Monday, July 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial July 22, 2017

Trump administration disintegrating? US President Donald Trump and his administration, barely six months in office, seem entangled in so many webs as to suggest it is on the verge of disintegrating or at the very least becoming increasingly dysfunctional and losing whatever remains of its credibility. The one issue that has put the president and his administration in the dock is the ongoing investigation into the Trump election campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, in the midst of further allegations of Russian attempts last year to influence the election in Trump’s favour. The latest developments in the matter concern the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, ostensibly in protest at the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as Communications Director. Similarly, a member of Trump’s legal team dealing with the investigation into his and his camp’s ties with Russia, Mark Corallo, has also resigned. This one-two punch has left the Trump administration looking like it is reeling. The reset in the White House team that Trump seems to have initiated reflects mounting pressure from a broadening investigation into the Russia connection, which could potentially include Trump and his family’s finances. In typically combative style, Trump has stumbled into potentially perilous legal territory by trying to draw a red line for Special Counsel Robert Mueller not to venture into areas beyond the scope of the original inquiry into the Russia connection. Analogies are being drawn between the present investigation and that conducted by independent counsel Kenneth W Starr into President Bill Clinton, which began by reviewing an Arkansas land deal and concluded several years later with the president’s impeachment over a lie about a sexual affair. This underlines the mandate of such special counsel to follow any leads that indicate grey areas or potentially wrong behaviour by incumbent presidents. The Clinton administration saw the investigation as a political witch-hunt and openly challenged Starr. Trump and his team seem to be treading the same path in seeking ‘conflicts of interest’ in Mueller and his team’s efforts. Alarmingly, if Trump’s daily barrage of tweets are anything to go by, the president seems indifferent to constitutional, legal and ethical boundaries, except if they serve his own interests. Trump’s track record of six months in office has raised a great deal of alarm at home and abroad. His demeanour points to what has emerged as the pattern of Trump’s behaviour vis-√†-vis real and imagined detractors, including hitherto known allies, backers and loyalists. What Trump seems to want is total personal loyalty, and anyone perceived not to be fully on board in this requirement soon earns either a sacking, supersession, or at the very least a verbal assault that makes the target’s position potentially fragile. What Trump in his inflated ego bubble seems unable to understand is that the US has long established constitutional, legal and ethical norms. For example he seems unable to see clearly that officials in the US system swore allegiance to the constitution, not the person of the president whose team they are on. The separation of powers and checks and balances in the US constitutional construct do not spare even the high and the mighty. The US system has incrementally evolved away from tacitly turning a blind eye to presidents’ faults and not shrinking from impeaching incumbents if warranted. Examples of this from recent years are Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. But Trump seems oblivious of this history, or if he is aware, trumps it by the calculations of what lies in his interest alone. Abroad and at home, critics are ruing the apparent loss of US leadership of the world, an established fact since WWII. Retreat from climate change agreements, unguarded, indiscreet and undiplomatic pronouncements about NATO, Europe and other allies, not to mention China, North Korea, Cuba, etc, paint Trump and his administration as whimsical, incompetent and positively dangerous for the peace and welfare of the globe. Trump may have been elected on the wave of the backlash and resentment against globalisation and other contemporary trends in the world, but the signs of even his diehard supporters starting to have doubts about his fitness for the most powerful office may be pointers to an ignominious end for President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Business Recorder Column July 24, 2017

A century of revolution and counter-revolution – III Rashed Rahman Guerilla movements in the Third World virtually ceased to exist in the 1990s, notwithstanding some notable examples such as Colombia (that long running insurgency is currently in the process of a turn from civil war to a negotiated peace settlement). And in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded and re-emerged as the Commonwealth of (15) Independent States. That construct, aimed at keeping close ties between the newly independent countries that hitherto constituted the USSR, did not prove long lasting and withered on the vine. The factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union are complex and multi-layered, but if one overriding one can be identified it is the inherent difficulties and problems of constructing socialism in a comparatively underdeveloped country, and that too in the face of unremitting hostility and sabotage by the imperialist powers. That inevitably leads the revolution and its leadership into a siege mentality, where survival against imperialist subversion and attempts at restoring the ancien regime dominates over all other considerations. The war communism imposed on the USSR during the life-and-death struggle against the monarchist White Guards and their imperialist supporters soon after the 1917 revolution inevitably produced great hardship for the Soviet people, including hunger and in some areas, starvation. The victory of the revolution in this conflict was therefore achieved at great human cost and suffering. Immediately after the end of the civil war, the Bolsheviks introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) to stimulate a revival of the economy, offering concessions to the rich peasantry (kulaks). Lenin predicted that after its overthrow, the resistance of the expropriated capitalist and large landowning classes increases ten-fold. The class struggle, therefore, could only intensify, despite the revolution’s victory. This perceptive view re-emerged in Stalin’s work, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, after the victory in WWII. His prediction about the need to intensify the struggle against the class enemies of the revolution reflected what hindsight reveals was the growth of capitalist restoration forces that had quietly gathered force as a result of the devastating losses, human and material, in WWII, which fed into a resurgence of silent resentment against the deprivations experienced since the revolution. Stalin’s repression of ‘counter-revolutionary’ dissent, both outside and inside the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), led to his denunciation by new leader Nikita Kruschev in a secret speech to the CPSU Congress in 1956. The leak of the speech (allegedly by the US CIA) evoked unrest in Hungary that year, aimed at an overthrow of the communist regime that had emerged there and in many countries of eastern Europe after the Soviet Red Army liberated them from the Nazi yoke on its way to the final defeat of Hitler in 1945. The Hungarian uprising was crushed, but the questions and issues it threw up were never satisfactorily resolved. These included the nature, not only of the eastern European communist regimes, but even the Soviet Union itself. The ravages of war, the needs of survival of the revolution in the face of awesome internal and external odds, the unwise and unfettered repression of any and all dissent within the CPSU, even if it was not necessarily counter-revolutionary, had alienated the party and government from the people. The 1968 crushing of the Czechoslovakian experiment at reform in the direction of ‘Socialism with a human face’ proved that the Hungarian example was not an isolated phenomenon. Both countries’ developments exposed serious contradictions within the communist system. If the crushing of movements that appeared to Moscow to reflect counter-revolutionary tendencies in eastern Europe was problematic, the adventure in Afghanistan (1979-89) proved the last straw. This invasion and occupation ostensibly was mounted to save the Afghan revolution, being led astray, it was argued, by Hafizullah Amin, who had overthrown and killed Nur Mohammad Tarakai, the leader of the 1978 revolution in Afghanistan. In the process, time has revealed, it killed off the Afghan revolution and, in the process, accelerated the process of collapse of the Soviet Union itself under the weight of its internal contradictions. The backdrop to the 1991 collapse was the attempt by Mikhail Gorbachev, elevated to leader of the Soviet union in 1985, to reform the Soviet system under the rubric perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). What Gorbachev and the Soviet Union learnt to their cost is that an arguably stagnant, bureaucratised and alienated-from-the-people system is at greatest risk when it tries to reform. The rest is history. The collapse of the Soviet Union provoked unabashed triumphalism in the capitalist west, with British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously declaring: There is no alternative (to free market capitalism). In the wake of the capitalist west’s victory in the Cold War, unbridled capitalism expanded horizontally into the former communist countries as well as the rest of the world (globalisation). It appeared that the bourgeoisie’s victory was so complete that Marxism and socialism were declared pass√© or even dead. But the Red Mole (Revolution) has a peculiar tendency to prove the reports of its demise as premature again and again after every defeat and retreat. The 1999 Seattle protests against the world’s grouping of pre-eminent capitalist countries (G-7), the Occupy Wall Street movement, the focus on the one percent filthy rich of today’s world in sharp contrast with the inequality and immiseration inflicted on the rest of the 99 percent, the resurgence of the Left in Latin America and Europe, all indicate that capitalism’s claims of final victory (the ‘End of History’ thesis, amongst others) is once again flying in the face of history’s lessons. The human aspiration for a just and equitable society, an idea with which this series began, remains alive and kicking in the contemporary context. The struggles against capitalist-imperialist domination will no doubt adopt different forms and paths (as they are already embryonically indicating), not perhaps the classical forms of the revolutions of the 20th century. But for all its undoubted development of the modern world, capitalism in its moment of greatest triumph still faces the spectre of the peoples of the world challenging the system and, if history is any guide, overcoming or changing it in the direction of a just and equitable society. (Concluded)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Business Recorder editorial July 19, 2017

India-China border tensions China has briefed foreign diplomats in Beijing, particularly the representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, that its troops have been waiting patiently at the Doklam plateau on the border between China and Bhutan in a standoff with Indian troops but will not wait for an indefinite period. This has the diplomatic community in Beijing worried and some have conveyed their concern to their Indian counterparts in Beijing and Bhutanese counterparts in New Delhi. The issue erupted last month when Indian troops blocked Chinese road works in Doklam in an unarmed confrontation involving bumping chests against each other. China says the Doklam plateau is its territory and whatever its dispute in the area with Bhutan, Indian troops have unnecessarily butted in. Indian media reports say Bhutan asked New Delhi for help in the matter. As it is, Bhutan is dependent on its big neighbour India strategically, politically and economically. The Doklam plateau lies in close proximity to the meeting point of the borders of three countries, China, Bhutan and Sikkim, India having annexed the last named in 1975. China says the Indian troops have trespassed into Chinese territory in the area and attempted to change the status quo dating back to an 1890 agreement between China and the then British colonial authorities in India, which delineated the border in this area. India on the other hand has objected that the Chinese road building activity in the area represents a significant change in the status quo with serious security implications for India. China insists the Indian troops must pull back to avoid an escalation and before a meaningful dialogue on the dispute can be initiated. The ruckus has stirred memories of the 1962 Sino-Indian war over the disputed border stretching from Kashmir to NEFA, which India lost. The Chinese side withdrew its troops from Indian territory once the fighting stopped and offered talks on the border dispute. The matter has seen sputtering talks between the two sides ever since, without a definitive solution in sight. Once again the Chinese have shown exemplary restraint in Doklam and this should encourage steps to defuse the situation and open discussions at the negotiating table. China and India are both emerging powers, with the former poised to enter the superpower club, based on the rapid advances in its economy over the last three decades. This economic clout has translated into military might through a modernisation of the huge People’s Liberation Army. India on the other hand is also an aspirant for entry into the big international boys’ club. It harbours fears about China’s outreach in its periphery to the west (Pakistan), south (Sri Lanka and the Seychelles) and southeast (Myanmar, etc), characterising increasing Chinese influence in these countries as Beijing’s strategy of stringing together a ‘necklace of pearls’ to ring India and contain it. Given this rivalry and jockeying for space and influence at a regional and global level, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the smallest incident on the long and sensitive Sino-Indian border can quickly cause bristling on both sides. But it is not in the interests of either side, nor the region nor the world, for such ‘misunderstandings’ and their subsequent frictions to be allowed to come to a pass where military conflict looms. A peaceful competition for global clout is one thing, attempting to do the other side down through military muscle is quite another. Both sides must exercise restraint on the China-Bhutan border ruction, withdraw their troops to positions to restore the status quo ante, and make sincere efforts to sort things out peacefully. Friendly countries could and perhaps should play whatever facilitating role they can to defuse tensions and initiate negotiations.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Business Recorder editorial July 18, 2017

Three-ring circus Ever since the Panama case started, there has been an unseemly cacophony of comment and even ‘advice’ to the Supreme Court what verdict to give, coloured of course by the particular political bent of the commentator. Whereas the media, especially electronic, has gone to town with such discussions and pronouncements, perhaps the most unsavoury has been the ‘circus’ put on by supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family outside the Supreme Court after every hearing of the case. Here the rostrum to address a media eager to lap up and reproduce every last syllable and word of the heavyweight spokesmen of the government and the opposition has often become a bone of contention, with the two sides vying for, and sometimes pushing for, ‘capture’ of the platform. Unseemly as all this seems, it is what has been on offer in all these pronouncements that is the most concerning. Not only has this rowdiness and free-for-all commentary been unprecedented in a matter that is sub judice, it has not done the respect and dignity of the Supreme Court any good. Superior courts in the past have not shown the extreme patience with this three-ring circus that the Supreme Court bench has displayed. Whether its hesitation to intervene and stop this show has been motivated by a reluctance to be seen as placing curbs on freedom of expression or some other consideration, arguably the restraint has not done the apex court’s reputation and respect much good. The media, especially TV, has in any case given free rein to unrestrained comment on the case and its outcome to both government ministers and opposition leaders. This is bad enough, but the vituperation on display before the Supreme Court by rival spokesmen has been a stunningly unprecedented media circus. With the rise in the political temperature because of the increasingly shriller vituperation by both sides, it was perhaps inevitable that push came to shove between the workers of both sides of the political divide before the Supreme Court on July 17, the day the court started hearing the case in the light of the Joint Investigation Team’s report. Mercifully, the situation was saved from deteriorating into a physical clash by the timely intervention of the police. But the incident shows how the fraught situation in the country because of the weight of expectations from the Supreme Court in the Panama case could so easily lead to physical clashes and even violence between the protagonists of both sides. It would perhaps be in the fitness of things for the Supreme Court bench to take notice of this potentially explosive scenario and forbid the holding of these public addresses to the media outside the courtroom after every hearing. To the objections of the defenders of freedom of expression it can be argued that it is the venue that is sensitive and loaded with implications for the respect and dignity of the Supreme Court. The warriors of both sides can and are welcome to take their diatribes elsewhere and onto the already available TV screens to satisfy their unbridled keenness to steal a march on their rivals after every hearing. The three-ring circus before the Supreme Court is only one of, and perhaps the most visible manifestation of the effects of the case. In the country as a whole meantime, the situation resembles nothing better than a paralysis of governance by a ruling PML-N seemingly fighting for its continued grip on power and to fend off adverse interpretations of the outcome of the case. With the massive distraction of the Panama case, it seems the government has been rendered virtually dysfunctional. The damage to the interests of the country may be unquantifiable, but promise to be massive once the shouting and dust kicked up dies down. The case, if the pronouncements of the two contending sides are taken into account, has taken on the hues of a ‘do or die’ effort by the incumbents and their would-be topplers. With hindsight, we may come to rue the invisible damage wrought by the all too highly visible war of words swirling around the Panama case.

Business Recorder Column July 17, 2017

A century of revolution and counter-revolution – II Rashed Rahman The victory of the Russian revolution in the civil war and against imperialist intervention by 22 countries soon after the socialist takeover in October 1917 was achieved after four years (1918-22) of bloody conflict through the length and breadth of the country. It demonstrated the strength and resilience of a people mobilised by a revolution they owned and supported because it had declared itself for the people and against their erstwhile oppressors and exploiters. However, a country already reeling under the privations of the First World War (WWI) was further placed in enormous difficulties because of the ravages of the civil war/imperialist intervention. While the Russian revolution was marching to new victories and demonstrating that the capitalist front had been decisively breached in the largest (by area) country in the world, albeit with significant hangovers of serfdom (abolished in law in 1861) and underdevelopment, the revolution in the rest of Europe was defeated, bloodily in Germany in 1918 and Hungary in 1919. With the retreat of the revolutionary wave in the wake of WWI, the choices and chances of long-term survival of the Russian (by now the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, encompassing the extent of the Czarist empire), appeared bleak. Until the October 1917 revolution, the article of faith amongst Marxist revolutionaries was that without a revolution in (by now defeated) Germany, any revolution in Europe, including the Russian, was doomed. Even Lenin subscribed to this received wisdom. However, history had now placed the Russian revolutionaries in the unenviable position (and, some argued, opportunity) of building socialism in the inhospitable terrain of an underdeveloped country with the barest rudiments of industrialisation and a vast reservoir of peasants relatively recently liberated from serfdom. The slogan of Socialism in One Country proclaimed by the Bolsheviks was as much a pragmatic recognition of the hand dealt them as an admission that backward Russia could not look for succour, support and sustainability from the advanced countries of Europe. The task before the Bolsheviks was formidable. How to lift a huge country (albeit with enormous, untapped natural resources) from its virtually medieval darkness into the light of the modern day exercised the minds of the Bolsheviks. With his characteristic clarity, Lenin summed up the challenge by focusing his government’s economic efforts on electrification (a huge task) to provide the energy base for rapid industrialisation. Having nationalised the commanding heights of the economy, the revolutionary regime gave the working class unprecedented rights, the peasants land under a redistribution of the vast lands owned by the nobility and aristocracy, instituted universal education (including adult literacy), healthcare, skills training and universal employment. In addition, they transformed the ‘prison of nations’ as the Czarist empire was known, into a country with equal rights for all the nations and nationalities in the USSR, including cultural and linguistic rights. Taken as a whole, these revolutionary policies brought enormous change in the lives of the overwhelming majority of the people and evoked in them the spirit of living and dying for the revolution. The example of the Russian revolution inspired generations of revolutionaries all over the world. If the problems inherited from WWI, the seizure of power and the civil war/imperialist intervention were not enough, soon after the (premature due to sclerosis of the brain as a result of an assassination attempt on him in 1918) death of Lenin in 1924, the spectre of fascism began to raise its ugly head in Europe. Italy succumbed to the scourge in 1922 (Mussolini), Germany in 1933 (Hitler). In the latter case in particular, the Nazi Party fed on resentment at the harsh terms imposed by the victorious allies on Germany at the end of WWI through the Treaty of Versailles and the misery of generalised unemployment, hunger and starvation for the working people during the Great Depression (1929-39). In echoes of the development of fascism in Europe, Japan in the east and Spain in the west also exhibited features of fascism. As the immediate threat from fascism grew from a rapidly rearming Germany under Hitler, while the continuing hostility of the other imperialist countries remained a fact of life, the Soviet government embarked on rapid industrialisation, even at the cost of agriculture and other needs of the people based on the argument that either the Soviet Union must catch up with the imperialist countries to be able to defend itself or it would be exterminated. To stave off an attack from Germany, the USSR made a non-aggression pact with Hitler, hoping that he would confine himself thereby to the conquest of the rest of Europe in what Moscow saw as another inter-imperialist war for a redivision of the world (WWI was the first such conflict, and in many ways fed into WWII). However, the USSR under Stalin, Lenin’s successor, gravely underestimated Hitler’s ambition of world conquest and hatred of communism. Having conquered the rest of Europe and driven the British off the continent, Hitler launched a surprise offensive against the Soviet Union in June 1941. The element of surprise, relative technical inferiority of the Soviet forces, and the blitzkrieg (total war) tactics of the Germans initially overwhelmed the Soviet defences and brought Hitler’s legions within striking distance of Moscow. Basing himself on the rapid conquest of the rest of Europe through this unprecedented total war strategy, Hitler thought the Soviet Union would succumb before the onset of the severe Russian winter. However, he had not factored into his calculations the resilience of the Soviet people and revolution. Hitler’s offensive bogged down after its initial rapid advance in the face of the determined resistance of the Soviet people against terrible odds and degenerated into a war of attrition, with the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad reflecting the strategic stalemate. Meanwhile Japan had brought a reluctant US into the war through its sneak attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Now the fascist Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, faced on paper a formidable alliance of the capitalist powers with the socialist USSR. However, the air war over Britain, the American war in the Pacific and the allied war in north Africa notwithstanding, the USSR bore the brunt of Hitler’s cruel hordes. Starting from the defeat of Hitler’s siege of Stalingrad in February 1943, the Soviet people turned the tide against Hitler, finally defeating him virtually alone (until 1944) on the eastern front at the cost of 26 million dead and many more millions wounded. Arguably, as honestly admitted by British military historian Basil Liddell-Hart, the Soviet Union virtually singlehandedly defeated Hitler while the allied effort came towards the fag end of the war. WWII shook the world order to its roots. Movements for independence and national liberation from colonial control broke out and accelerated in the wake of peace. ‘Peace’ does not fully fit the situation, since a divided Europe between the capitalist west and the socialist east entered the Cold War, punctuated by rebellions against the communist regimes of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), crushed by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces’ interventions. On the other hand, the part liberation of Korea and Vietnam characterised the growing desire for independence of the colonies in what came to be called the Third World. The Chinese revolution’s triumph in 1949, the Cuban revolution in 1958 and the renewed anti-colonial liberation war in Vietnam (not to mention the indeterminate conflict in Korea 1950-53) inspired the outbreak of guerrilla wars throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. It seemed at that historical juncture that the advance of socialism was looming on the horizon and the day of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism was done and dusted, especially given the inspiring example of the Vietnamese people’s heroic resistance against superpower the US and their complete victory in 1975. The Vietnam war radicalised the whole sixties generation and this phenomenon changed the social (if not political) world of their elders beyond recognition. However, the owl of Minerva had not yet spread its wings and the liberatory hopes of the Third World came to be dashed eventually at the end of the 1980s. Guerrilla movements were defeated in the Third World, and even where they succeeded in capturing power, soon discovered the process of capitalist domination of their economies by a world order still not fully socialist, and in which the socialist camp’s best efforts to aid and help these newly liberated countries proved inadequate. (To be continued)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Business Recorder editorial July 12, 2017

Mad cow disease The Indian Supreme Court has upheld the suspension by a lower court of the ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter decreed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in May this year. The Supreme Court’s upholding of the suspension would prove a boost for the beef and leather industries, mostly run by Muslims who constitute a 14 percent minority in the country of 1.3 billion souls. The ban limited the trade in cattle to only agricultural purposes such as ploughing and dairy products, ostensibly to stop cruelty to animals, but widely perceived as a plank in the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. This perception is lent weight by the absence of any similar measure by the government for any other animal. Modi had not long ago paid lip service to the growing disquiet against mob vigilante actions against cow slaughter or beef eating. However, his words have not had much effect as such incidents continue at the hands of violent Hindu mobs that consider the cow a sacred animal. Two such incidents have been reported since Modi intervened to condemn violence against people accused of cow slaughter or eating beef. India’s diverse landscape in most matters is also replicated in the issue of cow slaughter and consuming beef. Cow slaughter is already banned in many states of India, but the Modi decree imposed a blanket ban throughout the country. The Supreme Court stressed the hardship the ban had inflicted, affecting livelihoods and curtailing the meat and leather industries worth sales of over $ 16 billion a year. The government assured the Supreme Court it would modify and reissue the May order. Speculation has it this could exclude buffalo (not considered sacred), whose meat reportedly constitutes the bulk of India’s ‘beef’ exports, which totalled 1.33 million tonnes worth $ 3.9 billion in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, as compared to 1.31 million tonnes the previous year. Petitioner Abdul Faheem Qureshi, head of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. So too did Tamil Nadu lawyer Ajmal Khan, representing the state’s petitioners who were the first to challenge the ban, claiming it infringed their right to eat what they choose, a position that by now represents a flashpoint. When the ban was imposed in May, there was an outcry in many states. Protests against the perceived over-reach by the BJP followed. Many states where cattle slaughter is legal vowed to fight the decree. Both before and after the decree, allegations of cow slaughter and beef consumption against Muslims and other minorities triggered murders and violent reprisals. An estimated 28 people have been killed by mob vigilante violence on the issue since 2010. The matter goes to the heart of the conflict between the secular ideals of the leaders of India’s independence struggle and the communal saffron brigade that has sought over the years to replace both that leadership and its aspirations with its own narrow and bigoted worldview. One manifestation of this conflict was the reaction by some states soon after the ban when they organised beef festivals while counter-rallies by the BJP adorned cows with flowers. This represents nothing short of a struggle over the soul of India, a conflict with many overlays of history and the potential for widespread violence going forward. The Hindutva wallas will have to decide whether they want to preside over a majority Hindu state that acknowledges and upholds the rights of minorities or plunge ahead into the maelstrom of trying to carve out a ‘pure’ Hindu society. The former course would reflect wisdom and realism, the latter an invitation to bloodshed sooner or later. India’s secular, liberal, enlightened forces are already out on the streets in protest at the cow slaughter ‘pogrom’ in motion. It is for wiser heads in the BJP to wake up to the ground realities of a diverse, multi-religious, multi-cultural India before they unleash a holocaust that would not spare them or their future either.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial July 11, 2017

The shape of things to come The report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to the Supreme Court (SC) bench hearing the Panama leaks case against Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and his family appears from what has appeared in the media to lay the foundations for further conflict and struggles. The voluminous 10-volume report elicited, logically, a postponement of the proceedings till July 17. Presumably this will give time to the bench as well as the petitioners and respondents (all of whom have been given copies) to study it and prepare their respective responses. The bench has indicated it will not pronounce on the matter before hearing all parties. This is as it should be. Contrary to a widespread perception that the SC would move immediately in the matter as soon as the report landed before it, the judicial process requires a fair hearing to all concerned, particularly the respondents. All this will unfold in the near future but even at this juncture it is possible to examine the main findings of the report and what they may portend. In essence the findings of the JIT posit that the PM and his family have not been able to satisfactorily explain the disjuncture between their declared wealth and sources of income, allegedly submitted false and doctored documents to justify their explanations of the money trail of various transactions involving foreign countries and offshore companies, have mis-stated the actual beneficiaries of some of these offshore companies, and attempted deliberately, directly and indirectly, to mislead the SC. These are serious findings indeed, exacerbated by the report’s pointing to anomalies and contradictions between the statements of various members of the (extended) Sharif family. However, one must resist the widespread temptation to rush to judgement. Let the court deliberate the matter in a manner ensuring due process. The responses to the (partial) availability of the report hold no surprises. PML-N ministers held a press conference in which they rejected the report and vowed to fight it through legal and political means,. The opposition, also no surprise, pounced on the report to demand the immediate resignation of the PM on moral grounds, even before the case has concluded. The government however has explicitly rejected any such notion. Apart from seeing through the court case itself, the opposition appears to have few good options. Threatened street agitation does not at present seem to offer sufficient traction to ensure the goal of unseating the PM. Nor does the emergency session of the National Assembly (NA) demanded by the main opposition parties present good outcomes. If the opposition moves a no-confidence motion against the PM, it is likely to be easily defeated because of the unassailable majority enjoyed by the ruling party in the NA. And if the PM defeated such a move, the opposition’s hands would be tied from repeating it in any relevant timeframe. It should be noted in passing that the case from the very beginning has attracted comment from all and sundry, having thrown the rule of not commenting on matters sub judice to the winds. It has taken the SC all this time to take notice of the matter. Only now has the bench issued a contempt notice to a media group and its reporter for directly approaching a member of the bench to solicit his views through a landline call. And the bench now also requires the record of PML-N ministers’ speeches over the last two months. Hopefully this belated attention to the free-for-all circus that has been swirling around the case will now be restrained if not silenced. As for the stakeholders in the democratic system, which includes the opposition as well as the ruling party, they must act with the requisite restraint to ensure that vested interests do not take advantage of the uncertainty engendered by the JIT report and the SC proceedings to follow to precipitate the kind of political crisis that in our past has led to a folding up of the democratic system per se. Without subscribing to the self-serving theory that holding the PM and his family accountable for their wealth, income, and financial matters constitutes in and of itself a threat to democracy, there are nevertheless enough precedents in our history to make the caution above worthy of serious consideration.