Delay in improving mobile coverage in NE irks MHA

Delay in improving mobile coverage in north-east has irked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) with officials fearing an escalation in security risk due to people using signals from Myanmar for communication.

With north-eastern states have border with Myanmar, security officials feel that the “communication voids” due to poor mobile connectivity is creating more trouble as it could lead to a surge in anger among local populace.

The Department of Telecom had last year invited bids for setting up 6,673 towers in 8,621 uncovered villages of eight north-eastern states and 321 on National Highways in the region.

However, officials said, very little progress has been made in the matter, prompting the MHA to suggest that the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) might be asked to set up towers in the border areas in the region.

The issue was raised by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi in November itself in a letter to his counterpart in DoT J S Deepak while assuring “all necessary help” in terms of coordination with state governments to facilitate creation of infrastructure.

The Home Secretary had highlighted that the mobile telephony coverage in the north-east has been “deficient” due to the “limited presence” of country’s telephone service providers.

“An analysis of the region reveals that there are communication voids in the areas along the Indo-Myanmar international border especially in the southern Arunachal Pradesh, south-eastern Nagaland, west and southern Manipur and southern Mizoram,” he said.

He warned that lack of adequate cellular coverage in the region has “brought a sense of discontentment” amongst the youth and public who “despite having means are deprived of benefits of modern means of communication”.

“It has also been observed that certain sections of society utilize the spill-over signals from Myanmar Telephone Service Providers in the border areas. As reach of such signals is limited, the communications in the region remain inadequate,” the letter said.

Officials said there was a marked improvement in the mobile coverage in naxal-infested states and it could be replicated. For the north-east, they said, BSNL could be roped in to create infrastructure and funds would be available from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which is funded by all mobile operators for setting up telecom facilities in remote locations.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 30, 2017)

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Kashmir to remain Achilles heel of Indo-Pak relations

Kashmir will remain the “Achilles heel” of Indo-Pak relations and the “intensity of feeling” attached to the dispute makes it a “grave source of tension”, according to a CIA declassified report prepared 25 years ago.

The American intelligence agency was keeping a close watch on Kashmir developments over the years and prepared a series of reports on how Nehru’s “emotionalism” determined India’s policy and politics behind the dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah government in 1953 among others.

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The January 1981 report ‘Kashmir: A Simmering Trouble Spot’ details the rising potential for trouble due to heightened political and religious tension in Kashmir. It went on to talk about a “deep reservoir of distrust and suspicion” while warning about the issue exploding “with little forewarning”.

“Kashmir will remain the Achilles heel of Indo-Pakistani relations for the foreseeable future. It is so deeply ingrained as an emotional issue in both countries that it probably will not fade with the passage of time. The intensity of feeling attached to the dispute also makes it a grave source of tension,” it said.

Such warnings were a recurring theme in CIA reports as in ‘Indian-Pakistani Impasse over Control of Kashmir’ filed in November 1963, it had talked about the dispute remaining “one of the bitterest legacies” of the 1947 partition.

“After 15 years, neither Pakistan nor India is any more willing to accept a solution…Pakistan’s frustration over its inability to wrest the valley from India is still the basic emotion pervading its entire foreign policy,” it said.

On what lies at the core, the CIA explained its reasons in a 1953 March when it said that India’s position is based on Nehru’s “emotionalism over Kashmir, his ancestral home, on the belief that to make concessions would display weakness and on the fear that the Muslim majority in Kashmir would vote for accession to Pakistan”.

However, ten years later the CIA said, “while it is true that his family is of Kashmir Brahmin origin, having left there in the 18th century, and that he is particularly fond of vacationing in the valley, a more significant factor seems to be his strong commitment to the concept that Indian government and politics cannot be based on communal — ie religions — considerations.”

In 1956, it wrote that the religious status of the people of Kashmir is paramount to Pakistan while India considers that the question of religion is less significant than the economic and political environment provided for Kashmiris.

On the Abdullah dismissal, the CIA reported that the bogey of ‘American hand’ in making Kashmir independent was “manufacture in India to provide a credible excuse for dismissing Abdullah and simultaneously warning the USSR and China to keep their hands off Kashmir. The Embassy reports the Indian belief that the United States can be blamed without fear of retaliation, it added.

It also said Nehru presumably hoped that by maintaining a “puppet” government within the state he can eventually achieve its complete accession to India.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 29, 2017)

Soviets felt Sonia may turn Rajiv pro-West: CIA papers

The Soviets had “misgivings” about the “possible influence” of “Italian wife” Sonia on Rajiv Gandhi to turn pro-West, declassified CIA cables have said.

According to a report filed a day after the assassination of his mother Indira on October 31, 1984, the Soviets had “clearly anticipated” that Rajiv would succeed his mother but had serious concerns that the new Prime Minister could turn pro-West.

The CIA report ‘Prospects and Implications for USSR of Gandhi Assassination’ analyses the concerns of the USSR, then a close ally of India, following Indira’s assassination.

Putting in perspective the CIA’s view on post-Indira era, it said Soviets nurtured a relationship with Rajiv much before, as they did not want to make the “same mistake” of not taking “seriously” Indira’s effort earlier to promote her younger son Sanjay.

The cable goes on to say that the first Soviet condolence message went to Rajiv and not President Gyani Zail Singh.

“In view of their misgivings about the possible influence of Rajiv’s Italian wife and his sympathies toward the West prior to his entry into politics, the Soviets will presumably spare no effort to ingratiate themselves with Rajiv in order to advance Soviet interests,” it said.

Indira’s successors were a continuing theme for the CIA as it regularly prepared reports on this count. In a report in March same year, it said Rajiv was yet to “demonstrate the mettle he would require” to lead Congress if his mother died or lost power before effecting his succession.

A December 1982 report ‘India After Indira: The Succession Question’ said Rajiv’s chances are enhanced by the “dearth of credible challengers” but names of Maneka Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, P V Narasimha Rao, N D Tiwari and R Venkataraman were cited as “alternative contenders. Venkataraman and Mukherjee went on to become Presidents and Rao Prime Minister.

Maneka, now a Cabinet Minister in NDA government, was described as “ambitious and ruthless” estranged daughter-in-law of Indira, who had then become the focus of Congress dissenters.

However, the CIA did not believe her as a “serious threat” to Rajiv but she could erode public support for Rajiv by making an issue out of Sonia’s “refusal to become an Indian citizen”.

The report also suggested that Rajiv had “occasionally abused his prerogatives” by treating party leaders with “contempt” and his performance on the political hustings and in Parliament has been “lacklustre”.

(Jan 24, 2017)

Indian Left not revolutionary threat to US : CIA felt so in 1982

The United States may be anathema for the Indian communists but the CIA appeared not to rate them highly, as they feel they are neither a “revolutionary threat” or a “serious challenge” to American interests.

The American spy agency also goes on to charge the communists of “trading their class struggle philosophy for a share of parliamentary power” but at the same time says that they forced to concentrate on electoral politics as country’s religious, cultural and social institutions resist revolutionary changes.

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Declassified records, which are now made available online, show how the CIA agents captured every developments in communist parties through incisive analysis.

From the analysis on India’s first elected Communist government to split in CPI and activities during Emergency, the CIA reportage on the Indian Left sometimes resembled the language of self-criticism one could read in Party Congress documents.

An analysis in September 1982 ‘India: Dim Prospects for the Communists’ reasoned that social and cultural institutions and Hindu religious traditions have become a “formidable barriers” for their growth.

It said the communists won several elections in states for 30 years but they have “little hope” of making “meaningful gains”. Their long-term prospects for eventually leading a national government are “almost remote”.

The CIA analysis blames it on a “divisive tradition” among communists have “fragmented the movement, created morale problems” and leaders have a “vested interest” in maintaining separate identity.

Communist parties do not substantially differ from Congress’ stands on land reforms, secularism, the CIA report said.

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“By projecting themselves as simply left-leaning parties, the Indian Communists have lost their distinctive revolutionary character,” it said adding communists’ participation in Parliamentary system has “reduced the revolutionary consciousness” of its followers.

The trade unions have lost stature as “militant” organisations, it said.

The CIA “believed” in 1982 that the “ageing” leadership has created a “troublesome generation gap” in communist parties. It said the ” inadequate infusion of new people and ideas to the policy making apparatus is a persistent weakness”. Few younger members were inducted into higher committees in CPI(M) and CPI.

A CIA report in August 1962 report said the undivided CPI’s major leaders were “both articulate and intelligent” with some of them graduates from European universities. But lower the ladder, quality of leadership “tends to deteriorate” and the situation is “no worse” than other parties.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 24, 2017)

How CIA went wrong in 1975 and ’84

When it comes to reading the political pulse of the country, the American spy agency CIA seems to be off the mark several times, if one goes by the declassified files.

The CIA predicted in July 18, 1975, three weeks after the imposition of Emergency, that chances of Indira Gandhi retaining power was “good” while nine years later, it felt that her son Rajiv may not be able to get a majority in an election after her assassination.

On both counts, the results were diametrically opposite with Indira being ousted with one of the worst performance by Congress while Rajiv romped home with a sympathy wave and garnering over 400 seats, the highest for any party till date.

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(Rajiv, Indira and Sanjay)

The 1975 despatch said the Congress’ chances of retaining majority in Parliament was “good whether the party is led by (Indira) Gandhior someone else”.

“It might lose some seats, but unless it lost more than 85, it would still retain a majority in a newly constituted 540-member lower house,” it said.

Another mis-calculation was on the impact of Emergency on electorate when it said her “repressive moves” cannot be judged by then but it will “less damaging” among small, middle and upper classes.

“Her name and family heritage will probably continue to attract sizeable support, particularly in rural areas where most Indians live,” it said.

However, the electorate was not that kind to Indira as her party was routed in the elections in which Janata Party managed a thumping victory. While Indira and her son Sanjay lost their pocket burroughs, Congress won only 154 seats.

The December 1984 report said opposition disunity probably will allow Congress to return to power with a “reduced” majority in elections to be held same month.

However, the report prepared days before the polling on December 24 and 26 said, lose of support among Sikhs, Muslims and Dalits as well as poor performance by Congress governments in states could be detrimental to Rajiv.

Even though there is a sympathy wave and support from Hindus, the report said “Rajiv liabilities still cost him” majority. It goes on to suggest that Rajiv could form a government in alliance with AIADMK and “perhaps” with CPI(M) and CPI.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 24, 2017)

Address concerns raised by personnel

Social media seems to have become the unofficial grievance redressal system for the men in uniform. The past couple of weeks saw around half a dozen video posts surfacing on the Facebook raising uncomfortable questions surrounding the working conditions of paramilitary and military personnel in the lower ranks. The grievances aired on these videos, were nothing new, as several of the men in lower ranks in the forces would testify. They had these complaints earlier also but it appeared none listened to them. A system did exist to address these concerns but resolution was never in sight. These videos, which were widely shared, now raise questions not just about the quality of food served to the personnel but about the system which has not been sympathetic in addressing their problems — whether it is housing, leaves, transfer or better facilities in the barracks. Also, the callousness with which they were debunked.

If the dust raised by these videos were not enough, a CISF Constable shot dead four of his colleagues, including seniors. Not providing leave was initially raised as the reason for the anger that led to the incident. Later, his family claimed they had informed the force that he is not mentally fit and that he should not be given any fire-arms. Another CISF Constable shot himself dead in Bengaluru airport too.

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(Images from Tej Bahadur Yadav’s video)

All started with BSF Constable Tej Bahadur Yadav sharing a video detailing the poor quality of food being served to those posted at the Line of Control (LoC). Then came a CRPF personnel’s video post addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding parity on facilities with military. The posts of military personnel also came to fore protesting against the ‘sahayak’ system, prompting the new Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat to issue a stern warning not to use social media for grievance redressal. The frequency with which the videos surfaced showed the failure of the grievance redressal systems in these forces. Resorting to the normal would have meant red-tape and most probably, no action. The personnel felt that taking a risk by using social media is the best way to raise an issue rather than going through the official route where the redressal is a mirage.

Yes, the video posts had its effect. Though a disciplinary sword hang on Yadav, reports suggest that his colleagues posted at the LoC have started getting better food. For the BSF, Yadav became a troublesome personnel – an “alcoholic” who was “court-martialled” but retained in the force keeping his his family. The BSF response to Yadav’s complaint smacked of the typical bureaucratic exercise where the seniors had to be saved. The force, which was so considerate to Yadav, suddenly gave out personal details disgracing Yadav. But while doing so, the BSF did not answer why an “alcoholic” was posted on a sensitive area. The retort from the security establishment was that there were enough mechanism within the forces to address concerns but these episodes only showed that they were not responsive to the personnel’s needs. It showed that the grievance redressal systems in these forces were shallow.

These raise serious questions on the governance philosophy of the forces and the almost neglect of the Constabulary, who are left behind in the modernisation drive. Around 65% of the security personnel “killed on duty” are Constables in state police forces. Among the vacancies in state police forces, the highest are among lower levels. There are 3.61 lakh vacancies in the post of Constables while it is a little over one lakh in Head Constable rank. In paramilitary forces, the vacancies run in to around 70-80,000 while the sanctioned strength is 9.66 lakh. The lower rung personnel appear to be not in the scheme of things. Studies talk about lack of motivation due to overload, not able to have a normal social life and hardships faced in dealing with family issues. The situation is similar for police and paramilitary personnel.

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(Image from CRPF personnel Jeet Singh’s video)

A study for the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) had showed that a large number of personnel who are fatigued due to erratic work hours and lack of sleep are putting themselves and the public at risk. The main reasons identified were erratic duty hours, extended shift duties, lack of proper sleep and poor and untimely food. Living away from family and not finding time to meet family members even after duty hours, smoking, alcohol intake and behaviour of colleagues and superiors were among other reasons cited in the study. Increasing staff strength, decrease work hours, increasing leave period and improving work atmosphere were among the measures suggested by senior officers to fight fatigue among personnel, the study had said.

There is an urgent need to address the concerns of the lower rung personnel, whether it is state police or paramilitary. The authorities need to come up with a more humane approach rather than flinging the sword of discipline at those who raise complaints. Posting of videos in public domain is surely a question of discipline but it does not take away the import of the issues they have raised. Moreover, the lower rung’s complaints and grievances against their seniors need to be addressed. The feeling among the Constabulary is that the seniors do get better facilities while they have to deal with sometimes sub-human conditions. Some even accuse seniors of ill-treatment. If not addressed, these have the potential for going out of hand, seriously jeopardising the work atmosphere.

The question will also remain how the personnel were forced to raise these issues in public domain. Is there a problem with the grievance redressal system in the forces? That will be one important area where the force chiefs and other senior officials will have to put their heads together. They need to make the grievance redressal system more robust. The seniors need to be more compassionate to their subordinates. An empty promise will not serve any purpose any more.

(An edited version appeared in Panorama section of Deccan Herald on Jan 17, 2017)

10 corporates have revenue greater than 180 poorest countries: Report

Around 1% people owned more wealth than rest of world’s population while ten corporates together have revenue greater than that of 180 poorest countries, a report on inequality has said.

Emphasising that the global inequality crisis “continues unabated”, the report prepared by Oxfam pointed finger at the “very design” of the economies for taking people to this “extreme, unsustainable and unjust point”.

The report ‘An Economy for the 99%’, which puts the blame on large corporations, super-rich and crony capitalism for the inequality crisis, said the global wealth has reached a “staggering” USD 225 trillion.

“Since 2015, more than half of this wealth has been in the hands of the richest 1% of people. At the very top, this year’s data finds that collectively the richest eight individuals have a net wealth of USD 426 billion, which is the same as the net wealth of the bottom half of humanity,” the report said.

It noted that world’s ten biggest corporations, including Walmart, Shell and Apple, have a “combined revenue greater than that of the 180 ‘poorest’ countries combined”. The list of countries include Ireland, Indonesia, Israel, Colombia, Greece, South Africa, Iraq and Vietnam.

“Revenue, or turnover, gives an idea of the scale of operations behind these giants, but corporations have been eye-wateringly successful at turning this into profit. The 10 most profitable corporations in the US made a collective USD 226 billion in profit in 2015, or USD 30 for every person on the planet,” it said.

The report was critical of big corporations, saying they were working for the interests of the top and always looking at ways like “dodging tax” and other ways to increase profit for their shareholders.

Highlighting how “growing wage gap” is increasing income inequality, the report said many chief executives, who are often paid in shares, have seen their incomes sky-rocket, wages for ordinary workers and producers have “barely increased”, and in some cases have “got worse”.

To buttress its point, it said the CEO of India’s top information firm “earns 416 times the salary of a typical employee”.

“In developed economies, greater wage inequality has been the single most important driver of income inequality, while among countries where inequality has fallen, the trend was frequently driven by strong growth in real wages at the bottom,” it said.

The report also noted that women remain worse off as they are likely to find themselves in the bottom half of the income distribution.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 16, 2016)

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