Some Quotes

"I will not say I failed 1000 imes,I will say that I discovered there are 1000 ways that can cause failure.......... Thomas Edison" "Believing everybody is dangerous;Believing nobody is very dangerous.......Lincon" "If you start judging people you will be having no time to love them....MOTHER TERESA"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

LEBANON Status Quo, Foreign Pressures, Spy Rings and a Mirage

THE June 7 national elections to the Lebanese republic and subsequent developments had all the mix of a modern Indian bollywood superhit. From Israeli spy rings, bribes, secret and not so secret deals, fundamentalists rubbing shoulders with capitalists, a few good politicos amidst a bevy of charlatans and rogues --- and of course rumours galore.


These were all part of the masala called National Elections 2009. Not only this; on paper two major groupings --- the first known as March 14 backed by the west and USA in particular and the second the opposition, known as the March 8 --- were caught in a cliff hanger. With the west throwing its weight behind Harari, Hezbollah got support from within the Gulf. The final result: March 14 was ahead but not the clear winner. As Robert Fisk aptly put it, “There will be no Islamic Republic of Lebanon. Nor will there be a pro-Western Lebanese republic.”

But the situation is indeed getting increasingly curious. From mid-June till now, not only are there reports of local community pressures but international pressures too to cobble a cabinet somehow. International pressures, especially from the US and Israel, are more than visible but there are also other pressures from France, European Union and some neighbours. Besides, there are some recent developments. On July 29, it became clear that cabinet formation would be further delayed, due to problematic issues regarding the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Meanwhile, according to a report, tensions ran high in south Lebanon after Israel moved four Merkava tanks from the Arqoub region and deployed them 100 metres from the Hassan Gate in the occupied Kfar Shuba Hills region. It stated, “The tanks’ redeployment was accompanied by Israeli warplanes hovering over the area, before flying above the southern region of Hasbaya and Marjayoun.”

But the question is: Will it be just that? Or, would there be something more through unprincipled compromises? This correspondent was for 21 days in Lebanon, crisscrossing between the north and the south, with stopovers in three cities --- the historic capital Beirut, the port of Tripoli and the ancient city of Byblos. Besides, he spent a day in a village in a valley. Thus he got some interesting insights into what is happening, in a small country ravaged by wars against Israel and internal strife, and often caught in a web of US machinations, French machinations and what not. Even today, all attempts are being made for what some called a government of national salvation, some called a national coalition, while others predicted that it would be a mishmash of vested interests dedicated to a total neo-liberal economy in a terrain where 40 percent are still below the poverty line despite the dazzle of the capital Beirut. In select areas, Palestinians are struggling to make two ends meet in abysmal conditions.


Lebanon --- once a dream of exiled poets and writers, of tourists, some of whom came in search of the Paris of the Middle East, one of the oldest cradles of civilisation, yet a modern country --- is pining for peace and amity after long periods of civil strife.

The election results show the Lebanese are face to face with what an editorial said could be ghosts of the past competing with the present, to bring about some sort of a government with the full backing of foreign powers. In the midst of all this, poverty is on the increase, with even the middle classes barely finding ways to survive and the super-rich hunting for greener pastures. A poignant reminder all over in camps and on the roads are Palestinians in ghettoes, called refugee camps and unidentified elsewhere, with a few rich caught in a web of the very poor. A Palestinian in Beirut was seen saying with anguish: “We are angry, and hungry too.”

It is so in a small country with a big heart, just 4000 square miles in size with 18 religious sects, with 60 percent of the population of Muslims in a total population of around four million. And believe it or not, it was an election with heavy turnout not only from Lebanon but outside. One can’t vote from outside Lebanon. So how did they vote? Indeed, some voters abroad got tickets booked by interested parties before the polls. If you are a Lebanese outside, go and vote in the country. Add to the picture a long list of key politicians, mainly from the US, coming turn by turn to guide the voters on how to vote. Some time ago, Noam Chomsky said in an article titled “Season of Travesties: Freedom and Democracy in mid-2009,” released by Z-net on July 10, 2009:

“June 2009 was marked by a number of significant events, including two elections in the Middle East: in Lebanon, then in Iran. The events are significant, and the reactions to them, highly instructive.”

Reactions were similar throughout the mainstream. There are, however, a few flies in the ointment. He added, “While our thoughts are turned to elections, we should not forget one recent authentically "free and fair" election in the Middle East region, in Palestine in January 2006, to which the US and its allies at once responded with harsh punishment for the population that voted "the wrong way." The pretexts offered were laughable, and the response caused scarcely a ripple on the flood of commentary on Washington's “noble efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world," a feat that reveals impressive subordination to authority.”

In India, the Frontline alone could afford a few comments. It said Egypt and France seemed to have tilted the scales in favour of the March 14 alliance. The coalition derives its name from the day on which a massive demonstration was held in Beirut in 2005 against Syrian influence in Lebanon, a month after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The West had portrayed the elections as a proxy fight with Iran for influence over Lebanon. The US had unilaterally designated Hezbollah, which represents the downtrodden Shia populace, as a “terrorist” organisation.

The Obama administration gave a lot of importance to the election’s outcome. Washington sent Joe Biden, vice president, to Lebanon in the last week of May. It was for the first time in 25 years that a US vice president visited Lebanon. Biden tried to show himself to be neutral though he made it almost clear that future American assistance to the country would depend on the composition of the new government. Earlier, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton gave the same warning to the people of Lebanon.


Amid this international situation with all eyes on Lebanon from West to the Gulf, and totally in shreds, the country is caught in neo-liberal policies with the result that it has one of the largest debts in the world at 180 per cent of GDP and massive dependence on Gulf money in the middle of collapse of Lebanon’s productive sectors. As has been pointed out in the press in this regard, the re-election of key March 14 leaders to power represents, from a policy perspective, the likely resumption of nearly two decades of unchecked neo-liberal, free market ideology tailored to suit the big business and characterised by the blurring of public and private commercial interests. We can expect that the project of divesting Lebanon’s public assets and natural resources into private hands that began in the 1990s, but stalled during the last few years of political instability, will proceed with renewed vigour. The Opposition’s likely return as a junior partner in the upcoming cabinet does not change this equation much, as both Hezbollah and General Aoun accept neo-liberal logic.

In sum, as Karim Makdisi, a political scientist in Beirut, put it in a signed article, “while Lebanon’s June 2009 elections might have been internationally praised as ‘free and fair,’ it represented a step backwards in terms of long-term, socially progressive reform for the Lebanese themselves. On the one hand, it has re-entrenched sectarianism, deepened rifts and mistrust between Sunni and Shia communities, and brought out the chauvinist tendencies within the Christian elite.”

He added, “On the other hand, the elections returned to power politicians committed to crony capitalism and dependency on regional patrons. There are no socially progressive elements in either camp, and there is little hope that the newly elected parliament will address the inherent structural problems in Lebanon’s sectarian system that lead inexorably to conflict.”

Civil society, indeed, played an important role in the technical aspects of the elections. There was a lot of excitement and a lot of heat but there was always an attempt to whip up depoliticisation. In fact, there was a big charity bonanza visible connected with massive “NGO-isation,” and infatuation with western donors.

The situation today is that the US is wooing Lebanon as never before. As Marie Nassif-Debs, responsible for external relations in the Lebanese Communist Party, said in an interview to us, “Some perceive in these socio-economic and political indicators and declarations, precursory signs for a regrouping within a new political alliance which would include in addition to Saad Hariri and Walid Junblatt the centre right. The distinguishing feature for such an alliance would be “moderation” following the example of the alliance which was advocated for, and then reasoned, by the previous secretary of the state Condoleezza Rice between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.” She told us farther that Obama would be pursuing a more hidden but a cloak and dagger policy in the Middle East.

Quoting from a report of the Lebanese Communist Party, she added the following:

1) These elections witnessed the use of various methods for unlawful intimidation and corruption, both external and internal. More than 100,000 Lebanese immigrants were brought into the country, some of whom were even unable to speak Arabic. Votes were bought and positions of power were abused. In addition, the United States was highly engaged in trying to influence the result by sending various delegations headed by both the US vice president and the US secretary of state. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria also played a role in influencing the result of the elections. All the above actions were targeted at influencing the results in the 28 remaining electoral seats which had not yet been determined.

2) The first implications for these elections were manifested by the escalating security situation, particularly inside the capital Beirut. This election round, and what preceded it in electoral campaigning, slogans and practices, have increased the vertical, religious and sectarian divisions within society,

3) In addition to the escalation in the security situation, it should be recognised that there are ongoing attempts to reshuffle the political divisions with the aim of creating a third coalition backed by the president of the republic and including the head of parliament Nabih Berri (March 8) and Walid Junblatt (14th March). Another theory being circulated is about reinstating the concept of troika in power, which means that the president of the republic (Maronite), the head of parliament (Shia) and the prime minister (Sunni) should replace the executive and legislative powers. There is also increasing rumours about an imminent compromise, backed by the renewed entente between Syria and Saudi Arabia.

4) Regarding the status of the Lebanese Communist Party during those elections, the highly sectarian and religious tensions led to the party losing a large number of its voters. In addition, some of its members resorted to ‘tactical voting.’


Progressive circles see a new American strategic project, evolving which would be a continuum of the Bush era in a more masked manner and, after the spy rings were caught before the elections, Israel can be expected to unleash something more from its hidden armoury. The next few days could see more pressures for a government comprising all and sundry, with foreign powers giving an extra role to Lebanon through a variety of talks already on. Meanwhile, the cry for peace is on inside Lebanon. Rumours abound and there have been sporadic clashes too, called celebrity gunfire, in which people have lost their lives. The elections were enthusiastic; the people are by and large looking for a better deal. Lebanon, with its history of agony and ecstasy, boom time and crash times, foreign wars and civil wars, is now yearning for peace. The leadership unfortunately is composed of “orphans and ghosts of the martyrs past,” as the Lebanon magazine Executive put it. Interestingly, the same issue has a “Lebanese guide to buying an election.”

The electoral advertising rates by various media companies make interesting reading; electoral law violations by media have also been there. The common joke is that there is a big charity bonanza going on (bingo), and a bigger charity bonanza could come any time, for the country is flooded with NGOs --- with the good, the bad and the ugly operating in one name or another.

The attitude to the Palestinians seems to be of little concern, whether it be in the camps or in the roads. The desire to fight is still alive in their hearts, with the desire to exist. There is burning anger too, yet the ruling parties have shunned the issue in an election sworn off issues. The blank looks of some of the Palestinians with no ‘homes’ to call their own and no identity in Lebanon is a case in point. This reminds us of the lines of famous Palestinian poet Mohmoud Darwish:

Where should we go after the last frontiers,

Where should the birds fly after the sky?

note:This article took from the PeoplesDemocracy Written By S K Pande


Who is the Owner?

IN normal circumstances in the pre-reform or pre-globalisation era, such a question would not have arisen at all in India. By virtue of Article 297 of the Constitution of India, all petroleum reserves, including gas reserves in their natural state in the territorial waters or the continental shelf or the exclusive economic zone of India vest in the Union of India and are held for the purposes of the Union. The government is therefore the sovereign owner of KG basin gas for distribution of gas for public good viz fertilizer production, power generation, transport, industry, domestic use etc. That being the case, why does the government of India – after 59 years of the adoption of our Constitution – need to reassert its ownership of KG gas today in July 2009? Has its sovereign ownership been challenged by any foreign country? No. In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on July 18, 2009, the sovereign Bharat sarkar pleads that by a privately negotiated settlement vide an MoU dated June 18, 2005 between CMD, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and CMD, Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL), KG basin gas, whose ownership vests with Union of India, has been used as private property. Bharat sarkar now pleads the court to annul the MoU.

So, four years after the MoU, the government of India wakes up from its ‘kumbhakarna’ slumber to complain that its property worth thousands of crores of rupees has been usurped by the two brothers –– a property which is a major energy source for electricity and fertilizer to a gas-starved country. What was it doing all this time? The whole nation was agitated when Pakistani intruders sneaked into Kargil without the knowledge of the Vajpayee government ten years back. The intruders stealthily captured about 150 sq km of Indian land in the inhospitable hilly terrain and they were subsequently thrown out by the Indian armed forces. Here, in this case, in broad daylight in the name of a production sharing contract, an Indian industrial house openly treats 339 sq km in KG basin like its family property for four years and yet the sovereign government of India is helpless! Instead of asserting its rights years back, it is now moving from one court to another pleading for its right to intervene. And why is it playing the role of a mediator rather than an owner? To find out the reason for such abject surrender to the corporate might, one has to look at the background.


Before economic reforms were initiated in the early nineties, ONGC and Oil India Ltd were the only gas exploration and production companies, owned by the government of India. The distribution and marketing of gas was being carried out by the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), another PSU formed in 1984 with the specific task of forming a national gas grid for gas distribution in the country to ensure regional balance. As a part of reform process, the government decided to invite private investment for exploration and production of oil and gas. New Exploration and Licensing Policy (NELP) was notified in 1999 to award oil/gas blocks to private companies as contractors. In this process a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) was executed in April 2000 between the government of India and undivided RIL and its minor (10 per cent) partner NIKO Resources Limited for production of gas in an area of 339.41 square kilometer in KG basin (D6 field). After the dispute between the two siblings, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) was demerged into two companies viz RIL and Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL), which went to the younger sibling. The MoU of June 2005, which the government of India is now asking to be nullified, stipulated that the gas produced from KG basin as per PSC will be utilised as follows:

Quantity of 12 million metric standard cubic metres of gas per day (mmscmd) will be given to NTPC.The next 28 mmscmd would go to RNRL
The rest will be supplied in 60:40 ratio with 60 per cent to RIL and 40 per cent to RNRL.The pricing of the gas was stipulated at 2.34 dollar/mmbtu (million British thermal unit)

The above MoU inter alia ignored the sovereign ownership of the government over KG gas on two major parameters viz allocation of gas and the pricing of the same. The government now admits in its Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court in its affidavit in July 2009 that rights of Union of India have been infringed for the following reasons:

That RIL and RNRL cannot settle between themselves as to how the gas, which is a national asset and a natural resource that vests in the government of India and which is to be utilized for the wider and larger interest of the nation, is to be distributed. It is not the private property of RIL and RNRL and any understanding arrived at between them is not binding upon the government of India.

The gas has to be distributed in terms of the government-approved Gas Utilisation Policy and at a price approved by the government.

But then why, after four years?


The government now says that it became aware of the MoU only after the relevant portion of the MoU was placed before the Mumbai High Court in October 2008 in course of the litigation between the brothers.

It is absolutely untrue. On April 14, 2006 RIL approached the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MOPNG) seeking the approval of the sale of gas to RNRL at 2.34 dollar/mmbtu and RNRL sent a letter on the same subject to the government on May 09, 2006. In between, on May 04, 2006 the then CPI(M) MP, late Chittabrata Majumdar sought the intervention of the minister of petroleum and natural gas in the matter. The relevant extract of the letter is quoted here:

“I understand RIL has recently signed a Gas Sale Purchase Agreement (GSPA) with Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) without any bidding or competitive arms length process, to supply gas at a contracted price of 2.34 dollar per mmbtu whereas currently India imports gas from Qatar at an estimated price of 6 dollar/mmbtu. RIL by this agreement with RNRL is going to supply gas cheaply, that too as large a quantity as 40 mmscmd (current total domestic gas availably for customers in the country is 72 mmscmd). RIL is, therefore, seeking to transfer the benefit of gas find to a related private company at a cheaper price…..This benefit should actually flow to the people by virtue of Article 297 of the Constitution of India as per which petroleum in its natural state is vested in the Union of India. The government grants the exploration license in overall interest of the country.”

“I, therefore, request you to kindly intervene so that natural gas from KG basin explored by RIL, is auctioned through competitive bidding and the government can utilise the gas-find through GAIL which can set up its own pipeline for transportation and consumption of gas in power and industrial sector as a part of overall energy security and regional balance.”

The letter was acknowledged on May 25, 2006.

The government was therefore never in dark when the KG basin gas became all of a sudden a family affair. In fact, the government has both overtly and covertly encouraged a settlement between the squabbling siblings at the cost of surrendering its ownership right on the natural gas. Otherwise, it would have intervened on behalf of NTPC, the government-owned power generation company whose 2700 MW gas based thermal projects (Kawas and Gandhar) are kept on hold because of RIL’s refusal to supply them the required gas. That is another part of the hide and seek game being indulged by the UPA government.


The government of India so far has been more concerned about the pricing of gas than about asserting its ownership rights on the same. Why? Because, gas pricing of 2.32 dollar/mmbtu in the June 2005 MoU, signed between the two siblings, was based on the gas price offered by RIL and accepted by NTPC in June 2004. In a written reply to a question dated February 20, 2009 in Lok Sabha the then minister of state for power, Jairam Ramesh stated:

“NTPC invited bids under international competitive bidding for procurement of natural gas amounting to 132 trillion British thermal units per annum for Kawas-II and Gandhar-II power projects for a period of 17 years. Reliance Industries was evaluated as the lowest techno commercially acceptable bidder and NTPC accepted its offer. Accordingly a Letter of Intent (LOI) was issued to RIL on June 16, 2004 which was duly acknowledged and confirmed by RIL.”

RIL’s bid was for supply of 12 mmscmd of gas from KG basin at 2.34 dollar/mmbtu to NTPC for 17 years. What happened thereafter? This is what Jairam Ramesh explained in the aforesaid reply in parliament:

“After the issuance of LOI, RIL did not come forward to sign the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement (GSPA) and sought major changes in the agreed draft of GSPA. NTPC pursued with RIL at various levels and various meetings to sign the GSPA, as per the draft accepted by RIL during the bidding process. However inspite of all the efforts by NTPC, RIL did not sign the GSPA agreed during the bidding process.”

At various levels? Which level? Did the MOPNG, as a nodal ministry of the government that now asserts its ownership on KG basin, intervene and ask the contractor i.e. RIL to supply gas to the government-owned company as per the agreed terms so that 2700 MW of power is made available by NTPC to the people of this country? No. Instead, an aggrieved NTPC filed a suit in the Bombay High Court on December 20, 2005 against RIL’s refusal to sign the GSPA. The case is still sub judice and 2700 MW power – much cheaper than the much tom-tommed nuclear power – remains elusive.

In the litigation between RIL and RNRL, earlier in Bombay High Court and now in the Supreme Court, the government of India rushes to act as a mediator. This alacrity is glaringly absent on the part of the government in the litigation between its own company NTPC and RIL, which involves providing power to the aam admi. The UPA government was eloquently silent and did not support the NTPC even for once during the last four years. On the contrary, in one of the rarest case of deceit and deception, it weakened the case of NTPC by forming an Empowered Group of Ministers on September 12, 2007, which fixed the gas price at 4.2. dollar/mmbtu –- an arbitrarily determined high price that RIL had been bargaining for all along.

If this is the price of gas approved by the government, where does NTPC’s case stand? By indirectly sabotaging the NTPC’s case, the government has at one stroke hiked the price of power and fertiliser – both key inputs in the grim agrarian sector. The public sector company, ONGC, presently supplies gas to NTPC, another PSU, at 1.8 dollar/mmbtu. The neo-Congress leaders of UPA government, who relentlessly chant the mantra of “people’s ownership” to justify their disinvestment, want the same gas owned by the people of this country to be contracted to a private family by the government who would then extract 21/2 times more price at people’s expense!


Clearly, it is high time the government must come clean on this issue. Now it has belatedly but rightly asserted that KG basin gas is government’s property. Better late than never. Let them act on what they have asserted i.e. people’s ownership of KG basin gas which does not belong to a family – divided or undivided. The first follow up step to act on people’s ownership is to take over the distribution and marketing rights of gas at the delivery end from RIL which has violated the PSC by unilaterally assigning to itself the power of an owner. The next step is to entrust Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) with the responsibility of transportation, distribution and marketing of KG basin gas. This will be in line with para 2.4 of the union cabinet note for formation of GAIL in January 1984 which stated “In the course of time, it is visualised that national grid of gas pipeline will have to be developed, having regard to gas availability, utilisation pattern and the capital investment involved.” The idea was clear – ONGC, OIL and GAIL, owned by people of India, will produce and distribute natural gas, a major energy source to ensure regional balance and allocation to priority sectors. The UPA government has abandoned that path. “People’s ownership” does not mean selling of PSU shares in share market. It means assertion of State control of vital natural resources like gas, owned by the people of this country and not by one corporate or other, in the interest of aam admi.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
**Article took for the Markist Paper