Sunday, September 27, 2009

Remembering Ammi....

Today, September 27, is Ammi's birthday.

My grandmother, Ammi, we used to call her affectionately.

It's been 5 years since she left us, creating a void in our lives.

Despite her age, or rather with age, she became fuller with life and had an incredible way of lightening up the atmosphere with the people she was close to. She had a certain charm, a pleasing personality that was matchless. Her endeearing toothless grin and loving looks will always remain etched in my mind.

The death of grandparents is an overwhelming experience, for me, Ammi's death was such an experience.

Surely, the attachment factor was at work. But also one gets the realisation that now one's own parents are getting old - surprisingly one does not feel that one's parents are ageing when grandparents are around. And one realises that one has to be more responsible and mature faster.

But I have one wish, which I know cannot be fulfilled.

To meet Ammi again!

But she is up there somewhere, watching us lovingly, blessing us....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Taking on the Dragon

A few days back, I had written about The Great Game being played. The Great Game is an advanced form of conflict, a new-age Cold War confrontation.
India, in order to face this kind of conflict, needs to evolve a new strategic doctrine covering our nation's long term security, foreign affairs and economic policy. We cannot, cannot, afford to look at any of these policies in isolation any longer, any more. We need to know what our interests are, very clearly - that's the first step to evolving a doctrine. As Henry Kissinger had said "There are no permanent friends or foes in diplomacy, only permanent interests."

India's security policy for long has been Pakistan-centric. But it has become very obvious in the recent past that the real danger lurks somewhere else. And that threat is spreading slowly but surely, like a malignant cancer, all around. That threat is China.

But sadly. our strategy has been to downplay all the moves that China makes. I was appalled by the statements from the army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor, the National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan and the Prime Minster that these were not major incidents.

We need to accept the situation, we should not downplay, but we should not create a hype - it is a delicate balance that our strategic minds need to maintain.

But we should, silently, prepare towards building a military strength and capability to counter the Chinese. Towards this, we could learn a bit from Sun Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and author of "The Art of War", who said "In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace."

To be in a absolute readiness for war or peace, as the case may be, we need a co-ordinated approach between the administration, diplomats, intelligence agencies and the armed forces. We need to evolve and institutionalise a think-tank of opinion-makers in these fields to strategise and deliberate on various war and peace scenarios. The government then needs to merely implement the capability measures that would be distilled by the think-tanks. This would also delink the strategic thought from petty party politics.

Sun Tzu also said "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles... if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle"

To know our enemies, we need credible intelligence. Developing a capability for intelligence gathering is most critical. Intelligence experts still rue the gradual demobilisation of human intelligence (humint) networks that India had within Pakistan and other neighbours during Mr. I.K. Gujral's days as prime minister. Mr. Gujral's fascination for anything sarhad paar has cost dear and made us incapable of gathering even the basic intelligence. We need to build humint again, in Pakistan and also, more importantly, in China. Why can we use Tibetans for that?

Besides humint, India should also look at e-espionage in a big way. We are a country full of geeks and we can build on that knowledge. Quite a few Indian companies have entered the Chinese and other markets. Surely Indian spies can enter these countries undercover as employees of these countries to snoop on them. India needs to build intelligence gathering capabilities in China, extremely fast. We can learn a lot from Israel on humint, afterall Mossad has been very effective in gathering intelligence in a hostile environment.

Military capability building is the next step. It is well known that India has for long relied on Soviet and Russian military hardware. That served us well for all these decades. But the Admiral Gorshkov episode (India's acquisition of a mothballed Russian aircraft carrier) has proved that we cannot bank on the Russians alone to built our capability. We need to diversify our supply base, in order to avoid arm-twisting.

In a sense, the Indian establishment has recognised that. The pointers for this come from the Indian Air Force's order for the European Airbus A330 multi role tanker transport (MRTT), despite having the Russian Ilyushin IL78 in its fleet. Subsequent orders for the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and the Poseidon P-8I naval reconnaissance planes, both of which are American products, have driven the point home in Russia that India cannot be taken for granted. We need to realise that the Russian armament industry is in doldrums and we can surely get a good bargain. The Russians are watching us closely now. They are prepared to offer India a license for manufacturing Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters. They are also likely to bargain hard for Indian Air Force's tender for the supply of 126 multi role combat aircraft.

India's bid to diversify the military supply options could put it on a different plane in its relationship with Washington. It remains a fact that defence contractors are big lobbies on Capitol Hill. And we can leverage on these lobbies to our advantage to gain American support for other significant issues.

The Indian defence establishment needs to focus on building a military capability spanning the globe, this crucial for protecting Indian economic interests worldwide. Towards this end, India needs to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capability fast. Thankfully now, America would be amenable to making dual-use technology available to India. India must also leverage on its relationship with Israel for availing technology and furthering joint development of advanced armaments.

There is a limit to which a superpower can rely on others for capability. We need to provide more funds to take defence research projects ahead. Ultimately, there is nothing like self-dependence.

Undoubtedly a successful military alliance complements internal capabilities. India should know that the days of the Non-Aligned Movement are over, finally, good riddance, I would say. Now India should take a lead in rallying an Asian alliance to counter China. The alliance was talked about about 5 years back, but died a premature death, with regime changes in Australia.

Across Asia, there are quite a few nations that have a deeply ingrained mistrust towards China. Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are among them. We need to forge a military alliance with them, with America providing back-stop guarantees as well as a nuclear umbrella.

We need to send a strong signal to China by taking up the Tibetan cause as well as supporting Taiwan's bid for the membership in international fora. India's handling of the Tibetan issue has been a classic case of hypocrisy and double-speak, so far, after the grand Nehruvian blunder in 1959. Our support for the Tibetan issue can unsettle the Chinese establishment, which we should leverage on. Tibet is a trump card India has against China.

A military alliance in Asia, closer ties with Taiwan and support for the Tibetan cause would be the tiger's roar in response to the string of pearls that the Dragon is making.

Last but not the least, we need to lobby hard to get into the United Nations Security Council at the earliest, in order to achieve diplomatic parity with China. We American help for this, it would be tall order to do it solely. To achieve unequivocal support from Washington on this, the defence lobbies in Washington would be a big help, for which doling out defence contracts to the likes of Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, etc. at regular intervals would help.

We can take on the Dragon, surely and successfully. The only condition for this is careful planning and flawless execution.... Let's do it!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities!!!!!

I have been in Bombay for the last 4 years and 9 months and have loved every moment that I have spent in the city. One cannot but help admire and respect the high energy levels Bombay has. I had yearned for years to be a part of this energy and am happy to be a part of it.

But increasingly, I, as any North Indian, have faced incessant comparisons that Bombayites do with Delhi. These comparisons often border contempt.

Sample this:

"Delhi people", a term, which is a term interchangeably used for North Indians, are arrogant, flashy, have an attitude and are ostentatious...
Delhi is a brash, uncouth, unfriendly, inhospitable city
Delhi neither has a culture nor a "character"
Delhi hides its dark underbelly

The list, is long, very very long. And surprisingly, these rants come from educated, well read, well travelled "liberals", who would claim to be open and rational.

What hypocrisy?

Delhi as a city has its own character. Let us not forget Delhi's attitude has been defined by the Punjabis who inhabited the city following the Partition of the country. We as, a community, faced what no one else faced in the rest of the country. (I have blogged about this nearly 8 months back in a blog titled Saluting the Punjabi Spirit.)

What we went through in 1947 had defined how Delhi had evolved, over the years. The homeless, penniless Delhiites, Punjabis, or North Indians of 1947 have slogged to achieve what they are today and they are proud of it. The result - we Punjabis or Delhiites live today to the fullest. This is what most Bombayites mistake for an attitude, arrogance or whatever. Shouldn't Delhites be proud of what they have achieved? Shouldn't the whole country, including Bombayites, be proud of us?

Delhi may seem to be brash, uncouth and unfriendly to a visitor. But there is more to it, that perhaps has never been explored. Hasn't Delhi fallen in line whenever it was required? Look at this - the Metro in Delhi is a grand success. Delhiites have respected the Metro they got and are extremely orderly while using it. But in Bombay, while the commuters crib about inadequate suburban trains, they have actually misused and damaged the modern rakes which were acquired under the MUTP scheme.

The "brash, uncouth and unfriendly" city of Delhi has had a decent prepaid taxi system working at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals for as many as 15 years now. But Bombay has not been able to get such a system running at all. Ever tried taking a taxi from Bombay airport or Bombay Central? I will bet a million on this. The probability of getting fleeced and facing an arrogant, aggressive cabbie will near 100%, while the police will be quiet onlooker!!!

We talk of Delhi not having a character. What c**p?

Take a round of Connaught Place, Chandni Chowk, Darya Ganj, Delhi University, the Mall. You will be inundated with oodles of culture and the so called character, you will find in Fort, Kotachiwadi, Girgaum, Tardeo, Bandra, etc. What's the difference, guys?

Delhi doesn't hide its dark underbelly. Delhi doesn't ghettoise communities. Who's more "advanced" and open in that sense?

Talking of style, anyone who has spent even a week in both the cities would realise that the style quotient on Delhi streets, among ordinary Delhiites is way higher than anywhere else, Bombay included.

These debates are endless, but ultimately pointless.

We, in Bombay, have to realise that both Bombay and Delhi are great cities, but complementary. These two cities do define what India is and will be, in the future, as a world superpower. India cannot be what it can without these two cities. Bombayites have to realise this and look at Delhi and Delhiites with an open mind and a wide open heart, the way Delhi welcomes Tamils, Bengalis, etc. etc..

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 - Eight Years On - Lessons for America

Today, is a significant day. It's the 8th anniversary of horrific bombings and catastrophic airstrikes into the Twin Towers.

Sad but true, the world has indeed changed in these 8 years.

America's reaction, or as some may say over-reaction, post 9/11 has resulted in America's popularity plummeting the world over, except for a handful of countries.

Was Bush wrong? I really don't think he had a choice. He had to act, act really fast. The war in Afghanistan was largely justified, though I did have reservations on Iraq. Afghanistan was a global nuisance, but Iraq was a fairly safe and secular state under Saddam (though he wasn't quite a saint either).

America's plunging popularity has been evident in Pew Research Center's Pew Global Attitudes Project. America's "Favourability Rating" as Pew calls it has gone down considerably from 2000 to 2009. It is obvious that the decline would be substantial in the Islamic world, the Pew report confirms that. But what is surprising is the decline in the likes of Canada and Britain.

Something surely went wrong.

But on the other hand, America's popularity in India gives us some clues, some learning's. America has seen a steady but increasing popularity here.

The lesson is obvious. It is an issue of brute force vs. soft power.

The Islamic world thinks that it has been at the "receiving end" for long now. American allies like Canada and Britain which had supported the American brute force saw their economy falter. Their people saw their governments fighting America's war, under coercion etc. etc. which led to the decline in popularity.

On the other hand, in India, America exercised a kind of soft power. The American dream is something that India understands very well because we ourselves share similar dreams and aspirations. Outsourcing from America, H1B, etc. gave the Indian dream its wings. Hollywood has made significant inroads in India, not only through cable and satellite, but also through piracy - it is not uncommon to find peddlers selling Hollywood releases all over the country for a mere Rs. 50 - 100. Piracy in software also contributed to the growth and enhancement of IT skills in India - tell which small town computer institute here doesn't use pirated software? This in turn, opened a whole new world of economic possibilities. It may sound trivial, but American brands like Coke, Pepsi, McDonald's, etc. were the best ambassadors of America's soft power here.

America's soft power worked in India. Pew's numbers show that.

And that is a lesson for America. Influencing the world through soft power doesn't make enemies , brute force does, creating a spiral of war and destruction, as we have seen. Soft power, on the other hand, can prevent a 9/11-like situation.

Obama is perhaps trying to reorient the brute force into soft power. But I fear, he might swing to the other end of the spectrum and become completely soft and pliable. Closure of Guantanamo is one such example, which was covered in my earlier blog, Old Wine, New Bottle...

So time will tell whether America learns its lessons or not.....

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Stop Worrying, Start Living!

Another one from my mails, which is a gem. The message: "Stop worrying, start living!"

First I was dying to finish high school and start college
And then I was dying to finish college and start working
Then I was dying to marry and have children
And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough so I could go back to work
But then i was dying to retire
And now...
I am dying.........
And suddenly I realized I forgot to live
Please don't let this happen in life
Appreciate your current situation and enjoy each day against all the odds
To make money we lose health and then to restore our health we lose our money....
We live as if we are never going to die!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Gift

I was cleaning up my inbox today when I came across this simple yet touching and heart-warming account. I have to share this on Rajeev's World, despite not being my creation. Here goes:

Today Harish punished his 4-year old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight and he became infuriated when the child tried to decorate a box.

Nevertheless, the little girl brought the birthday gift to her father the next morning and said, "Happy Birthday Papa, this is for you." He was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction, but his anger flared again when he found the box was empty.

He yelled at her, "Don't you know that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside it?"

The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Oh, Daddy, it is not empty. I blew kisses into the box. All for you, Papa."

The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and he begged for her forgiveness. It is told that the man kept that gold box by his bed for years and whenever he was discouraged, he would takeout an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.

In a very real sense, each of us as humans have been given a gold container filled with unconditional love and kisses from our children, friends, family and God. There is no more precious possession anyone could hold.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Interesting Moments

Happy, yet simple!!!

The cock with an attitude!

Waiting for work?

The Sam Dune desert camp

Thar Express!!!

Sunset at Pokharan

Sunset hues!

Adieu Dear Ganpati!

A pup in the sky?

A Firang enjoying his Kachori at Surajkund!
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