Gist of The Hindu: January 2015


Gist of The Hindu: January 2015


Taking ties beyond the Beltway

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States has to be measured against the principal challenge he faced: how to engage with an already preoccupied partner. He overcame this challenge by interacting with a much broader American audience than any of his predecessors. A very special feature of his visit was his determination to open new doors in the U.S. and take the relationship beyond the beltway in Washington DC. All previous Summit level U.S. visits by Indian leaders featured a mandatory speech at a think tank, interaction with a few Congressional leaders, and a meeting each with businessmen and the Indian community. The public diplomacy effort this time included multiple energetic exchanges with business and industry leaders, the Indian-American community, and U.S. lawmakers, surpassing all previous efforts.

U.S President Barack Obama commented about Mr. Modi’s “rock-star performance” at the Madison Square Garden arena. Far from being just a “tamasha,” the spectacle mobilised the Indian community across the U.S. and imparted to them a sense of pride and hope. Several Congressmen and Senators were present at the event, including some who have been critical of India on IT visas and compulsory licensing. These lawmakers saw at first hand the size, scale and connectedness of the Indian-American community to India, as also Mr. Modi’s crowd-pulling power. The message that this community is now a force whose expectations cannot be ignored, including for better India-U.S. ties, is a positive asset.

While engaging new audiences, Mr. Modi did not ignore his host, with whom he established an excellent entente, overcoming the negative overhang of visa-denial since 2002. Moreover, he did not use the visit for inventorying deliverables, but to convey to all his interlocutors, within and outside the U.S. government, India’s aspirations for the future contours of the relationship. Much of this is encapsulated within the Joint Statement, the joint editorial by the two leaders published on the website of The Washington Post, and the Vision Statement of the India-U.S. Strategic Partnership — cleverly captioned by a new “mantra”: “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward together we go.” Such a vision could help in taking steps towards its progressive concretion.

The National Security Agency (NSA) revelations hurt U.S. credibility with its partners. Long-established U.S. ascendancy in the China-Russia-U.S. triangular relationship passed to China. Mr. Obama announced the strategic defeat of al-Qaeda, the same way Mr. George W. Bush had announced success in Iraq, but the rise of the Islamic State shows that Islamists are arguably stronger and more spread out than at any other time in history. Relative neglect, fear of over-commitment, and waging the wrong wars with the wrong local partners have led to the crises in Iraq and Syria and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. With added tensions in Ukraine and the East and South China Seas, the environment for rebuilding India-U.S. relations has become even more complex.

What India and the U.S. need to do together is clear; they simply have been unable to do it. The areas of strategic convergence are known. A growing, pluralistic and democratic India is a constructive force in Asia and the world. India needs U.S. investments and technology. The U.S. needs Indian markets and skilled service providers. The gap between promise and performance of the two countries lies in the mutual timidity of their governments in treading the path signposted after considerable effort. Roadblocks need to be removed by resolving differences, for which both sides must sit and talk. The renewal of the 2005 Framework for the India-U.S. Defense Relationship is a reminder that in the 10 years of its operation, nothing whatsoever was done to “increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production, and research and development.” India’s contingent and reactive defence policy, including on procurement, compromises security and is a drain on national resources. India has stepped up buying of U.S. weapons; but has not so far co-developed or built them.

Similarly, the absence of energetic pursuit of U.S. support for “a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member,” and the U.S. resolve “to continue work towards India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group” — almost exactly the same words used when Mr. Obama had visited India in 2010 — persuade many Indians that inaction on these commitments might be a sign of equivocation.

Mr. Modi was well briefed in addressing areas of contention, including climate change and World Trade Organization (WTO) issues, indeed, a range of bread-and-butter issues of concern to both countries on which equitable solutions must be explored. In his self-confident interactions on these, he showed his hand on what gives and what does not. On agricultural subsidies, he put across that a large and populous country like India needs flexibility to take care of food security, rural employment, and livelihood concerns through continued domestic support. At the joint press briefing with Mr. Obama, he made public advocacy for “continued openness and ease of access for Indian services companies in the U.S. market.”

At the very least, this visit restored a degree of confidence to a neglected relationship. It has prepared the ground for a lift to bilateral ties, while ensuring in the meanwhile that India and the U.S. get on with operationalising what they can from our multilayered agenda, bridging differences on managing the global commons, resolving bilateral roadblocks on commercial exchanges and investments, building cooperation in science and technology and defence production, and forging a closer strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific region. Notwithstanding shared values and interests, the real traction in India-U.S. relations lies ahead, perhaps with a new U.S. President just over two years away, as India begins to realise its economic potential and augments all aspects of what the Chinese describe as comprehensive national power.

Issues of Surrogacy

With a range of alternative medical solutions to childlessness becoming available, surrogacy has emerged as one route for many couples. While some countries have banned the practice, commercial gestational surrogacy, in which a woman is paid to have a baby to whom she has no genetic link, has caught on in countries such as Mexico and India. After the first surrogate delivery in India in June 1994, India has steadily emerged as an international destination. Relatively inexpensive medical facilities, know-how in reproductive technology, and the availability of women, largely from poor socio-economic situations and who are willing to take up the task, have aided the growth. Today there are thousands of clinics in India that offer such services. From what was generally confined to close relatives or friends in altruistic mode, the network has become extended, with payment of money to surrogate mothers becoming the norm. Services are even being advertised. Such commercialisation of motherhood has raised ethical, philosophical, and social questions and raised fears of the exploitation of women as baby-producers, and the possibility of selective breeding. In several instances, complications have arisen regarding the interests and rights of the surrogate mother, child, and intending parents. Yet, there are no clear legal provisions in place yet. The Indian Council of Medical Research in 2005 issued guidelines for the accreditation, supervision and regulation of surrogacy clinics, but those remain on paper. An expert committee drafted the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, 2010.

The Union government is now set to table in Parliament the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill 2013. Letting single parents and foreign nationals to have children through surrogates in India is one issue in focus. The question relating to the citizenship of children born through an Indian surrogate and claimed by a foreign couple is one outstanding issue. Unscrupulous or mismanaged agencies could wreak havoc with lives. Many surrogacy agencies claim they are offering a legitimate service but in truth they operate in a grey area. The absence of appropriate legal provisions to ensure that surrogate mothers, who often enter into loosely drafted agreements with commissioning parents, do not become vulnerable is a serious issue. Right now, the surrogate mother could find herself with a child she did not plan for, should the clients change their mind. On the other hand, the big worry of the intending parents would be that the baby may not be handed over to them. A comprehensive regulatory framework and binding legal provisions could bring order to the field, but the larger moral question whether human reproduction should be commercialised would still remain.

Politics without Opposition

The new political dispensation is caught between two visible political discourses that do not look compatible at the moment but the political experiment to find a middle ground that obliterates the tension between them is on. The conflict is between development and governance on the one hand and communalism on the other, where the former is ostensibly universal and all-inclusive, while the latter is divisive, discriminatory and sectarian. The possible way to balance this is to browbeat the religious minorities in terms of their claims to an independent cultural identity and visible religious practices; thus the announcement by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief that “all Indians are Hindus” or Narendra Modi’s refusal to wear the skullcap, while making appeals to Muslims and attempts to reach out to them to be a part of the new development agenda. Therefore, it is important to claim that Muslims in Gujarat are better off than under any other government that claims to be secular. This resonates with the slogan that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went to the polls with — “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.”

This further leads to the BJP’s claims that while it is prepared to integrate the religious minorities, it is they who are unprepared to do so. If there is tension between communities or between the discourse of the government and the minority community, the blame can squarely be laid on the latter. In this new mode, the universalism and integrative capacity of the development discourse sits well with the homogenisation of the cultural sphere, and therefore with the project of radical Hinduisation. Further, secular discourse here signifying protective policies and social welfare schemes for specific communities can easily be made to look like appeasement and unsustainable doles, in place of an efficient and robust economy. Secularism is therefore an outmoded discourse of the Nehruvian era that holds back economic advancement.

This logic however does not or cannot be limited to the religious minorities but needs to necessarily be inclusive of the Other Backward Classes (OBC), Dalits and also tribals. In only such an inclusion can the discourse look universal and all encompassing. It is in order to make this adjustment that the BJP has to reach out to OBCs, Dalits and tribals. It is this project which is visible in the anointment of Mr. Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, signifying a process of the Bahujanisation of the Hindu right-wing party. The BJP, as is widely believed, is the first party to have taken upon itself to make an OBC the Prime Minister, unlike all other mainstream political parties, including the Left parties. Representation trumps all other forms of pursuing social justice. It is to further this very mode of pursuing a new kind of politics that Mr. Bhagwat has recently and for the first time publicly supported the policy of reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes at an event in Delhi marked by the release of three volumes on the history of three Scheduled Castes that included the Balmikis, the Khatiks and the Charmakars.

The volume on Charmakars claims that the word “chamar” is an Arabic word, denoting those dealing with leather work. It was with the advent of the British, colonial rule and the process of codification, that the practice of untouchability against the depressed classes came to be rigid. The volumes make a further claim that Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism are all variants of Hinduism; therefore, there were no forced conversions in any of these religions; in fact, even Brahmins willingly converted to these “forms” of practising Hinduism. The volumes make a further plea to write a more detailed history of the tribals also (which the RSS has already taken up). As these were the communities that also resisted attempts at conversion but were unable to resist the might of the “Muslim invaders,” they chose to run away into the forests in order to protect themselves. It is these Hindu communities that began to inhabit forests that are the tribes of today and who have been deprived of the benefits of modern development.

The volumes suggest an interesting way out of the current logjam. They argue that the idea of equality is alien to our culture as it promotes antagonism, and what our civilisation is based on is cultural diversity. Therefore, what we need is not equality — Samantha, but Samarastha — social harmony. The volumes further suggest that by repeatedly referring to certain castes as being Dalits, we only further reinforce their demeaned status. Instead, we need to look at the history of how they have come to be one and pull them out. Therefore, we need to preserve our cultural and community differences but also fight against untouchability, resonating the Gandhian strategy (which partly explains the newfound love of the current dispensation for Gandhi). We also need to celebrate the glorious legends of/in each of the castes in order to restore to them their original pride in Hindu society. These volumes clearly reflect a move towards a de-Brahmanising of the Hindu religion by finding a place of pride for Dalit castes, while blaming the Muslim rulers and not the Hindu sacred scripts or ritual hierarchy or other Brahmanical practices.

The recent shift in leadership in the BJP is a pointer to this, and undoubtedly presents new opportunities to the caste groups that were perhaps kept at some distance in the past by the BJP that was known as the Brahmin-Bania party. It was in this context that Dalit-Bahujan scholar Kancha Ilaiah, in a recent interview, remarked that “if Modi starts the liberation of backward classes, castes and tribes, he can become a cult-figure for backwards” and can be comparable to Abraham Lincoln. With no effective imagination outside modern development and growth, and little reason to have effective opposition to a more representative and de-Brahmanised Hindusim pursued by the BJP-RSS combine, there is a clear possibility of moving towards a new kind of politics without opposition. There is no doubt that the current dispensation is being reasonable in expecting itself to be playing a long innings.

The Message behind the Broom

In launching the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or Clean India Mission, on Gandhi Jayanthi day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to highlight the importance his administration attached to both sanitation and Mahatma Gandhi. Mr. Modi was evidently carrying forward the message in his Independence Day address on the need for more toilets in schools, and for India’s villages and towns to be free of dirt. But the high-profile launch of the mission on October 2 had its own meaning. Mr. Modi wanted to link his campaign to the toilet-cleaning ritual in Gandhi’s ashrams, to emphasise that the seemingly demeaning, menial work was of great import in nation-building. The noise surrounding the launch of the mission was intended to draw in all Indians to the cleanliness drive: everyone was expected to devote two hours a week to cleaning their surroundings. Surely, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been successful as an event in increasing public awareness of the importance of sanitation. The imagery of the Prime Minister taking time off to wield the broom in central Delhi might be of some effect in some areas for some time. But if Mr. Modi was hoping for mass participation in a cleanliness drive that would keep India perpetually clean, public policy must go far beyond symbolism.

If India’s villages and towns are to be dirt-free, what is required is not the involvement of each and every citizen for two hours every week in the clean-up. While that would lend a Gandhian touch of personal involvement, it would surely be a colossal waste of productive hours of skilled personnel. It is one thing to involve political leaders, industrialists and celebrities in sweeping the streets to raise general awareness on sanitation, and quite another to expect every working adult to put in two hours a week in cleaning. True, without the cooperation of citizens, it would be impossible for any government or civic body to ensure clean streets and public places. But this is not the same as requiring everyone in the workforce to engage in actual cleaning. Efforts must be made to de-stigmatise the act of cleaning, and the participation of citizens in large numbers in a mass cleaning exercise, even if as a one-off or annual event, will have a positive effect. The government may not be able to do everything, but voluntarism cannot be a substitute for strengthening civic infrastructure. For ensuring cleanliness and hygiene and improving solid waste management, India’s civic bodies will need to be at the centre of the Clean India Campaign. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will have to be a sustainable programme, and its success ought not to depend on the hours each citizen puts in to sweep streets. A lot can be done to further the ideal of cleanliness without wielding the broom.

For a Place on the World Stage

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while campaigning in Mumbai recently, declared that India has arrived on the world stage. Election rhetoric apart, what does it imply? We have been on the world stage but are not treated as equals. So, the question is this: after Mr. Modi has become the Prime Minister, are we now being treated as equals? Mr. Modi’s visit to Japan and the United States, and the visits by the Chinese President and the Australian Prime Minister to India, would suggest that India is being wooed by the major world economic powers. The Mars Orbiter Mission signifies India’s growing space prowess, though the credit for that goes to the United Progressive Alliance.

Japan has offered India $35 billion of investments in the next five years and China, $20 billion. This includes a Japanese offer of a bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai and a Chinese offer of cheaper and faster trains. Australia has proposed the supply of nuclear material and investments, while the U.S. has promised investment in defence production and cooperation in defence ties and energy. There have been offers as well of teaming up with Indian cities to make them clean and hi-tech, which would help fulfil Mr. Modi’s dream of creating 100 new/smart cities. That all this is happening in the first 120 days of Mr. Modi having taken over is creditable.

The importance of the Modi visit to Japan can be gauged by the fact that the Japanese Prime Minister accompanied him during much of his programme there. The Chinese President landed in Ahmedabad and went sightseeing with Mr. Modi. In the U.S., there was a grand welcome by the Indian-American community and where Mr. Modi’s speech in Madison Square Garden was a grand show. He met the CEOs of some of the biggest U.S. companies and got commitments for further investments in India. There was movement on jointly fighting terrorism in South Asia. Collaboration between some key Indian and U.S. institutions of higher learning has been proposed. The U.S. is also to help India in its fight against poverty and cleaning up its cities.

These promises need to be balanced with reality such as the Japanese refusal to relent on the nuclear issue till India signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Chinese committed much less investment than was expected given the rapidly rising trade with them, and which is skewed in their favour. It is not yet clear how the commitments to more balanced trade would work. The dampener was the confrontation between Chinese and Indian troops at Aksai Chin a few days before the arrival of the Chinese President in India and which continued much after. The Chinese also did not resolve the problems India faces in the production of oil in the South China Sea.

What is India offering in return for what it is getting? Mr. Modi mentioned it in the U.N. General Assembly; he referred to it again at Madison Square Garden in the form of the three “D’s” — ‘Democracy’, ‘Demographic dividend’ and ‘Demand’. Is this a big deal for any of the countries under reference? A Prime Minister who is active and takes charge of situations does not necessarily lead to the building of a strong democracy. That requires the poor and the marginalised to be empowered politically, socially and economically. Yes, it is necessary to boost the investment climate in the country but it need not be anti-poor or anti-worker or anti farmer. Mr. Modi’s economic programme is largely pro-business despite the announcement of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. Thus, the democratic credentials of the new government are weak. The idea of building 100 new cities would mean the draining of resources from the existing 8,000 towns and 6.5 lakh villages or more and which are already in poor shape. The creation of a bullet train service can only be at the expense of the existing and troubled railway network. The “Make in India” programme is targeted at big industry though there is talk of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). This would adversely impact employment generation by displacing the small-scale sector and that could aggravate the already acute problem of unemployment. The democratic content of these and other programmes is weak at best.

We have a large population but does that imply a large demand which could be attractive to international capital? India’s current per capita income is $1,500 which is only 4 per cent of that in the advanced countries. Thus, the average demand generated by an individual is small. India produces only 3 per cent of world GDP, implying a small market size. Since a majority of Indians are below the $2 per capita per day line, their demand is for cheap, low-quality products which the multinational corporations of the advanced nations cannot cater to. It is only if we are able to raise our people substantially above poverty that India can begin to offer “demand” to the advanced nations.

Forty-five years ago, we introduced the Rajdhani train service but have hardly speeded up our other train services since then; in the meantime, China has introduced fast trains. Why has our Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme not fructified since it was conceived in the 1970s? Why have we not been able to make a nuclear submarine? Our mission to Mars is admittedly a success but it has come 50 years after the first interplanetary missions. The more than 40 missions to Mars have laid the ground for our successful mission. Remember, in the 1960s there were no microchips or the massive computing power that exists today. So, it is an achievement but we need to be circumspect about it.

Why are we so focussed on getting foreign investments when foreign direct investment (FDI) is only 2 per cent of GDP? Our internal investment is 28 per cent of GDP and that is what has dramatically come down since its peak in 2008. It needs to be revived while foreign investment can only make a marginal difference to growth. Given the sluggish growth in Japan and the U.S., they are looking for markets and that is why they are offering investment in order to increase their exports to India. Is it in our interests to offer them our markets? If we keep aggravating social divisions and diverting our energies, can we become strong? Clearly, we lack a long-term strategy. In conclusion, it is not that India has not been on the world stage but its relationship with other major economic powers has largely been one-way given that it has had little to offer due to its internal weaknesses. These need to be addressed urgently.

Doctrine of Graduated Escalation

The India-Pakistan “peace process” has produced a lot of process over the decades but no peace. While India is a vibrant, buoyant nation, Pakistan remains a notion in search of a national identity. Yet, given Pakistan’s foundational loathing of India, many among Pakistani strategic elites still pine for India’s unravelling or at least Balkanisation. In this light, the Pakistani military has again escalated border tensions with India. Since the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks it scripted, it has initiated intermittent exchanges of fire along the Line of Control (LoC), including this summer and then in recent days. This month’s artillery exchanges along the LoC were unusual in terms of their ferocity and the sudden eruption in violence, resulting in the highest single-day death toll in over a decade.

In provoking a second series of firing duels along the LoC since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, the Pakistani military establishment — which includes the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — was doing more than using gunfire as cover to allow Pakistan-trained militants to infiltrate into India. It was also testing the resolve of India’s new government while simultaneously undermining Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and derailing any prospect of a rapprochement with India. Every time a Pakistani leader wishes to build better ties with New Delhi, his effort is undermined by the military masterminding a serious cross-border attack or terror strike. Indeed, it was during Mr. Sharif’s previous stint in office that a major Indian peace initiative — as symbolised by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy — collapsed spectacularly, with the bus itself getting hijacked allegorically to Kargil, triggering a war. This has served as a cautionary lesson on how the pursuit of peace can lead to war when one side’s military is not answerable to the civilian government.
The Pakistani military actually sought to test Mr. Modi soon after he won the national election. On the eve of his inauguration, ISI-backed militants stormed the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat. The Pakistani plan was to take some Indians hostage and bring India under siege just as Mr. Modi took office. The plan, however, went awry as Indian security guards at the consulate heroically killed all the attackers. The U.S. blamed the Herat attack on the same ISI front organisation it held responsible for the 2008 Mumbai strikes — the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The LeT’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, remains the Pakistani military’s darling, with his public life mocking America’s $10-million bounty on his head and the U.N.’s inclusion of him on a terrorist list.

The ISI’s war by terror is a reminder that the scourge of cross-border terrorism emanates more from Pakistan’s whisky-sipping generals than its rosary-holding mullahs. The real jihadists are the self-styled secular generals, who have reared the forces of jihad and fathered the LeT, the Taliban and other terror groups. In fact, Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon occurred not under civilian rule but under two military dictators — one (Zia ul-Haq) who nurtured and let loose jihadist forces, and another (Pervez Musharraf) who took his country to the very edge of the precipice. Another reminder is that India-Pakistan relations will be shaped largely by Pakistan’s internal dynamics, especially its civil-military relations. Although it is in India’s interest to help strengthen Pakistani civilian institutions, Pakistan’s civil society remains too weak to influence the direction of ties with India. In the absence of a structural correction to Pakistan’s historically skewed civil-military power equation, a peace dialogue with India only encourages the Pakistani military to carry out cross-border shootings, ambushes and acts of terror.

Such has been Mr. Sharif’s weakening that he not only had little say in the recent appointment of the new ISI chief, but also his government, at the behest of the military, has sought to re-internationalise the Kashmir issue. The intensity of ceasefire violations indeed was designed to help shine an international spotlight on Kashmir and also demonstrate as to who is in charge of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Mr. Modi’s cautious, measured start has masked his discreet gradualism. Border and other provocations are moulding his policy approach, founded on the premise that preventing hostile actions hinges on India’s capacity and political will to impose deterrent costs in response to any aggression. In Mr. Modi’s policy of graduated escalation, pressure on the adversary begins at low levels and then progressively increases in response to the target’s continued provocations and aggression.

There was no Indian reprisal to the Herat attack, and India’s response to the summertime border shootings was circumspect. But, in keeping with the doctrine of graduated escalation, this month’s Pakistani machine-gun fire along the LoC brought a heavy response, including retaliation with 81-mm mortars, which have a range of up to five kilometres. Mr. Modi wasn’t exaggerating when he said publicly, “Pakistan has been taught a befitting lesson.”

Mr. Modi is showing he is no Vajpayee, whose roller-coaster policy on Pakistan traversed through Lahore, Kargil, Kandahar, Agra, Parliament House and Islamabad, inviting only greater cross-border terrorism. And Mr. Modi is clearly no Manmohan Singh, whose peace-at-any-price approach was founded on the naive belief that the only alternative to do nothing in response to terror is to go to war. So, whether it was the Mumbai attacks or a border savagery, such as a captured Indian soldier’s beheading, Dr. Singh responded by doing nothing.

The Modi government, by building a range of options, including to neuter Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail, is indicating that Pakistani aggression will attract increasing costs. If the ISI is planning new attacks in India, with the intent to fob them off as the work of al-Qaeda’s supposed new India franchise, it can be sure that it will invite an Indian response imposing serious costs on the entire Pakistani security establishment.

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