Monday, June 27, 2016

Finally Roads to the Borders?

Is the Indian Government slowly waking up from its slumber?
It seems so, but it is wise to not celebrate too early.
Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that his government was “hopeful of completing by next April the construction of highways through Uttarakhand for Kailash-Mansarovar to make it easy for people to visit the abode of Lord Shiva. “
The Minister told PTI: “Kailash-Mansarovar is the identity of our rich ancient culture and heritage. …We are cutting rocks through Himalayas to make a new alignment of highways through Uttarakhand for going to Mansarovar.”
Though this sudden interest in India’s borders is welcome, it is not clear if the minister is aware that ‘Shiva’s abode’ is not located in India, but in China; Mr Gadkari claimed: "We can reach Mansarovar directly through Uttarakhand,” it is not certain that Beijing, in its present mood, will agree to receive hordes of Indian pilgrims.
Though it did not receive the same publicity than the Lipulekh road, the Jammu & Kashmir government last month ‘approved’ the construction of the 150 km long Chushul-Demchok road. It was a positive move, though the proposal has now been sent to National Board for Wildlife for clearance!
And as usual in India, ‘final clearance’ may take years …and the construction decades.
In 2013, Thuptsan Chhewang, the MP for Ladakh, had advised Delhi: “If we say Ladakh is our territory then why anyone who wants to go beyond Pangong, has to get permission from New Delhi.” He had suggested that Demchok, the border village with Tibet, should be opened for tourists: “That would make our claim strong and help in the development of border areas.”
It would certainly go a long way to improve the lives of the local population.
But has Delhi the guts and foresight …and simply the time, to look into the issue?
The Echo of India, being a daily publication from Siliguri, understands better the reality of the border issue. In an editorial, it points out: “Chinese troops making occasional incursions into Arunachal Pradesh and then going back on their own is not something new. Each time such an incursion took place, whether under the UPA rule or under the NDA rule, the official explanation of New Delhi was that it was a matter of ‘perception’ of the line of actual control and where exactly it lies.”
Early this month, ‘transgressions’ happened again in the Kameng district of Arunachal and one minister stated that it was not so serious: after being involved in a ‘hand-to-hand fight’ with Indian soldiers, some 250 Chinese troops distributed chocolates. The Government seems satisfy with the chocolates distribution.
The Daily concludes: “New Delhi must spell out its policy clearly: whether it wants to avoid a military confrontation with China anyhow, or whether it intends to defend the territorial integrity of the country, come what may. A policy of appeasement will only tempt China to be bolder and more aggressive.”
To solve the problem, there is one solution: to build proper infrastructure to the border.
During a visit in Uttarakhand, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared that all-out efforts should be made to ensure prosperity in the State by “creating employment opportunities for the local youth so that the growing ‘forced migration’ from the resource-crunched state could be checked.”
Singh also spoke of the mountain region’s sensitivity as a border state: in other words, build road, provide telecom facilities, open schools and hospitals.
It is what Nehru had understood and planned to do in the early 1950s.
Unfortunately nothing happened during the following decades.
One can only hope that it will be different this time, but it is not obvious.
For example, it was recently announced that some 73 roads in border areas are ‘way behind schedule’.
While the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has recently approved 27 new roads to the border (at an estimated cost of Rs 1,937 crore for a length of 805 km), the Ministry of Defence has given its ‘operational clearance’ for 55 roads.
According to The Deccan Herald (DH), both the home and defence ministries are finding it tough “to complete the roads already approved by the government following the recommendations of the China Study Group under the Prime Minister’s Office, which identified 73 such roads.”
The Border Roads Organisation was asked to build 61 of the 73 roads with a total length of 3,417 km; they were to be completed by 2012, but the completion schedule has now been pushed back to 2020: “The roads to be constructed are located in high altitude areas between 9,000 to 14,000 feet. Oxygen depletion limits working capacity of labourers. Other constraints are air support, hard rock, natural calamities and limited working season,” says the document accessed by the DH.
What is making India’s situation more critical is that on the other side of the Himalayan slopes, a deluge of Chinese tourists are arriving. Last year, more than 20 million visited the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
According to Lhasa’s Tourism Bureau, this year Lhasa received 176,100 tourists during the May Day holiday (April 30-May 2).
Bayi, located north of the Indian border of Arunachal Pradesh, received more than 174,000 tourists from January to March in 2016, up by 53 percent. Incidentally, Bayi (or ‘8-1’) means that the area belongs to the People’s Liberation Army whose anniversary falls on 8-1 or August 1.
At the same time, Western Tibet (opposite Ladakh) has seen a five-fold increase in visitors over a year.
In order to welcome millions of tourists, Beijing develops at a fast pace the infrastructure on the plateau.
The Economist recently wrote: “A COLOSSAL roller-coaster is how a senior engineer described it. He was talking about the railway that China plans to build from the lowlands of the south-west, across some of the world’s most forbidding terrain, into Tibet.”
Xinhua also mentions the importance of Chinese ‘tourism’ to defend the borders with India; about National Highway 219, known in India as ‘the Aksai Chin road’ it speaks of a ‘heavenly road bringing the high life to Tibetan Plateau’.
Xinhua remarks: “It is the melon season in neighboring Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, fresh fruit is stacked up at the roadside, waiting to be ferried through the Kunlun Mountains and up to the plateau along the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway.”
This road has not only linked the two most strategic (and restive) provinces of China (Tibet and Xinjiang) but also helped to tremendously cut the cost of the PLA ‘defending the Indian border’.
According to the Chinese news agency: “With a safe, modern highway, transportation costs from Yecheng [in Xinjiang] to Ngari [in Tibet] have fallen by 55 percent, leading to cuts of about 40 percent in the price of commodities in the Tibetan town. Better yet, the number of tourists in Ngari has surged five-fold.”
In other words, China’s ‘Indian front’ will get its supplies faster and cheaper.
Border infrastructure is particularly important at a time when China has undertaken deep military reforms; one of the most important is that the two fronts facing India (in Ladakh and Arunachal), have been merged into one Western Theater Command (formerly Lanzhou and Chengdu Military Regions), greatly improving the management of the borders with India.
But all this does not deter the Indian Government from its archaic policies: an antiquated ‘Inner Line Permit’ dating from the Raj still prevails in border areas; will this ever change? It was recently announced that it may change soon, but here again, one has to see it to believe it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

One of the most intriguing officers in the Indian Army

Lt Gen B.M. Kaul with President Radhakrishnan
Quoting former Foreign Secretary M.K. Rasgotra, PTI reported that though the U.S. President John F. Kennedy had offered to help India detonate a nuclear device much before China did (in 1964), it was rejected by the Indian Prime Minister.
The conclusions of news agency are however doubtful, as the incident is taken out of context; PTI says: “India need not have had to make desperate efforts now to get membership of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru accepted then U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s offer of helping the country detonate a nuclear device much before China did in 1964.”
It is not that simple and many in Kennedy Administration did not agree with the President’s views.
According to PTI, Rasgotra added that if Nehru had accepted the offer, not only would have India tested the nuclear device first in Asia, before China, but India would have also “deterred China from launching its war of 1962 and even imparted a note of caution to [Pakistan’s] Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s plans for war in 1965.”
Again doubtful conclusions!

Nehru's blunders
From time to time, I have mentioned some of Nehru's blunders on this blog.
One was the rejection of a seat for India in the UN Security Council. In fact, it occurred twice.
The first time in 1950, when the State Department made the offer and a few years later, when the Soviets were ready to sponsor India for a seat.
Both times, Nehru refused.
Another blunder is the selection of some Nehru’s protégés (many Kashmiri Pandits) to run the Indian Army and the administration.
Lt Gen B.M. Kaul, who was Chief of General Staff (CGS) in the Army Headquarters, before taking the command of the 4 Corps, has been one of the main persons indicted by the Henderson-Brooks Inquiry Commission.
It is Nehru, who promoted Kaul to a position where Kaul should have never been, who was the real guilty man. His name is however not mentioned in the Henderson-Brooks report, as the terms of reference of the Commission were limited to military operations.

A note by M.O. Mathai. Nehru's Secretary
I recently came across an interesting document about Lt Gen B.M. Kaul.
It is a note by M.O. Mathai, Nehru’s Private Secretary typed in 1953, nine years before Kaul’s infamous appointment as Corps Commander.
In this note, (‘typed by self’) Mathai writes: “Past experience in Washington and Kashmir shows that Kaul is one of the most intriguing officers in the Indian Army. He has no good word for anyone except himself. Just as Gopi Handoo he talks far too much.”
The note was for Nehru’s eyes only.
The question is: knowing that Kaul is a schemer, why to appoint him as Corps Commander?

Here is the background of the note.
From Wikipedia
“After the Korean War prisoner exchange was an important agenda. But there was a disagreement. The UN wanted voluntary repatriation but the People's Republic of China wanted required repatriation. By May 1952, despite several efforts the issue was deadlocked. Several plans were put forth and finally the UN agreed to Jawaharlal Nehru's and V. K. Krishna Menon's prisoner-of-war settlement proposal which called for a Neutral Nations' Repatriation Commission (NNRC). The proposal was rejected by China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on 3 December 1952. UN Commander General Mark Clark proposed an exchange of sick and wounded soldiers which was agreed to by the Communists. Thus, Operation Little Switch went underway. This was the first exchange of soldiers which began that year on April 20.
…On 27 July 1953, two neutral nation commissions were formed to implement and supervise the cease-fire, the other being the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), as part of the truce. The UN had selected Sweden and Switzerland which were neutral and were initial members which had signed the UN Charter. But the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF, the Cold War term for the People's Republic of China) chose the People's Republics of Poland and of Czechoslovakia which were Communist countries and members of the UN charter as well. China also wanted USSR involved but the UN rejected the proposal. The NNRC also arrived in Korea on 27 July 1953. It was under the chairmanship of the Indian Army Major General K S Thimayya. Along with the above four countries, which were made members of the NNSC, India chaired the NNRC and supported the POWs. POWs refusing to return to their homeland were placed under the NNRC for 120 days. Subsequently the second and larger exchange of POWs took place. This was called Operation Big Switch. Most of the POWs had been repatriated by September 1953. In February 1954, the NNRC was dissolved. But CCF released a few of the UN POWs only by August 1955.”

M.O. Mathai’s note dated December 13, 1953
Kashimri Pandits were obviously not very popular with Mathai

(Typed by self)
During the past two weeks or so there have been persistent rumours afloat in the Defence Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry that Brigadier B.M. Kaul and P.N. Haksar have been writing to you regularly accusing General Thimayya and others in the NNRC and Indian Custodian Force in Korea of being anti-China and the like. I am not concerned about the truth or otherwise of their writing. If they have been writing, I wonder how this gets talked about. Perhaps the fellows who write have been bragging about it. However it is their business.
While I have no detailed information about the behavior of our people in Korea, it is obvious that their decisions have been in conformity with the provisions of the terms of reference they are obliged to function under.
My talks with Chakravarti indicated that Brigadier Kaul and [S.N.] Haksar (the latter to some extent only) were in favour of the Indian Custodian Force to indulge in mass shooting of prisoners. This would have been disastrous and would have ultimately brought India’s name to mud. In any event on all these important matters detailed instructions were sent from here by PM.
In this connection it is good to recall what Chou-en-Lai said publicly in December 1952. The quotation given below is from a telegram dated 14th December 1952 from Chou-en-Lai to Lester Pierson (President of UN) [later Prime Minister of Canada] about the Indian Resolution on Korea which he termed as an Indian version of the American Resolution. Here it is:
“In a situation where prisoners of war are under the jurisdiction of the Repatriation Commission, it will be absolutely impossible to separate or isolate these agents from the Korean and Chinese prisoners of war”.
Chou-En-Lai foresaw the difficulties and said a realistic thing which now provides us with the answer to criticisms. I enclose a fuller extract from Chou-En-Lai’s telegram. Kaul and Haksar cannot aspire to be more Chinese than Chou-En-Lai.
Past experience in Washington and Kashmir shows that Kaul is one of the most intriguing officers in the Indian Army. He has no good word for anyone except himself. Just as Gopi Handoo [from the Intelligence Bureau, another Kashmiri Pandit] he talks far too much.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A worrying scenario at Ladakh border

My article A worrying scenario at Ladakh border appeared in the Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

The Chinese Army’s strategy seems to be to keep raising objections over trivial issues such as laying water pipes or building infrastructure on the Indian side of LAC, so that the matter of Demchok cannot be permanently settled

Nubra constituency in Ladakh shares its borders with both China and Pakistan. The charming valley, partially opened to tourism, is one of the most strategic spots of India’s northern borders. Last fortnight, it was in the news for quite a different reason.
An English daily reported the local MLA “felt ashamed on seeing the development on the other side of the Line of Actual Control”. The MLA, Deldan Namgyal, told the newspaper the “Chinese and Pakistani villages across the LAC along Ladakh’s scenic Nubra valley are electrified and enjoy better facilities, and the Chinese Army has been taunting border villagers to move to China”. He added: “Unless there are immediate developments and the quality of life gets better on the Indian side, the borders will not be safe.”
Mr Namgyal has a point. “Infrastructure, roads, electricity and the communications network is amazing on the other side,” he says. “The irony is that the Chinese (Army) keeps suggesting to the sarpanch in Demchok to join China rather than sitting with India. What could be more humiliating than this?” Whether it is true is difficult to say, but it certainly points to something which could become a serious problem if not tackled wisely and quickly.
In April, the Daily Excelsior spoke of local discontent in Demchok, the last Ladakhi village in southeast Ladakh: “Frustrated with the Chinese Army’s frequent intervention and objections over carrying out any kind of development activities near the border, the inhabitants of Demchok village have demanded resettlement.”
What has so far been the strength of the Indian position is the deep-rooted nationalism of the population living on the borders, whether in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand or Ladakh.
According to Excelsior, residents of 39 households have been on dharna after the Chinese Army raised objections over villagers laying a pipeline from the hot spring to their village for drinking water. Villagers sitting around the national flag decided to set up a tent on the banks of the Demchok nallah, that marks the Sino-India border.
Later a delegation led by sarpanch Rigzin Tanges gave a memorandum to the deputy commissioner in Leh.
The problem is that the People’s Liberation Army is “advancing” in the region. Before 2008, a villager told the Jammu-based publication: “No PLA post was existed at Demchok and only routine patrolling was conducted from Chagchik post, located around 45 km from Demchok. In 2008, on the pretext of the Beijing Olympics, the PLA had established their post at Demchok.”
While the overall situation along the LAC with China is relatively stable, thanks to Army vigilance and regular meetings between military officials of the two sides at the two border meeting points (BMPs) at Chushul and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), the situation remains complex.
The ritual encounters are usually marked by saluting both nations’ flags, speeches and exchanges of greetings and good wishes. This, however, doesn’t resolve the main problem, which is China’s irredentism, whether it is in the South China Sea or on the Himalayan slopes.
The Chinese Army’s strategy seems to be to keep raising objections over trivial issues such as laying water pipes or building infrastructure on the Indian side of LAC, so that the matter of Demchok cannot be permanently settled.
Perhaps just as critical for India is the deluge of Chinese tourists in Tibet. Last year, 20 million tourists visited the Tibetan Autonomous Region. This year, according to Lhasa’s tourism bureau, it got 176,100 tourists during the May Day holiday (April 30-May 2).
Bayi, located north of the India’s Arunachal Pradesh border, got more than 174,000 tourists from January to March 2016, up by 53.23 per cent. Bayi (or “8-1”) means the area belongs to the PLA, whose anniversary falls on 8-1 (August 1). At the same time, western Tibet (opposite Ladakh) has seen a five-fold rise in visitors over a year.All this doesn’t deter the Indian government from archaic policies like an antiquated “Inner Line Permit” that dates back to the Raj and still prevails in border areas. Will this ever change?
To welcome millions of tourists, Beijing is developing the infrastructure on the plateau at a rapid pace. Take the new railway between Chengdu and Lhasa. An English daily recently wrote: “A colossal roller-coaster is how a senior engineer described it. He was talking about the railway China plans to build from the lowlands of the south-west, across the world’s most forbidding terrain, into Tibet.”
A Xinhua article explains the importance of Chinese “tourism” for India’s security. Titled “Across China: Heavenly road brings the high life to Tibetan Plateau”, it refers to National Highway 219, known in India as “the Aksai Chin road”.
Xinhua says: “It is the melon season in neighbouring Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, fresh fruit is stacked up at the roadside, waiting to be ferried through the Kunlun Mountains and up to the plateau along the Xinjiang-Tibet highway.” This road not only links the two most strategic (and restive) provinces of China (Tibet and Xinjiang), but also helps tremendously to cut the cost of the PLA’s operations on the border with India.
Xinhua explains: “With a safe, modern highway, transport costs from Yecheng to Ngari have fallen by 55 per cent, leading to 40 per cent cuts in the price of commodities in the Tibetan town. Better yet, the number of tourists in Ngari has surged fivefold.” In other words, China’s “India front” will get its supplies faster and cheaper.
It is time for New Delhi to wake up to what is happening on the other side of the LAC. This is specially important when the two fronts facing India (Ladakh and Arunachal) have been merged by the PLA into one western theatre command, greatly improving China’s management of its borders with India.
A few weeks ago, the Jammu and Kashmir government “approved” the construction of a 150-km long Chushul-Demchok road. But this proposal has now been sent to the National Board for Wildlife for clearance! And as usual in India, “final clearance” will take years, and construction will continue for decades.
In 2013, Thupstan Chhewang, Ladakh MP, said: “If we say Ladakh is our territory, why does anyone who wants to go beyond Pangong have to get permission from New Delhi? Demchok should be opened for tourists. That will make our claim strong and help develop border areas.”
Will New Delhi have the foresight and the time to look into this issue, and perhaps do something about it. China, meanwhile, advances its pawns, slowly but surely.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Restricted religious freedom in China

My article Restricted religious freedom in China appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Beijing wants to show its critics that it is a ‘normal' secular nation but it fears faiths that are often more popular than the Communist creed, as the ban on fasting during Ramzan stands proof

Beijing insists that there is no religious discrimination in China, particularly against the Muslim populations (Uyghurs) of Xinjiang. Religious freedom has reached an ‘unparalleled’ level; it is at least what a document published by the State Council Information Office in Beijing on religious freedom in Xinjiang says. The publication coincides with the sensitive month of Ramzan.
The White Paper asserts that today, freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang “cannot be matched by that in any other historical period, and is undeniable to anyone who respects the facts.”
The White Paper even asserts that restaurants in Xinjiang are free to stay open or close during Ramzan. At a public meeting, Zhang Chunxian, the Communist Party’s boss, wished all Muslims a happy Ramzan: “Ramzan is about peace and self-reflection, as well as dedication and self-discipline,”
he remarked.
This sounds good, but it is official rhetoric only: A ban on fasting has been declared on several categories of people. AFP mentioned a notice posted on the Government website which says: “Party members, cadres, civil servants, students and minors must not fast for Ramzan and must not take part in religious activities,” adding: “During the month of Ramzan, food and drink businesses must not close.”
This shows the dichotomy in which the Chinese Government has put itself. Beijing wants to show its critics that it is a ‘normal’ secular nation, but at the same time, it fears faiths often more popular than the Communist creed.
In the recent years, each time that the region witnessed several clashes between the local Uyghur minority and the security forces, Beijing blamed some ‘militants’ seeking independence from China. It is not so simple because discrimination exists. Take the example of people living in border prefectures in Xinjiang, they must now give DNA samples while applying for travel documents, even within China.
The newspaper Yili Daily announced that residents of the Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture who wanted to apply for any type of immigration documents had to go to the police station near their ‘registered’ homes and provide DNA samples, fingerprints, voiceprints and a three-dimensional photo: “Applicants who failed to provide all the biological identification/information would have their applications refused,” says the newspaper.
The prefecture of Yili, bordering Kazakhstan, has an ethnically diverse population of 2.5 million people; while 64.7 per cent belongs to ethnic minorities, the rest are Han Chinese.
The number of applications for travel documents in Yili had ‘skyrocketed’ in the past year, from 20,000 in 2014 to 1,00,000 in 2015. Why did more than 2,00,000 apply for travel documents this year? The answer is simple: Discrimination in Xinjiang. Will the lives of the migrants be better elsewhere in China? Doubtful!
For the foreign-based Uyghur rights groups, restrictions based on religion or discrimination have added to ethnic tensions in the region. Buddhist areas suffer from ‘restrictions’ too.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoting a Tibetan source reported that Beijing has decided to destroy large sections of a monastery in Eastern Tibet: “Massive cuts are being planned for the number of monks and nuns allowed to live at a large Buddhist study center.” The Larung Gar Buddhist Academy is located in Serthar county of Kardze (or Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan Province).
The monastery probably enjoys a dangerously great popularity from Chinese people: Between 20,000 and 30,000 monks and nuns, (a large proportion from the mainland) have joined the institute over the years. By September 30, 2017, the institute’s population will be capped at 5,000.
In September 2014, an article on China Tibet Online, a subsidiary of Xinhua, praised Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy saying out that Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, the founder was “a teacher of His Holiness (sic) the Thirteenth Dalai Lama” (the article forgets to mention that the same Khenpo Phuntsok visited Dharamsala and shared teachings with the present Dalai Lama).
The Chinese website explained that Jigme Phuntsok established the Larung Gar Academy in 1980, with the aim to revitalise the Dharma: “The reason behind the selection of Serthar as the building place is primarily because it is a historically sacred place in Vajrayana. Monks go to achieve ‘rainbow body’ (a high level of spiritual achievement)… Thirteen disciples attained a rainbow body at the place.”
Amazing Communist China, speaking of ‘rainbow bodies’ (advancedlamas who can dissolve their bodies in a rainbow at the time of death)! The institute is today one of the world’s largest and most important centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet …and in China. Following the demolition in 2001 of more than 1,000 dwellings at Larung Gar and the expulsion of hundreds of monks and nuns, the monastery, such a phoenix reappeared; today the Chinese authorities have decided to reduce its size again.
According to RFA: “This year, the authorities are talking about 1,200 members who will have to leave,” adding that, “Government officials are now marking houses that block the passage of firefighting vehicles or the construction of roads, and dwellings targeted for demolition will be torn down by force if necessary. About 60 to 70 percent of the houses of monks and nuns are being marked for demolition.”
China’s dilemma between ‘normality’ and imposition of the Party’s diktats is best shown in a declaration of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) . Its inspectors recently criticised the Propaganda Department because “it has failed to take tough or effective action to promote ideology, control the media and the internet, and oversee universities and colleges.”
In February, the CCDI inspectors had launched a two-month review of the Department. As a result, “Dozens of rights lawyers, activists and petitioners have also been detained over the past year and the government has warned universities against using textbooks that promote Western values” says The South China Morning Post.
Despite the fact that Beijing is trying to put up a brave ‘normal’ face in the world media, religious and political intolerance has grown tremendously under Xi Jinping. In every field, the Government has stepped up to control the media, the Internet and even what is taught in the universities. In these circumstances, one understands that Islam in Xinjiang or Buddhism in Tibet are both seen as subversive ‘splittist’ ideologies.
The sad part is that some foreign companies are also sanctioning Beijing’s policies; the latest example is the cosmetic brand Lancôme, a subsidiary of L’Oréal of France, which cancelled a concert by Canto-pop star Denise Ho in Hong Kong. The crime of the young lady was to have dared to meet the Dalai Lama. ‘No good’, said Beijing, ‘You will not be allowed to sing in Hong Kong’; and Lancôme complied. The ironic part of the story is that Beijing is trying to take the lead of the Buddhist world, investing billions of yuans in ‘soft’ diplomacy. How can China be taken seriously on this?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

On strike, at play: The two faces of France

My article On strike, at play: The two faces of France appeared in Rediff.com

Here is the link...

As football fans arrive to watch Euro 2016, France's trade unions have undertaken a series of strikes to provoke a make-or-break situation.
Claude Arpi encounters both Gallic beauty and ugliness in the country of his birth


Incredibly charming France attracted some 84 million foreign tourists in 2013, indisputably making it the world's top tourist destination.
It is true that the country is beautiful and so many delectable edible and drinkable goodies are found nowhere else.
Travelling in my country of birth after 5 years, I had nearly forgotten the picturesque villages, the forest tracks, the old manors, the serene (and clean) rivers and France's unrivalled capital, Paris with its cafes, museums or shows.
One realises France's popularity when one sees the hordes of Chinese tourists clicking selfies around the Tour Eiffel or the Concorde Square; I did not see that many Indian tourists this time.
Not bad, since the tourist trade is a key sector for the French economy, accounting for more than 7 per cent of GDP and two million direct and indirect jobs.
But there is another side to France as well.
It is the 'striking' France with its powerful trade unions, which are able to spoil any fest. This year it will be Euro 2016 which attracts millions of aficionados from every corner of Old Europe.
On the opening day (thank God, France managed to defeat Romania), a shocking image appeared in Le Figaro; it showed a mountain of garbage piling in front of the famous Cafe Le Flore in Paris.
Why? Because the garbage collectors are on strike.
Parisians are grumbling and they are right, (though it is important not to forget that one of the particularities of the descendants of the Gaul tribes is to grumble about everything). But in this particular case, it is truly understandable.
While European football fans arrive in France to watch the Euro 2016, the CGT (Workers General Confederation), the hardline trade union, has undertaken 'rolling strikes' to provoke a 'make-or-break' situation.
A 'rolling strike' is another French specialty: It is when truckers, rail workers, dockers, teachers, etc, go on strike one after the other without prior notice.
Three out of four unions of Air France pilots have also decided to stop working. The pilots 'grumble' that the company is favouring too much KLM, Air France's partner. They have decided to organise a strike ‘rythmee (in 'slices') at 5:30 am, 8:30 am, 12 am, 3 pm, 9.30 pm and 23.59 pm.
Some optimist soothsayers see in the unions' actions a good omen: A similar strike went on for 10 days in 1998 and France won the football World Cup.
While May is traditionally the month of pleasant weather and the best period to go on strike, this year the unions have extended the deadline.
The present wave of strikes is against a new Labour Bill, known as the 'El Khomri Law' after the lady minister who introduced it.
Francois Hollande's government had dared to invoke Article 49.3 of the French constitution, allowing the government to bypass parliament to get the new labour law through.
The government used this rare procedure because part of the ruling Socialist Party were ready to vote against their government and like in India, whenever the government proposes a reform, the Opposition blocks it... for the sake of opposing something they would have liked to propose themselves.
These 'strikes' have however disastrous consequences.
A recent study on attractiveness across Europe shows that while the old continent is generally improving, France is left behind.
The report, published by the respected firm EY (formerly Ernst and Young), does not agree with President Hollande's statement that France is 'doing better.'
The report says there are worrying signs for the French economy: Of the 15 countries included in the survey, France was the only one to see an overall drop in 'attractiveness' in 2015.
While some 600 new foreign investment projects were started in France in 2015, there was an overall drop of 2 per cent compared to 2014. At the same time, the UK and Germany saw a rise of 20 percent and 9 percent respectively, with Hungary achieving a 104 percent increase.
Even though France does well in some sectors, this did not translate into actual investments and less than a quarter of investors were planning new projects in France for 2016.
During the present outbreak of strikes, President Hollande, whose popularity has rock-bottomed in recent months, has remained firm: 'Too many governments have given in, that's why the country was in the state we found it in 2012,' he said in an interview.
He will probably give in too.
Even for Indian investments, France remains hardly attractive. A few months ago, Business France, the national agency helping the international development of France's economy, released its 2015 Annual Report: Foreign investment in France. It analysed foreign investments in France and their contribution to the French economy.
Though over 120 Indian companies operate in France, employing 7,000 people, it is not much.
The main Indian groups involved are Sintex Industries (1,500 to 2,000 workers), the Tata Group (1,500), Mahindra and Mahindra (500), Mahajan Group (500) and Motherson Sumi Systems (400). This is not much.
Several factors are responsible for this relatively low performance: The tough French visa policy, the difficulty of the language (compared to the UK for example) or the lack of knowledge about India in general, are often cited. As a result the general investment climate is not rosy.
It is not that France cannot be innovative.
The largest cruise ship in the world was built in the western port town of Saint-Nazaire. It took 32 months in the French shipyard to construct the 362 meters long, 16-deck floating city which has some 2,500 rooms, 20 dining venues, 23 swimming pools and a park with more than 10,000 plants and trees. The $1 billion (Rs 6,700 crore/Rs 67 billion) Harmony of the Seas has a 6,360-passenger capacity.
In April, MSC Cruises signed with STX of Saint-Nazaire, for four new cruisers. The 200,000 tons ships, based on next generation technology, should be delivered in 2022.
Note that the Saint Nazaire dockyards, after a near-death experience a few years ago, have special agreements with their trade unions. This probably explains their performance.
DCNS, the French shipbuilding giant is also doing well; the State-owned company -- which is building 6 scorpene submarines in India with the Mazagaon docks -- is to build 12 submarines. The contract is said to be for $38 billion (Rs 2.51 lakh crore/Rs 2.51 trillion).
And Dassault makes good fighter planes!
One could conclude that a France without unions would do much better.
It is perhaps what the EL Khomeri Law is attempting to do: Not to remove the unions, but to decentralise their power, a 'grumbling a la carte' which would improve competitiveness.
At the same time, some rich investors have recently shown interest in France -- but for other reasons.
Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, the Chinese online business and the second richest man in the Middle Kingdom, bought last week, for some 12 million Euros (around Rs 90 crore/Rs 900 million), two famous vineyards near Bordeaux: Chateau Perenne and Chateau Guerry.
The properties belonged to Bernard Magrez, a famous wine tycoon. The 64-hectare Chateau Perenne produces yearly 500,000 bottles.
Chateau Guerry is the oldest vintage of a vineyard dating from the 18th century. A very old and exquisite manor is part of the deal.
But this is perhaps not the attractiveness France is looking for.
In the meantime, good results at Euro 2016 will certainly help the nation's morale.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No religious discrimination in China?

Beijing insists that there is no religious discrimination in China, particularly against the Muslim populations (Uyghurs) of Xinjiang.
Religious freedom has reached an ‘unparalleled’ level; it is at least what a document published by the State Council Information Office in Beijing on religious freedom in Xinjiang says. The publication coincides with the sensitive month of Ramadan.
The White Paper asserts that today, freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang “cannot be matched by that in any other historical period, and is undeniable to anyone who respects the facts.”
The White Paper even asserts that restaurants in Xinjiang are free to stay open or close during the Ramadan. At a public meeting, Zhang Chunxian, the Communist Party’s boss, wished all Muslims a happy Ramadan: “Ramadan is about peace and self-reflection, as well as dedication and self-discipline," he remarked.
This sounds good, but it is official rhetoric only: a ban on fasting has been declared on several categories of people.
AFP mentioned a notice posted on the government website which says: “Party members, cadres, civil servants, students and minors must not fast for Ramadan and must not take part in religious activities,” adding: “During the Ramadan month, food and drink businesses must not close."
This shows the dichotomy in which the Chinese government has put itself. Beijing wants to show its critics that it is a ‘normal’ secular nation, but at the same time, it fears faiths often more popular than the Communist creed.
In the recent years, each time that the region witnessed several clashes between the local Uyghur minority and the security forces, Beijing blamed some ‘militants’ seeking independence from China. It is not so simple because discrimination exists. Take the example of people living in border prefectures in Xinjiang, they must now give DNA samples while applying for travel documents, even within China.
The newspaper Yili Daily announced that residents of the Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture who wanted to apply for any type of immigration documents had to go to the police station near their ‘registered’ homes and provide DNA samples, fingerprints, voice-prints and a three-dimensional photo: “Applicants who failed to provide all the biological identification/information would have their applications refused,” says the newspaper.
The prefecture of Yili, bordering Kazakhstan has an ethnically diverse population of 2.5 million people; while 64.7 per cent belongs to ethnic minorities, the rest are Han Chinese.
The number of applications for travel documents in Yili had ‘skyrocketed’ in the past year, from 20,000 in 2014 to 100,000 in 2015. Why did more than 200,000 apply for travel documents this year? The answer is simple: discrimination in Xinjiang. Will the lives of the migrants be better elsewhere in China? Doubtful!
For the foreign-based Uyghur rights groups, restrictions based on religion or discrimination have added to ethnic tensions in the region.
Buddhist areas suffer from ‘restrictions’ too.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoting a Tibetan source reported that Beijing has decided to destroy large sections of a monastery in Eastern Tibet: “Massive cuts are being planned for the number of monks and nuns allowed to live at a large Buddhist study center.” The Larung Gar Buddhist Academy is located in Serthar county of Kardze (or Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan province).
The monastery probably enjoys a dangerously great popularity from Chinese people: between 20,000 and 30,000 monks and nuns, (a large proportion from the mainland) have joined the Institute over the years. By September 30, 2017, the Institute’s population will be capped at 5,000.
In September 2014, an article on China Tibet Online, a subsidiary of Xinhua, praised Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy saying out that Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, the founder was “a teacher of His Holiness [sic] the Thirteenth Dalai Lama” (the article forgets to mention that the same Khenpo Phuntsok visited Dharamsala and shared teachings with the present Dalai Lama).
The Chinese website explained that Jigme Phuntsok established the Larung Gar Academy in 1980, with the aim to revitalize the Dharma: “The reason behind the selection of Serthar as the building place is primarily because it is a historically sacred place in Vajrayana. Monks go to achieve 'rainbow body' (a high level of spiritual achievement)… Thirteen disciples attained a rainbow body at the place.”
Amazing Communist China, speaking of ‘rainbow bodies’ (advanced lamas who can dissolve their bodies in a rainbow at the time of death)!
The Institute is today one of the world’s largest and most important centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet …and in China.
Following the demolition in 2001 of more than 1,000 dwellings at Larung Gar and the expulsion of hundreds of monks and nuns, the monastery, such a phoenix reappeared; today the Chinese authorities have decided to reduce its size again.
According to RFA: “This year, the authorities are talking about 1,200 members who will have to leave,” adding that, “Government officials are now marking houses that block the passage of firefighting vehicles or the construction of roads, and dwellings targeted for demolition will be torn down by force if necessary. About 60 to 70 percent of the houses of monks and nuns are being marked for demolition.”
China’s dilemma between ‘normality’ and imposition of the Party’s diktats is best shown in a declaration of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). Its inspectors recently criticized the Propaganda Department because “it has failed to take tough or effective action to promote ideology, control the media and the internet, and oversee universities and colleges.”
In February, the CCDI inspectors had launched a two-month review of the Department. As a result, “Dozens of rights lawyers, activists and petitioners have also been detained over the past year and the government has warned universities against using textbooks that promote Western values” says The South China Morning Post.
Despite the fact that Beijing is trying to put up a brave ‘normal’ face in the world media, religious and political intolerance has grown tremendously under Xi Jinping. In every field, the government has stepped up to control the media, the internet and even what is taught in the universities.
In these circumstances, one understands that Islam in Xinjiang or Buddhism in Tibet are both seen as subversive ‘splittist’ ideologies.
The sad part is that some foreign companies are also sanctioning Beijing’s policies; the latest example is the cosmetic brand Lancôme, a subsidiary of L’Oréal of France, which cancelled a concert by Canto-pop star Denise Ho in Hong Kong.
The crime of the young lady was to have dared to meet the Dalai Lama.
No good, said Beijing, you will not be allowed to sing in Hong Kong, and Lancôme complied.
The most ironic part of the story is that Beijing is trying to take the lead of the Buddhist world, investing billions of yuans in ‘soft’ diplomacy.
How can China be taken seriously on this?

Friday, June 10, 2016

The situation is not gloomy, the borders are safe

Dr Sampuranand was a freedom-fighter and educationist.
Born on 1 January 1891 at Benaras, he participated in the Non-cooperation Movement and edited Maryada, a Hindi monthly with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya.
In 1922, he was elected to the All-India Congress Committee, and later became provincial Minister for Education in the Uttar Pradesh cabinet and then Minister in the Union Government from 1951 to 1954.
He held several portfolios such as education, finance, and home labour; from April 1962 to April 1967, he was Governor of Rajasthan.
On October 28, 1951, hardly a month after the first Chinese troops entered Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, Dr Sampuranand sent a letter to the Prime Minister from Lucknow. It was marked ‘Secret’.
Reading this letter, one realizes that several prominent politicians were aware of the Chinese threat on the Northern borders of India.
What the Government  has done for the last 65 years on such warnings is another matter.
Here is the letter from Dr Sampuranand.
My dear Jawaharlalji,
I am writing this personal letter to you because this seems to me to be the only way to unburden myself of what has recently become one of my principal worries. Of course, you know all about the events on our Indo-Tibetan border, but my study of what is happening in that region makes me feel that the question has not received that serious attention which it deserves. I do not mean to suggest that anyone across the border is intending to engage in aggressive activities against India in the near future, but history shows that negligence shown in the matter of what appears to be trifling at the moment may lead to disastrous consequences in times of trouble.
I am basing my observations on the reports received from time to time from the local authorities and on the verbal report of the Inspector General of Police who has been on an extensive tour in that region. The Chinese have reduced prices considerably, so much so that rice in that comparatively inaccessible area is selling at a cheaper rate than obtains in the rice- producing areas in the plains. The prices of sugar and other necessaries have also been brought down. We have no roads leading upto the border. The State P.W.D. has prepared an estimate for 2.5 crores, which is taking its leisurely course among the files of some department of the Government of India. On the other hand, the Tibetan side of the border line has evidently fairly good roads and good barracks have been provided for the Chinese troops and the Tibetans whom they are training in modern methods of war. They are also apparently raising some kind of a local militia. Here the Government of India have not thought it necessary to post a single soldier and, in any case, there are no buildings where soldiers could stay if they were posted there. Among other reasons, the utter absence of barracks has prevented the U.P. Government from posting any unit of the P.A.C. which, as you know, can efficiently do part of the work which might otherwise have to be entrusted to the Army. My own feeling is that, in such cases, barracks should be built first and an estimate prepared later. The check-posts, we are maintaining, will have to be broken up very soon because there is no arrangement for shelter or for regular supply of food, fuel and other necessities in that area during the ensuing cold weather. At the most, the men can be kept there for about a fortnight. The local Bhotias also move inland in this season and there will be nothing to prevent the infiltration or Tibetans and Chinese into our territory. I am asking the Inspector-General to see if he can recruit some local men for the police but it is difficult to be quite sure of the loyalty of these men. Racial, linguistic and religious ties will probably make them lean towards the men on the other side; their loyalty to India cannot but be of a most tenuous nature. I might also point out that we are short or wireless sets; the Chinese, on the other hand, seem to be very well equipped in this respect. The Government of India have not yet agreed to our request for wireless sets. Probably, this question is also under consideration by somebody somewhere.
Some Tibetans, it is said under the inspiration of their Chinese mentors, are believed to say that Tibetan suzerainty extends over that part of the U.P. which reaches upto Moradabad. The claim is, of course, fantastic and is not being put forward from any responsible quarter. But we have to remember that such fantastic claims have elsewhere led to international wars in recent years. Anything can provide the spring-board for people who are spoiling for a fight. There is also the curious convention which allows Tibetan officials to collect certain taxes within Indian territory. The amount involved is very small, but the principle involved is very dangerous. Even if the practice is put an end to now, its memory may be revived some day as a proof of the shadowy sovereignty exercised by the Tibetan over certain territory in the U.P.
It may be that I am exaggerating the importance of these little things, but it seems to me that it will do us no harm to take all necessary precautions; a strategic road, good winter barracks for soldiers, a small military outpost and a few well equipped police check-posts will amply repay the expenditure involved.
Yours sincerely,
Sampurnanand.
On October 31, 1951, the Prime Minister replied  that it was no “need take a too gloomy a view of the situation.”
The first ‘official’ Chinese incursions occurred in Barahoti in June 1954.
India was not ready; nothing had been done to correct the issues raised by Dr Sampuranand.
This will continue during the following years/decades.
Here is Nehru's answer:
My dear Sampurnanand,
Thank you for your letter of October 28th.
We have not been entirely negligent about our Tibetan border. Full enquiries have been made by air and on land and we are considering reports of these enquiries. Some steps have already been taken on the lines of the recommendations made.
While I agree with you that all necessary steps, within our resources, should be taken as soon as possible, I do not think that we need take a too gloomy view of the situation.
I am a little surprised to learn that prices of rice and sugar etc., have been brought down considerably. Could you send me some further information on this subject?
Yours sincerely,
Jawaharlal Nehru

Nearly 8 years later, on September 8, 1959, Dr Sampuranand wrote again to the Prime Minister from Lucknow.
My dear Jawaharlalji,
There is a very important matter about which I wanted to speak to you, but as we were very busy, it was not possible for me to do so. People in the State, particularly those living near the Indo-Tibetan border, are greatly disturbed by news of Chinese infiltration in Indian territory. The matter has been raised in the Legislature also.
Today's papers carry the news of the Chinese having entered a part of Punjab somewhere on the Lahaul side. This may or may not be correct; even if it is a rumour, it is enough to add to the already existing alarm. It is felt that the strength of our police on the border is not sufficient and that, in any case, there is nothing to prevent infiltration during the winter months when the police retires from its forward positions. You might remember that some time ago, you had yourself suggested that all-the-year-round police arrangements should be made in that area and we had been asked to prepare a scheme for that purpose. We did so and received the assurance that it would be sanctioned in its entirety. I do not know what has happened to it as I have not heard anything about it for the last several months.
The idea was roughly this: It may not be possible for the police to remain in the winter season in places which it occupies in other parts of the year as the area is swept by snow and blizzards and remains completely cut off for weeks together, but a little further back a line of check-posts can be maintained. This area also is not particularly attractive from the point of view of the weather - there are heavy snow-falls-but with proper arrangements it can be held. Expenditure will have to be incurred, however, on putting up buildings and making such arrangements as will ensure a steady flow of supplies during the worst weather. That scheme was to cost about 50 lakhs. We had prepared it on the assumption that, if it was sanctioned, it would come into operation next year. But if it is felt that, in the conditions obtaining at present, this area has to be policed at all costs to prevent possible infiltration, it might be possible to do something in the few weeks remaining till winter actually sets in. It requires your immediate attention. I do not know which department of the Government, External Affairs, Defence, Home or Finance is studying the matter. But I thought the best thing would be to write to you personally.
I cannot say, of course, what the Chinese intend to do, but if their idea is to infiltrate and gain footholds in those parts of our territory which they claim to be their own, it seems to me that the winter months would provide the most suitable opportunity, because that is the time when our frontiers remain completely unguarded.
Yours sincerely,
Sampurnanand
On September 9, 1959, Nehru replied to Dr Sampuranand: “I do not think it does anyone any good to be alarmist.”
By that time, the Chinese had already entered in Longju in Subansiri Frontier Division as well as in Ladakh.
Here is Nehru’s response.
My dear Sampuranand,
I have your letter of the 8th September.
Our relations with China are strained and are likely to remain so for some considerable time. You must have seen the White Paper we issued and you would probably see further correspondence in the press soon.
While this is so, and we have to be vigilant, I do not think it does anyone any good to be alarmist. The news appearing in the press is often based on rumour and without foundation. I do not think any Chinese have entered any part of the Punjab, in Lahaul or elsewhere. Nor do I think there is much chance of the Chinese rolling across the U .P. border with Tibet. It may well be, however, that when your police detachment is withdrawn from Hoti, the Chinese will come and sit there as they did once previously.
The scheme to which you refer, that is putting up buildings at a cost of Rs. 50 lakhs, obviously cannot be given effect to, quickly. What is more important, I should imagine, is a good road to these places.
Anyhow I am having this matter looked into.
Yours sincerely,
Jawaharlal Nehru
What is the moral of the story?
It is good to be optimist, but one should always be ready for the worst.