Why does India need a strong leader NOW?
by Ramtanu Maitra on 07 Apr 2014 4 Comments
After years of indecisive leadership and a decade strewn with major financial scams, India’s 815-million-member electorate needs to opt for a strong and decisive leader when exercising their franchise in nine stages to elect the 16th Lok Sabha. The electoral process will begin on April 7 and end on May 12. It is expected that the names of the 543 parliamentarians that are elected will be announced by May 16.


Shuffling through oodles of analyses presented by local and foreign pundits, it is fair to assume at this point in time that no single political party in the fray will have the absolute majority. The 2014 election may well mimic the one that constituted the 15th Lok Sabha. However, that could change if the electorate realizes the importance of a strong leader and votes accordingly.


The priority now is to make sure that the conglomeration of parties that may come together to form the next government has a leader at its helm who is strong and decisive (quite unlike the previous one, Manmohan Singh). During the last 10 years under this indecisive leader - who never openly articulated his views on matters of prime concern, ostensibly afraid of antagonizing those who put him in that seat - the ruling UPA wasted precious time presiding over, and then defending itself against, a number of financial scams, leaving much urgent work undone.


What needed to be done was to prepare and direct India’s 1.3 billion people - almost 50 percent of whom are below 25 years of age - to seize the opportunities and counter the dangers that confront the nation. This election is a critical opportunity to cast aside a decrepit leadership that wasted precious years, operating from day to day, with its resources focused on just trying to stay afloat politically.


A strong leader is more necessary than ever because the world has changed significantly since 2009. The failure of the so-called world leaders who preside over the G-8, among other “elite” international institutions, has made the future of the world more uncertain. Strong leadership from India at this juncture could fend off various threats from Indian shores and, in the process, provide some stability to the world community in the coming months and years.


It is no doubt a daunting period into which India’s new leader will step. Yet he or she can be sure that they will enjoy support from the vast majority of Indians in addressing the urgent issues before the country with vision and determination - provided that leader does the political work and lays out his or her objectives in clear language.


What are the immediate threats?


The world is now dealing with the fallout from the actions of a series of incompetent, and often mindlessly aggressive, leaders at the highest level of major nations since the end of the Cold War. The 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and launch of the “Global War on Terror,” and subsequent gross mismanagement of that war for 12 years, including the creation of  an  organized opium-heroin explosion in Afghanistan to generate cash, added further to the chaos. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq unleashed sectarian violence throughout Arabia and beyond, which continues to claim hundreds of lives daily. The invasion was one important trigger for the violence that spread throughout the Islamic countries in Southwest Asia and, later, among the Maghreb nations in North Africa. In quick succession, the Libyan invasion and funding of the terrorists to unseat the Syrian government were masterminded and funded by those considered to be world leaders and who had all the tools of power to stabilize the world situation.


It has become clear that that was not the only agenda. A project to expand NATO into the Eurasian landmass had also begun in 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan. The objective of the trans-Atlantic leaders was to move NATO into a territory where three major powers - China, India and Russia - are growing and preparing to develop that landmass. The victim of this arrogant and aggressive policy this time around was Ukraine, where a group of corrupt mafia types, strengthened by hooligans and fascists, unleashed a violent movement on behalf of the West to take Ukraine into the EU.


Despite having had their fill of Nazism, the impotent Europeans went along with the US-led plan to undermine Eurasia, Russia in particular. The outcome could be the break-up of Ukraine, amalgamation of the Crimean part of Ukraine back into the Russian fold and creation of yet another hot-spot where thugs and terrorists will continue to operate. That game is in play. NATO is still issuing threats to Russia and the Europeans, poor Europeans, afraid of losing the Russian gas that keeps their hearth warm and machines running, are passively following the leaders, keeping trans-Atlantic solidarity intact.


While there is no certainty how the full-court pressure to poison Ukraine-Russia relations will play out in the long term, we can say for sure that in the absence of leaders of vision and substance, the mischief-makers, crooks and looters will remain hyperactive. Since these mischief-makers are protected and unaccountable, they have an open field. We saw that happen again and again in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and now it is happening in Ukraine.


Since India is neither a foe of Russia nor of the West, whose machination has placed Ukraine and the adjoining areas in this unacceptable and dangerous condition, India cannot afford to sit around and see the situation get out of control. Like every other country in the Eurasian landmass, India has a lot at stake and needs to play an active role to maintain stability there.


New equation in Afghanistan


In addition, before we ring in the year 2015, it is most likely that US and NATO troops will finally strike their tents and leave Afghanistan. Even if Washington manages to retain a few thousand troops with Kabul’s approval, the Afghan situation will no longer be the same.


Nonetheless, there could be potent efforts made to bring back the old status quo. It is almost a certainty now that the Pakistani military, under the thumbs-down control of Riyadh, will make a move to unseat the new Kabul government, using its covert military powers to empower a pro-Saudi and pro-Pakistan regime there. It is the same old policy that these two had cooked up in the 1990s to bring the murderous Taliban to power in Kabul. But this time around it may not work out.


Today, unlike the 1990s, Afghanistan has an army. Without making an effort to evaluate the Afghan National Security Force’s strengths and weaknesses, one should note that throughout 2013 it has had the lead in providing security to Afghans, with the ISAF playing a supporting role. American academic Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, points out that Afghan forces now constitute 85 percent of all coalition forces, lead 95 percent of all operations and take more than 95 percent of all coalition casualties, according to US and NATO figures - yet the enemy is not gaining momentum. (“Afghanistan Is Doing Better Than You Think,” by Michael O’Hanlon, Politico, March 23).


Of course, after 2014 the ANSF will encounter greater challenges from across the borders; it is likely that Pakistani soldiers, hiding once again under the robes of Taliban fighters, will appear in large numbers to confront the Afghan soldiers. But, according to other analysts, the more appropriate historical analogy to Kabul today is not the Kabul that the Taliban seized in 1992; it is Saigon in 1963, when the Vietnamese military overthrew the country’s civilian leadership.


In the next five years and beyond, according to Paul Miller of the Rand Corporation, the greatest danger to democratic governance in Afghanistan is not the Taliban but the Afghan army itself. Since 2001, he argues, the net effect of the state-building mission in Afghanistan has been the emergence of a strong Afghan army and a weak Afghan state, creating an imbalance that should worry anyone with a cursory knowledge of history or political theory. (“Afghanistan’s Coming Coup?: The Military Isn’t Too Weak - It’s Too Strong,” by Paul D. Miller, Foreign Affairs, April 2).


Notwithstanding those realities, Pakistan and Riyadh will continue to keep Kabul under pressure, and the situation will remain tenuous and entirely unhealthy for the development that Afghanistan so badly needs. Should it reduce its support for foisting a pro-Saudi, pro-Pakistan Pushtun-led government on Kabul, Islamabad is afraid that the Pushtuns of Pakistan and Afghanistan, living in adjoining areas and at least 42 million-strong, could then join hands to initiate formation of a “Greater Pushtunistan,” a Pushtun homeland that would break up both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not an irrational concern; the Pushtuns of Pakistan’s FATA and the Pushtuns of Afghanistan intensely hate the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani military and there will be no dearth of mischief-makers to participate in such a venture.


The Kashmir and insurgency issues


Such a crisis may not remain confined to Pushtun areas, but could as well engulf the region. It is also expected that it is just a matter of time before Pakistan begins heating up the Kashmir issue by pushing in more armed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Jihadi-terrorists to challenge New Delhi and bleed India. As it is, decades of indecisive Kashmir policy in New Delhi have created an environment in Kashmir in which most, if not all, Kashmiris openly, and sometimes violently, express their unwillingness to remain citizens of the Indian Republic. Some are openly aiding the Pakistan-based LeT terrorists against the Indian military personnel stationed there, and it is anticipated that more will join as Pakistan’s efforts become more brazen in the coming months.


Under the circumstances, India will face two immediate problems. First, India has a constructive role to play in Afghanistan; New Delhi knows this, and a Kabul that considers Pakistan a disrupting force, acknowledges it. To ensure that Afghanistan is stabilized and becomes a productive part of the Eurasian landmass - and not yet another blood-spilling jihadi-center - India needs to have a prominent presence there. India’s ability to improve Afghanistan’s social and physical infrastructure has long been recognized by the Afghans, but it will take a leader in New Delhi who has the vision and the resolve to face opposition from within and outside to move the policy forward. India needs a leader who understands clearly and practically what India needs to do in Afghanistan to help the country establish its sovereignty and deliver the Saudi-Pakistan-led terrorist bunch a black eye.


Second, and at the same time, India could face a very serious insurgency problem inside Jammu and Kashmir and in other parts of India itself. Nehru’s folly in 1948 led to the formation of Azad Kashmir and initiated six decades of foot-dragging in New Delhi, where successive governments handed out goodies to pro-Pakistan Kashmiris and studiously avoided looking the problem in the eye under one lazy pretext or the other: it should be clear that a continuation of this approach will only invite further chaos. It is necessary to break the back of the terrorist-led insurgency in Kashmir once and forever, and it will require a no-holds-barred approach toward the Pakistani military.


To be sure, taking a tough stance to integrate Kashmir into India and prevent Pakistan from pushing in a load of terrorists will not be an easy job. India’s new leader will face a wall of resistance from within, orchestrated by the pseudo-secular British liberal types. Again, there will be any number of “respectable” international NGOs and, of course, the Saudi-Kuwaiti-Qatari moneybags, who will help finance such opposition within India.


It should also be noted that with the help of the Saudis, the Pakistan ISI has reportedly set up al-Qaeda bases in a number of Indian cities such as Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Patna, among others. The immediate objective, perhaps, is to trigger nationwide Hindu-Muslim riots during the elections by assassinating a top-line BJP leader. Such planned rioting, should it succeed, would cripple India for years to come.


These al-Qaeda-linked terrorists are also looking to recruit Muslims who are ready to oust the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad. The plan is to train them and ship them over to carry out terrorist activities within Syria on behalf of the West and Saudi-Qatar-Kuwait trio in the Gulf. (“Al Qaeda finds base in India, Modi is on its radar,” by Madhav Nalapat, The Sunday Guardian, March 29).


It is evident from these reports that during the past 10 years, in the period following 9/11, the weak, pliable and vote-bank-seeking political leadership in power in India has allowed these dangerous elements with foreign strings to set up bases, probably under the pretext of pseudo-secularism (i.e., seeking Muslim votes). Whoever comes to power in New Delhi in 2014 has to be ruthless in dealing with these terrorists and cannot afford to let itself be compromised by those politicians, security officials and bureaucrats who have worked hand-in-glove with these anti-social elements and made hay in the process.


The economic push


The security of Afghanistan and pulling the rug from under the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir are not the only tasks that lie before India’s new leader. The Manmohan-Montek-Chidambaram-led economic policy of recent years has put India into a very difficult situation. The utter indecisiveness of the previous administration and its inherent tendency to compromise with various corrupt forces have now created a number of tangible economic problems and solved almost none. The Manmohan Singh regime’s successful effort to make nuclear power the centerpiece of India’s future power generation is one of the very few exceptions to its dismal record.


Under the UPA, the Indian economy has gone steadily backward. That is particularly disturbing since India is located adjacent to China, a nation of almost equal population, which has developed a huge production capacity. India-China trade is growing at a rapid clip, but the trade imbalance favors China more and more simply because the UPA undermined India’s manufacturing sector and the employment that comes with it. The failure to strengthen India’s manufacturing sector will be serious impediment to broadening India-China bilateral relations in the future. Unless the disparity between the two countries is decreased significantly in the coming years, the region will remain unstable and mischief-makers from both West and East will continue to undermine this crucial bilateral relationship (“Pulling Manufacturing Out of the Rut,” by Arun Maira, The Hindu, Sept. 19, 2013).


There are two broad failures that could be easily identified in India’s economic development since the 1990s and that explain why India’s manufacturing sector has languished while the so-called knowledge-based, high-end information services have grown. The first is the glaring failure of the UPA government to develop power and transportation infrastructure commensurate to the needs of a growing economy of 1.3 billion people. Since the IT industry is far less dependent on infrastructure for its operations than manufacturing units are, it did not have to contend with this impediment.


Second, the absence of an industrial policy cannot go unnoticed. It is an idea that Indian economists and policymakers seemingly threw out of the window when they dismantled the stifling controls of the DGTD (Director General of Trade and Development) on industry and lowered duties on imports in 1991. Both of these were welcome steps, at least to some.


The National Manufacturing Policy introduced in 2011 is a belated departure from the policy neglect of earlier years. It addresses the challenges of rapid job creation and expansion of domestic production. It has ambitious goals: to create 100 million additional jobs in manufacturing by 2025 by accelerating the growth of manufacturing to exceed the overall growth of the economy by 2 percent to 4 percent annually. The share of manufacturing in the overall growth of the economy is expected to increase from 16 percent, where it has been stagnant, to 25 percent (“Why India Must Revive Its Manufacturing Sector,” by Abhirup Bhunia, The Diplomat, Feb. 25).


During these last 10 years, India’s agricultural sector, water sector and education sector have been largely neglected. The UPA apparently had no appreciation of how crucial their growth is to reducing the yawning disparities among various strata of the Indian population introduced by the UPA-led policies. As a result of policy neglect in the agriculture sector, India’s food prices have risen at a double-digit rate for years, further weakening the rupee, and doing no good to anyone - with the possible exception of the middle-men who contribute generously to the political groups in power to keep their vote-banks appeased.

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