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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TOI Puff-Piece on the Intelligence Bureau

Those in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) responsible for the 21 June Times of India puff piece should be quietly put out to pasture and the article's anonymous author should be selling classified ads; they are an embarrassment to their respective trades.

It is the job of the IB to keep its internal affairs hidden from view, not advertise details such as its current strength, recruitment patterns and training methods.

From the journalist’s perspective, the IB as currently constituted is a cancer on Indian democracy; even if it had a constitutional framework and was accountable to parliament and judiciary it would require close and continuous scrutiny.

Quite apart from these fundamental criticisms, the piece is misleading and muddle-headed.

The IB was not “established in 1887 to keep an eye on Russian troops” threatening India. It was part of the apparatus of oppression the British built from the times of the East India Company, a genesis that explains why the agency has been traditionally clueless about how to collect and analyse foreign intelligence.

Its traditional modus operandi of entrapment and torture was somewhat modernized after Madanlal Dhingra murdered India Office functionary Curzon Wyllie in London in 1909; but the new MI 5 and MI 6 continued to be focused mainly on Indian affairs.

In London, the police found that Dhingra’s hostel, India House, was a hive of revolutionary activity where Vinayak Damodar Savarkar held sway and visitors included Irish, German and Russian activists (including Lenin).

Within a year they had Savarkar in custody and shipped him off to exile in the Andamans, where they broke him with torture and used him to create the Hindutva brand in Indian politics.

In India, spymaster John Arnold-Wallinger at the Indian political intelligence office took charge of the service that would make a hit-man of the young Lieutenant Hastings Lionel Ismay, the man who as Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff would plot Partition and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. (Before coming out with Mountbatten, he was Secretary of the War Cabinet under Churchill, with whom he arranged for the demise of Franklin Roosevelt and launch of the Cold War.)

That is the tap root of independent India’s Intelligence Bureau.

After independence there was no effort to reorient the service politically and its leaders continued to have close relations with their former British supervisors.

Their primary function continued to be domestic political intelligence, focused not on threats to the State but on the interests of the Delhi sarkar.

Given that background, one would expect a high level of guile and skill in IB operatives, but those I came across in my six years in India seemed to have neither.

Initially they seemed fixated on the idea that I was a spy using high-tech American broadcast equipment, which they evidently thought was hidden in my bicycle (the cheapest Hero bought from the nearest bike shop)/umbrella/shoes/dark glasses/cap/keys.

The bicycle seemed to hold pride of place in their imagination.

Within a week of buying it the bicycle's glossy black paint had tiny scrapes all over, and its wire carrier basket had a piece removed from it.

At one point a guy decked out like Gunga Din came up and asked why the bicycle was called The Ranger. Several others asked about the Re.100 light fixed to the handlebar.

When they found nothing, interest did not flag. Attention turned to flattening my tires. I could never tell whether that was just to inconvenience me or to reduce what they imagined was my information gathering circuits through the streets of Pondicherry and Goa.

Within a year both tires looked as if they had crossed the Kalahari. One burst with a loud pop on a smooth street. The other herniated its inner tube and had to be replaced. 

IB examinations of my shoes sometimes had dramatic results. A pair of virtually indestructible Woodlands had the soles cut away and reattached with glue; they fell away from my feet in Pondicherry market, luckily near a pavement vendor of sandals.

The IB went to great lengths to prevent me assembling a spy network. My phone regularly flashed a sign warning of “Active incoming call diverts.” When I tried to call people, I would get a variety of strange messages, including “Call not permitted.”

People with whom I had instant rapport at first meeting would avoid further contact; I took that to be a sign they had been warned away. My closest relatives were called upon to inform on me: one admitted to it rather shame faced. In Goa, a “Blogger’s Group” became so obvious an IB stalking horse, I wondered if it had any genuine members.

The efforts at surveillance were occasionally amusing. One sleuth was disguised as an incredibly cruddy-looking “homeless man” who I felt sorry for and gave to generously until I noticed that instead of a bad smell he exuded aftershave. The owner of a kirana store near his hangout smirked when I asked what he thought of the man. “Sarkar ka admi” he said. Another watcher was a beggar woman with child. Shortly after I gave her some food, she was in line behind me at a ritzy pastry shop.

All this would be funny if not for the fact that I could never tell when IB Jekyll would switch to IB Hyde. There was no predicting when I would find myself bleeding on the pavement knocked down by a motorcycle or hospitalized by a near fatal asthma attack.  

My experience must be interpreted in one of two ways: either the IB is too dense to see the integrity of my personal and intellectual character, or else its leaders are themselves not true to their salt.

I don’t think the IB brass are dumb. 

As I found in selling my tax-free bonds before exiting India, they are corrupt.

I don't think there is any way to reform this monster. 


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Who Will Dominate the World?

Tomdispatch.com has put out a pontification on the “Geopolitics of American Global Decline” by one Alfred W. McCoyon that treats as gospel the early 20th Century ideas of Halford Mackinder, an Englishman who believed that any Power seeking world domination would have to deny rivals control of the “heartland” of Eurasia. In that perspective, China is inevitably the next global hegemon.

In worshipping at the cold altar of a past age McCoyon dismisses equally Harvard’s Joseph Nye, Jr. who sees no rival in the foreseeable future to American military and socio-economic "soft power", and Henry Kissinger, whose proclaimed faith in visionary leaders extends to George W Bush who he extols for initiating the war to remake Iraq.

These varying strategic views ignore the reality that the world today is not obedient to the United States and that it is highly unlikely to bend in the future to the raw fascism of China: in fact, both those countries are victims of the true global hegemon, Uriah Heepish Britain, spreading corruption and false-flag violence to get its way in every region.

That strategy has nothing to do with Mackinder’s speculations.

It has involved a pragmatic, catch-as-catch-can transition from visible Empire to global Organized Crime under cover of the "Cold War" that Winston Churchill launched in cahoots with the American military-industrial elite in the wake of World War II. 

The American war-making elite made enormous profits from cooperating in that strategy but Britain got something far more valuable, the substance of global power.

Its mastery of a global money laundering system that became the backbone of all international organized crime gave Britain the capacity to confront and defeat America's long-standing strategic aim of a democratic world order.

British strategy in this entire effort has remained as simple as in the days of Empire: it has aimed to promote its criminal interests in trafficking dangerous drugs and exploiting the raw materials and labour of victim countries.

Its operations have been brilliantly ingenious.

"Islamic terrorists" have replaced red-coated armies as enforcers of Empire, and instead of colonial Viceroys there are international bankers paid munificent "bonuses" to collect and manage revenues in a global "black market" under London's overall supervision.

That black market is now variously valued from 30 to 60 trillion dollars (compared to current American GDP of some $16 trillion).

India, the world’s undisputed top “soft Power” through most of history, suffered a fate almost exactly parallel to that of the United States after the end of World War II: its experienced national leader was assassinated and its nationhood sabotaged.

In the Indian case, it was not an internal economic element that turned traitor but a Muslim minority provoked into frantic insecurity and kept from rebuilding fraternal ties by the deliberately created “Kashmir dispute.”

In addition, over the last seven decades Britain has manipulated the enormous corruptibility of the Indian Establishment to neutralize nationalist forces, and now, as the Vodafone case exemplifies. practically controls the vital processes of the country.

China is a non-starter in the strategic sweepstakes.

It has been an insular state confined to the eastern third of its current territories through most of history; its majority Han people have looked outward only to perceive threats and build walls; they have expanded control over other lands only under the influence of Mongol conquerors.

The extent of Chinese strategic inability can be read in its history of imported models of statehood, traditionally from India which gave its ruling Mandarins (from the Sanskrit Mantri) their world view, and then from the European netherworld of Marx and Lenin.

It is ridiculous to talk of China as a global Power when it cannot trust its own people to keep their national bearings in an uncensored Internet environment.

No discussion of the global strategic outlook can be meaningful without all this background in view.

In that perspective, it is clear that the unmitigated nightmare of global violence, corruption, crime and environmental disaster will continue unless the world is freed from Britain's underground empire.

To that end, two steps are critically important.

One, the global money laundering system must be dismantled by declaring all “tax havens” and “shell companies” illegal.

Two, all “illicit drugs” must be decriminalized, thus rendering trafficking unprofitable.

World leaders have a golden opportunity to set out these aims clearly in the post-2015 agenda they will adopt at the next session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The first draft of that document, to be discussed by governments in New York in less than a week, contains nothing on those matters.

Unless that is changed, there is little doubt that the world will continue on its violent and criminal course well into the future. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Of the Intelligence Bureau, HDFC and Bond Trading


The last month has broken my resolve to spend the rest of my life in India.

With my 70th birthday due in November, I must face the fact that it is futile to hope for an end to the incomprehensible oppressions some element of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has directed at me over the last five years. In fact, it is getting worse and more blatant.

In the new apartment I moved to after the asthma episode, my usually robust health feels under constant insidious assault. Watching television with my feet up on the tea table, I see an unexpected drama, the bone of my left toe rising as if in response to blunt trauma. It hurts badly for a week, dully still; all my joints have unfamiliar aches; strange bells ring in m y ears. (Anyone considering reforms of the IB should ensure multi-key/off-site authorization for the use of aggressive technologies like weaponized ultrasound and directed radiation.)

The bulging toe removes any remaining doubts. Those who mean me ill are beyond reason, law and conscience. I must move.

As if to reinforce my determination, a small news item in The Indian Express tells of a new book by one of the men arrested and held for some seven years because the IB said they were terrorists. The trial resulted in all charges being dropped. The book tells of torture, as bad as anything you read about in Iraq under Anglo-American occupation. The torturers named in the book are all walking around free; they claim to know nothing of the allegations.

None of the half dozen other newspapers I read regularly has even a small story on the book.

In that scale of atrocity it is futile to hope that my pitiful blog posts about my small miseries will draw redress or bring any change.

Time to go, I tell myself and set about getting my finances together for the move. There’s not much to do, just sell three blocks of tax free government bonds and unfreeze another two of fixed deposits.

The bonds are in “demat” form, sold to me by HDFC Securities with the strong assurance that they can be readily sold online. The online trading platform informs me the bonds are selling at a nice premium but when I press the “Sell” button nothing happens.

So I head over to the HDFC Securities office behind Caculo Mall, a short bicycle ride away. There an official checks my account and says the bonds can be sold and puts me in touch by phone with a trader; he tells me it will take two days to sell them.

Why?

The bonds have to be “moved” to the branch.

It turns out later he said they had to be “mapped” to the branch, as meaningless a term to me as “moved,” for “demat” bonds exist only in cyberspace.

“I will call you,” he says. Two days later, not hearing from him I initiate the call.

It turns out that in the two days he spent “mapping” my bonds, their value has slid dramatically. Why? The equity markets have dropped over 600 points. That, he says, has affected the bond prices.

Some odd things happen along the way to getting my money.

It is the trader himself who calls to confirm the trades.

I get a text message: “As per SEBI norms NSE will start sending SMS/Email alert to you about transactions in your account. If SMS is wrongly sent to you reply by typing Y to 561614.”

The message is ostensibly from NSE, the National Stock Exchange.

I get not a single communication from NSE or any other authority. The HDFC trader/self confirmer is the only one I hear from.

As my phone informs me regularly that “active call divert” is in effect, it is possible any NSE message was blocked or went to the people manipulating my bond trades. Any NSE email alerts probably suffered the same fate.

I put down most of this in a letter to the HDFC branch manager and fill her in on the IB's dislike of contrarian journalists. She promises to reply in writing and forwards my letter to HDFC Securities to get their input.

The man from HDFC Securities calls me and says the two day delay to “map” the bonds is normal because I had bought them from the branch.

I tell him they were bought from his own agent. “Ah, it is normal to have the delay because it was your first trade,” he says. He does not mention the odd trader/confirmer arrangement or the peculiar SMS from the NSE.

Yesterday, at the branch manager’s office I ask about the promised written response to my complaint. “Oh I but I thought it was resolved,” she says, referring to my conversation with the HDFC Securities man. I say nothing was resolved; we merely stated our different positions.

While all this is happening, I am engaged in a parallel effort to register my change of address with the bank. The relationship manager asks for a recent electricity bill, a copy of the lease, and my ID proof. She asks specifically about my PAN card.

“I’ve lost my PAN card,” I say.

She says the lease and utility bill of the landlord should do. I take them in and everything seems to be in order, but then it turns out it is not. The flat is new, and the electricity bill is still in the name of the builder. She asks again for my ID proof and this time I have my passport with me.

“I also found a copy of my PAN card,” I say, giving her a printout from a scan I had on my computer. For some reason, she takes that and not my passport.

By way of further excitement I get a call in the evening from the clerk at the foreign exchange counter who was supposed to have sent my money to the UN Federal Credit Union in NY.

She cannot put it through because the UNFCU does not have a SWIFT code, only an ABA routing number.

Seems odd, for I have sent funds into my account from different countries and that has never been a problem. I am to go to the bank again this morning to try and resolve the matter.

Will keep posting as matters develop, for I think there is going to be many a slip between now and when I board the plane for New York.

In fact as I write this, my Samsung laptop has begun to exhibit the keyboasrd problems that have made my Sony Viao all but unusable. Perhaps I will have to do the rest of my writing about this process from an IB monitored Cyber Café.

How like Eastern Europe in the Cold War India has become!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

TOI Columnist Backs Land Lease Idea

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, a regular columnist for the Times of India, has supported my proposal that land acquisition be replaced with land lease (albeit without reference to my blog or me).

Probably not safe at the TOI to give me credit, considering all the rude things I have said about that ruin of a paper.

The idea for 99 year leases replacing acquisition is also getting brief mentions in some of the other papers. 

Hope this builds some real political traction for the idea. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

A VERY CONFUSED INTERNET STRATEGIST


An article counseling India to join with the BRICS countries to “develop an alternative” to American “Internet hegemony” (The Hindu, 6 June, page 9), displays such a comprehensive misunderstanding of global realities that it is difficult to know where to begin a critique.

The author, Parminder Jeet Singh of the Bengaluru-based NGO IT for Change, argues that because the Internet ‘has become like a global neural system running through and transforming all social sectors,” whoever controls that network “begins to wield unprecedented power.”

And who might that be?

Anyone who controls the “connectivity architecture” and “Big Data.”

The connectivity architecture of the Internet is, for historical reasons, in the United States, where it has evolved from its military roots into a public utility governed by anti-monopoly regulations and a vociferously defended equal access philosophy.

What is Big Data?

It is “the continuous bits of information generated by each and every microactivity of our increasingly digitized existence.”

But does anyone control Big Data?

Singh is a shameless fear monger on this topic.

Monsanto is an example of an entity controlling Big Data, he says; it “holds almost field-wise micro information on climate, soil type, neighborhood agri-patterns, and so on. Such data will form the backbone of even its traditional agri-offerings.”

Instead of telling us how Monsanto will use that information in ways detrimental to India in the face of a strong global movement towards organic farming, he merely asserts that it “is easy to understand how data control-based lock-ins are going to be even more powerful and monopolistic than the traditional dependencies in this sector.”

Perhaps to paper over that gap he then notes that John Deere, the world’s largest agricultural machinery company told the US Copyright Office that “farmers don’t own” the computer code that runs their tractors, they only have an “implied license.”

That sounds like a huge power grab, until you consider that it is no different from buying a book and not owning the author’s copyright. Or a computer, and not owning its operating system.

But Singh wants us to feel threatened.

“Similar developments are occurring in every other sector. Policy-making and governance are becoming dangerously dependent on Big Data, even as the public sector is all but giving up its traditional responsibilities for public statistics. The State is increasingly dependent on data collected and controlled by a few global corporations.”

Google, which people “think right now is a mere support” is entering many substantive fields like medicine where networks carry patient information; it is “threatening the traditional players” in various sectors, and “may become the primary agent in the relationship.”

He holds out the prospect that data providers in the education sector who sell “personalized offerings for every student and every context” will “add to the power of the monopolistic networks at the expense of their peripheral users. As their power consolidates, so do the terms of engagements mutate in the favor of the network controllers.”

This is a classic Chicken Little “sky is falling” scare.

It pays no attention to the fact that the logic of global connectivity is not just anti-monopoly but anti-mega corporation.

The mega corporation is increasingly a dinosaur because its essential strengths are based on top-down/center-periphery communications systems that allow small groups to amass, hoard and manipulate information to their advantage.

In the age of the Internet and Worldwide Web, such control is impossible. Power lies in networks that are flat and do not permit top-down control; any power grab by corporations like Google, Facebook or Twitter will spell their instant doom.

As for Big Data, Singh misses the revolutionary potential of the smart phone and the geospatial organization of information.

We are facing a future when Big Data will be collected automatically by billions of individuals and organized geospatially on the publicly owned cloud, beyond the power of any corporation or government to corner or manipulate.

The only way small elite groups will be able to continue enjoying their privileges will be through brutal control of the Internet as in China.

In democratic countries, elite groups have generated fear of terrorism to legitimize their own efforts at fascist control of networks, and in that context, Singh’s advice that India ally with China against the United States is madness.

The only course for democratic forces in India and the United States – not to mention in the other BRICS countries – is to ally against their own power-grabbing elites and internationally, against China, which is now the ugly face of global fascism.

In that international face-off, the key issue is not who will govern the Internet but how we perceive international terrorism: it is not “Islamic” but British, camouflage for its massively profitable post-colonial business of laundering the proceeds of organized crime.

Only if we lay the bogey of terrorism can we move beyond the surveillance/police State and realize the rich democratic potential of a connected world.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Land Acquisition Should be Fundamentally Changed


In response to the public invitation of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Land Acquisitions I've sent off the following suggestions. Hope someone there reads it.

Dear Chairman Ahluwalia

Land acquisition in India cannot be merely an economic transaction for it will affect the weights, structures and balances of our society and culture.

As the bill now stands, it is not cognizant of this issue. It seeks to fix a one-time market value on an asset with social and cultural dimensions that cannot be priced.

No matter how high the one-time payment and how firm the promise of jobs, millions are bound to feel victimized.

If the bill is adopted without a fundamental change in approach, and if even a small portion of the planned “industrial corridors” through the heart of the country are actually built, the result will be huge and destabilizing social imbalances that could undermine whatever “development” is achieved.

To get over this problem and to ensure that those who lose land will not feel victimized in the least, I suggest the following new provisions in the bill:

1. All land acquisition, for whatever purpose, will be limited to a period of 99 years. After that period ownership will revert to the original owners, who will be free to negotiate on further uses of their land. This provision will have several positive effects:

(a) The resistance to giving up land will be virtually eliminated (especially in view of the other provisions below).

(b) The cost of land acquisition will likely fall as owners become eager to participate in projects that could make them wealthy.

(c) By giving families that lose land a long-term stake in development, any social instability will be positively oriented.

(d) When the 99-year leases mature the Indian population will be in sharp decline. The time will be ripe for a complete review of land use patterns and perhaps a new spate of development and re-development to suit new needs

2. In the case of acquisition for corporate use, land owners will receive shares in the company and stock options that kick in when valuations pass set benchmarks. Those who give up land and their family members will also be given priority consideration for employment.

3. In the case of public acquisition land owners will receive continuing payments from a dedicated tax-supported fund.

4. Children of those losing land will be entitled to scholarships paid for either by the relevant corporations or out of a dedicated tax-supported fund.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mr Murthy of Voltas


The Friday issue of BusinessLine had a puff piece on the TATA/Voltas television commercial featuring “Mr. Murthy” and his pidgin-Hindi speaking relatives.

Written by one Lavanya Narayan whose credulity-level is too high for journalism, it credits the witless ads with “humor” that represents the “ideals of the brand.”

She claims it is “proving to be popular with the masses.” (The masses!!!)

“Murthy represents their real consumer,” she writes earnestly, citing TATA/Voltas’ Head of Marketing Deba Ghoshal.

He is attributed the following Dumb & Dumber quote: “The whole chemistry of Murthy and his boss, Mr and Mrs Murthy, and now Murthy and his father in law, is very consumer centric, and the target audience can easily relate to this. We have always believed that consumers are our biggest ambassadors, and with Murthy our customer is right up there, right in the middle of action and gratification. The character of Murthy cuts across multiple segments, entry, mid and high-end, and appeals to a broad spectrum of customers.”

She adds that “industry experts appear positive about Murthy as well,” citing “Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder and CEO of Brand-Comm, a communications consultancy.”

“I like what Voltas is doing with the character of Murthy,” he says; “it continues to develop him year after year, bringing in new elements and characters to support his appearance.”

And finally, the article claims that “According to Ghoshal, since the summer of 2012, Voltas has had the highest market share in the AC category.”

All this is very enlightening but does not address the key issue: why did Voltas choose to make Murthy “comic” in just the way the British used to ridicule Indians?

If you did have to use an accent and speech pattern, wouldn’t it have been much funnier to go with a feringhi Mike Tully affect, something along the lines of his deathless “One thing is Cliah, Benaziah is hyah!”

Those are not rhetorical questions.

Seventy years after independence, TATA continues to hunt with the hounds while pretending to run with the hares, a game it perfected under colonial rule.

Its corporate biggies play a sneaky game we pidgin spouting Murthys are not supposed to notice: using/being used by foreign agencies to subversive ends while pretending to engage in “humor” and entertainment.

It’s not just Voltas.

Last year I pointed out how Aquaguard was almost the only major advertiser on the new television channel EPIC as it conducted a full scale assault on India. (Mercifully, it has since withered on the vine.)

The latest sneak attack is a commercial from Tanishq that dumps quite gratuitously on Punjabis. (It  might be intended as a comforting pat on the back for Southies to make up for Voltas, but that does not alter its political point.)

Is there a larger meaning to all this?

I think there is, and you can see it in what has happened to the annual Goafest gathering of the Indian advertising industry: over the last two years, foreign agencies have abandoned it and now have a rival conference.

If we are to look for a difference between the two, it is that Goafest is at heart Indian; its natural focus is the national market. The foreigners want to bring provincial identities to the fore.

Why do that?

Especially when the Internet, Worldwide Web and social media allow finely targeted and economical approaches to smaller audiences?

The only reasons are political. The national market offers huge efficiencies and, as demonstrated by the runaway success of the IPL, gives the country massive clout with global brands.

That is something foreign interests would like to weaken.