in September last year, it is reportedly led by Nasir al Wuhayshi, who was the chief of staff of OBL in Kandahar before 9/11.

14.The AQAP differs from Al Qaeda of North Waziristan of Afghan Mujahideen and OBL vintage in the following respects:

( a ). It focusses its recruitment drive through the Net on English-knowing young Muslims of non-Arab extraction. Many young  non-Arab Muslims, including Pakistanis and members of the Pakistani diaspora in the West, are now believed to be going to the training camps of the Ansar in Yemen and not to the training camps of the old jihadi organisations of Afghan vintage in the Af-Pak region.

( b ). It advises its supporters in different countries to adopt not the catastrophic or mass casualty terrorism favoured by OBL and his advisers, but a simplified form of jihad that could be easily or self-learnt, with the use of modus operandi such as assassinations of targeted individuals, driving a motor car over the target etc.

( C ).It produces its propaganda and motivational literature in English and disseminates them through the Net.

15. The available details of the interrogation of the 18 Muslims arrested in Bengaluru, Hubli, Hyderabad and Maharashtra indicates more the influence of AQAP and the Ansar on their motivation and operational thinking than that of jihadi organisations of Afghan vintage.

16. The Al Qaeda of Afghan vintage was never able to win much influence over young Indian Muslims. The motivation of these 18 Muslims through the Net would indicate that the AQAP/Ansar may be having a greater impact on the minds of the educated and English-proficient young members of our Muslim community.

17. While continuing to keep up their watch on the Pakistani jihadi organisations, our intelligence agencies should pay more attention to the new winds of jihad from Yemen. (12-9-12)

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)