Professor Madhav Das Nalapat, a scholar and the director of the Geopolitics and International Relations Department of Manipal University holds the UNESCO Peace Chair. He is a columnist for the Sunday Guardian and the Pakistan Observer. Though he has no formal role in the Indian Government, his policy influence at the highest level in India is considerable.
Professor Nalapat was in the Indian Think Tank who were in Sri Lanka recently to participate in a panel discussion organized by The Bandaranaike Centre for International Relations on India under Modi: Relevance for the Region.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, the Indian academic said that the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the same mould as President Mahinda Rajapaksa does not like to be pressured by external forces and is committed to protect the interests of Indians irrespective of their ethnicities.
He says that New Indian government is a growth oriented government and the new government will strive to increase the growth level by two digits in the future.
Professor Nalapat adds the present government of India will take the correct stand over Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.
The full interview:
QUESTION: There is a perception however wrong, that India considers China its ‘enemy’. What we keep hearing is that there is a new tack in China - India relations. Your take?
ANSWER: Our enemy is basically underdevelopment. Poverty, disease, ignorance , lack of housing proper nutrition and sanitary facilities are our enemies.
We should not divert our attention from the main enemy which is poverty. This enemy can only be fought by high rate of economic growth.
China has lifted around 600 million people from poverty mainly by high rate of economic growth under the rule of Chinese leader Den Xiaoping.
The new government of India is very growth oriented and programs are underway to ensure a double digit growth in the economy.
China is a 10 per cent threat and 90 per cent an opportunity for India. What has happened so far is that we have concentrated on the 10 per cent threat while ignoring the 90 per cent opportunity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is concentrating on the entire 100 per cent. He wants to take the advantage of the huge opportunity presented by China while dealing with the threats.
Engaging with China is much better for India than the earlier policy of ignoring her because of the 10 per cent threat.
QUESTION: There may be apprehensions that India’s traditional ally the United States may be miffed. There may be reaction from the US. Some people identify India as a proxy of the US. Being so close to the United States would there be any adverse reaction? How would it impact on India?
ANSWER: The US is the last country to object to the stronger Indi-Sino relationship.
No country has closer ties with China than the United States. There is a huge amount of trade and people to people contact taking place between the US and China.
China holds the largest number of US treasury papers. US is the largest market for China. China is a source of cheap production that keeps inflation low in the United States.
US is also a source of profit to China that produces jobs in China. It is not logical for them to object if India follows the US path in dealing with China.
The US path of dealing with China is to take advantage of Chinese commercial opportunity while protecting against certain Chinese threats, for example cyber interception.
China is a high technology source. Chinese technology evolved very rapidly under the Chinese President Hu Jintao. It is no longer an inferior technology.
If Chinese companies are allowed to invest in India, more and more employment avenues will be open for Indians. A higher proportion of money goes to the Indian pockets.
The previous government’s policy of avoiding Chinese investment while buying Chinese equipment in huge numbers will not help.
India got a US$ 36 billion negative balance of trade with China. US$ 36 billion balance of trade out of a total trade volume of US$ 70 billion is in China’s favour due to this policy.
The previous government’s policy resulted in loss of Indian jobs and income from Chinese investments.
The government led by Narendra Modi will encourage Chinese investment creating jobs and upgrading technology and skills in India.
This move will help Chinese companies to have access to Indian markets and its brain power. Only 43,000 out of 99 million Chinese outbound tourists come to India as tourists.
Countries like France, United States which objected to India for having closer relations with China have themselves opened the door to Chinese investment and tourists. Why should India keep the door closed for Chinese tourists and investors?
India can increase the income accrued from the tourism sector by another US $ 10 to 12 billion, if it attracts about 5 to 10 million tourists from China, per year. It makes sense to introduce visa on arrival for Chinese tourists.
We have made the beginnings to increase the Chinese tourist influx to India. Chinese tourists will no longer wait for weeks to have Indian tourist or business visa.
Today the Indian embassy in Beijing takes a maximum of two days to process the business or tourist visas for Chinese.
Later on visa on arrival for Chinese tourists and businessmen are to be introduced.
QUESTION: What is your role in the Modi Government?
ANSWER: I have no role whatsoever in the Modi Government. I am an independent academic who gives independent views. Our department in the university may be consulted by various departments and we give our independent views.
We have no connection with the government at all.
We are proud of our independence from the government. We are a private university and we have no government money at all. Being a private university from its inception in 1952, we have no role in the government at all.
QUESTION: As a columnist have your views been more partial to the Indian Government?
ANSWER: I made a prediction that Narendra Modi will become the prime minister of India within the next ten years. Since then I always believed that he would become the prime Minister and he would be a good prime minister. It is no secret. That is obvious in my column and writings.
I have a very positive opinion about Prime Minister Modi. I have been an observer of Modi’s style as an academic, analyst from an impartial perspective.
QUESTION: It appears that in India that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pro Hindu to the level that some people are uncomfortable more so as he has strong connections with the RSS. Your comments?
ANSWER: I do not believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a religious frantic. He is a secular, broad minded and liberal person. Because of that fact, he poses a big challenge to the Congress party and regional parties. A campaign of demonizing has been launched against him.
This campaign has been very successful in many countries such as the United States and United kingdom more than in India. He provides strong focus of leadership. The Gandhi family always believed that only the Gandhi family can provide that kind of all India leadership.
The regional parties depend on backward castes to keep its vote bank . India has never had a prime Minister who came from the backward caste.
The backward castes which are the base for many of the regional parties started turning to Prime Minister Modi with the declaration of Modi as the Prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in September last year.
Internationally many capitalists will not like Modi because he is a strong defender of Indian national interests.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also facing the same challenges as Modi. He is a strong defender of Sri Lankan interests.
When the battle against the LTTE terrorists was going on, he defied international pressure from all the big countries to give Prabhakaran one more chance and finished off the LTTE.
These people who saw strong leaders in Asia as negative, can not say so openly. They can not say so to Prime Minister Narendra Modi because India is too important.
They are silently against him now. Previously they were openly against him. Now They are silently against him.
QUESTION: Who are they?
ANSWER: Certain powerful countries are silently against him. I do not want to name these countries. These countries are hopeful that the Modi government will be a failure. That Premier Modi will become unpopular and the Congress party will come to power in 2019.
As Sri Lanka is a smaller country, they can afford to say nasty things about what they really feel about President Rajapaksa. They keep silent of what they actually feel about Premier Modi.
In their hearts, they pray that Modi will be defeated. They also pray that President Rajapaksa will be defeated.
QUESTION: There are certain countries that do not like to see strong leadership in Asia. Why is that?
ANSWER: You cannot blame them for the simple reason that the basic geopolitical architecture of the world is the same architecture that was there in 1945.
The US became a dominant power in the world and Western Europe became the dominant countries after 1945. They do not want to surrender that dominant position to Asia.
These countries have resisted efforts to raise the voting rights of countries like China, India and Brazil in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
China being the second largest economy of the world has lower voting rights than smaller countries in Europe.
The United States and Western Europe have a monopoly in terms of voting rights in the IMF and the World Bank.
These countries do not want this monopoly abandoned or diluted.
They fear that strong Asian leaders will create an Asian network. The Asians have been thought to fight each other and nobody talks about a united Asia. They talk about Middle East, central and South Asia, South East Asia.
The Asian Cooperation Dialogue in Kuwait is the beginning of a united Asia. The biggest nightmare for the US and the Europe is a united Asia.
They have nightmares about strong Asian leaders coming to power. They fear a unification of these leaders to ensure that the architecture of the globe is changed to reflect the current realities of the world.
There are strong leaders in the world today. Prime Minister Modi in India, President Xi Jinping in China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan and President Vladimir Putin in Russia have emerged as strong leaders.
Hopefully Japan will understand that their future lies in Asia. So far Japan is an outsider as it is more closer to Europe. But China, India and Russia certainly will make an effort to bring them closer and ensure a better architecture for the globe which is more reflective of the reality and ensure more justice to the emerging economies.
QUESTION: Efforts on the part of whom?
ANSWER: The efforts are being taken on the part of BRICS. The BRICS has established a development bank and a stabilization fund.
The World Bank would insist that Asian and Latin American and African countries to follow policies that help United States and European companies.
The WB is functioning on behalf of American and European companies and whenever it gives a loan, it insists on conditions which helps these companies.
BRICS Bank does not have those conditions. BRICS insists on better access to the companies within BRICS and the companies from emerging economies such as Sri Lanka.
Speculation on all these Western currencies are very high. Western Speculators make huge amount of money speculating on the Rupees and Chinese currency.
China has ensured that speculators are lessened and India under Prime Minister Modi will ensure the same thing.
This is what is really drives the fear of strong leadership.
There were expectations that India, Brazil, China and Russia will not be united for the establishment of BRICS bank or the stabilization fund. The BRICS leaders were united for the establishment of BRICS bank and stabilization fund.
They are going to establish an infrastructure Fund headquarted in Beijing. These measures will help create a new architecture in geopolitics.
QUESTION: All neo colonial exploitation is continuing and the imperial powers are still continuing in the same fashion. They say that Gaddafi wanted to establish a bank for Africa. The result was that he was ousted. Similarly there is opposition to the BRICS bank and the unifying of forces in Asia.
ANSWER: There is no doubt that misinformation and disinformation will spread. I was not happy that India voted against Sri Lanka at Geneva. It created a very bad precedent of using Human Rights for geo political objectives.
It is now a reality that certain countries in the Middle East have no democracy at all, but none of the countries pushing against Sri Lanka have made any efforts to bring these countries to the dock for lack of democracy. This is entirely based on geo political considerations.
The previous government led by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was heavily influenced by the United States. Both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were very much influenced by the United States and Europe.
This created a dent in the foreign policy which was not in India’s interest. My view is that Narendra Modi is not pro US nor a Pro Chinese. He is pro Indian. Whenever a need arises, he will engage with the US, China.
In the case of Sri Lanka, this policy will be followed on the basis that Sri Lanka is a united country. In that situation the entire Sri Lankan people will become friends of India.
There was a strong opposition against Prime Minister Modi when the invitation was sent to President Rajapaksa to attend the swearing-in ceremony within his own coalition.
He was firm in inviting President Rajapaksa and it was a correct decision.
Prime Minister Modi will consider that Sri Lanka is a united country and frame policies which are reflective of the realities.
For this reason, I am very optimistic about Sri Lanka India relations as well as India China relations.
QUESTION: You said that Prime Minister Modi wanted to invite President Rajapaksa amidst stiff opposition from certain parties. The Prime Minister cannot possibly ignore the political reality in Tamil Nadu. Somehow TN does have an impact at the centre. Does this fact reflect that there are still formidable forces in Tamil Nadu which oppose President Rajapaksa?
ANSWER: Indo-Sri Lanka relations are extremely important. The geo strategic position of Sri Lanka is very important in the Indian ocean. In my view the most important relationship that Sri Lanka has is with India. Sri Lanka will have to be with no other country but India.
I am certain this fact has been well understood by Sri Lankan leaders. Indian tourists are a major source in Sri Lanka. I feel it is in the interest of Sri Lanka to have free visas for Indian tourists. We will ensure that our visa policy be liberalized to ensure that more Sri Lankan tourists come to India.
A large part of business coming to Colombo port is from Indian containers. India is already playing an important role in Sri Lanka.
Our relations with India will become much stronger when the Indian government knows that Sri Lanka is a friend of India and not playing any third country card against India.
Prime Minister Modi does not like pressure. He does not like to be pressured.
The new Indian Premier will not succumb to any international pressure the same as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It is important that the Sri Lankan government should give a welcome to Indian investment and closer contacts with India.
Those in Sri Lanka who are talking about playing the Chinese card and Pakistan card against India are purely domestic views for the simple reason that no card can compensate the Indian card. The Indian card is the biggest card in Sri Lanka’s arsenal of weapons and Sri Lanka has to play the India card.
President Rajapaksa has focused on Sri Lankan national interests. He is very friendly with India and he knows India very well.
He has brought peace to Sri Lanka. He is hopefully bringing investment to Sri Lanka. Investment from any country including China is mostly welcome. Chinese tourists, Chinese investment are mostly welcome.
But anti Indian activities should not be encouraged in Sri Lanka. The Pakistan military have still got some anti India activities. They should not use Sri Lanka as a base to act against India.
I was the first person to warn about the Lashkar e Taiba terrorist organization in Sri Lanka. This terrorist organization poses a serious threat to India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Terrorism is a danger to Sri Lanka, Nepal and China too.
Sri Lanka ‘is very careful to see that its territory is not being used’ for anti Indian activities.
Doors are open to have very strong relations between the two nations and bring prosperity to the both sides.
QUESTION: Experts say that President Rajapaksa is aware of this and stopped Visa on arrival for Pakistanis. There is no case of Sri Lanka playing the third country card. What are your views?
ANSWER: Sri Lanka is very active in recognizing this threat and taking steps against it. I should commend Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who was the first person to warn about this situation that was coming.
Very clear steps have been taken by President Rajapaksa and by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. It is very important that human rights should not be used to cover criminal and extremist activities. Criminal activities should not take shelter under human rights which are meant for the people who obey the rule of law.
If people are terrorists and actions taken against them it cannot be taken as a denial of human rights. Nobody has the human right to conduct terror operations. Nobody has the human right to propagate extremist propaganda. President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have taken very effective measures against this threat.
The people of India have understood this stance with greater appreciation.
QUESTION: Lots of Sri Lankans feel that India was playing the big brother card. We do not have military power and naturally we are veering towards China. We are playing no card but we do not have an alternative. What is your response?
ANSWER: It is wrong If any country has a big brother attitude. Any such attitude on the part of Indian officials should be condemned.
We are very happy that Sri Lanka gets billions of investment from China, billions of dollars from Gulf countries, from Japan and all across the globe including India.
We want to see that Sri Lanka and Indian militaries are much closer. I was very sad when there were some protests against Sri Lankan military persons entry to India.
I want to see a large number of Sri Lankan military personnel training in India. A lot of joint activities between the Sri Lanka Tri-forces with India are needed.
They can join with militaries of other countries also. Sri Lanka has a very proud heritage and nobody forget that Sri Lanka protected and promoted Buddhism. It was protected by China, Sri Lanka and Thailand. These three countries have a role in protecting Buddhism.
QUESTION: There used to be a perception among Sri Lankans that India is hegemonic in the region and all countries are being interfered with. Why this perception and is the new Prime Minister going to change that perception?
ANSWER: In the Indian tradition neighbours are treated as the members of a family. Prime Minister Modi is very much in that tradition. When a happy event takes place, neighbours are invited. Prime minister Modi in keeping with that tradition invited the leaders of neighbouring countries to participate in the celebration of his government coming to office.
In my view the PM is definitely touched by the quality of equality. The new Prime Minister’s first visit was to Bhutan. This shows that India does not have a question with the size but the quality. It is not the quantity but the quality that matters. India’s relations with Bhutan is very warm and of a high quality. He wanted to pay a tribute to that quality.
He warmly welcomed the Sri Lankan President to India despite heavy opposition against the visit. India is very powerful and big economy in the region. Interaction with India can be beneficial to the region.
There are people in Nepal who do not want India to have hydropower. They do not want India to buy gas from Bangladesh. They do not want Indian companies to invest in Sri Lanka. This is going against the interest of the people of Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
PM Modi is going to make certain offers to Pakistan. This will ensure that prosperity of many people in Pakistan is dependent on sound relations with India. When that happens, relationship will improve.
The relations with China and South Korea and the relations between China and Japan have to be considered.
Prosperity in China and Japan is heavily dependent on each other. Though both are not happy with each other they want to have a peaceful situation and they prevent any kind of extremist policies. The idea is to build a win-win system in which the whole region will become prosperous.
All countries are welcome but no country should try and use one of our neighbours as a tool against the basic security interests of India.
Premier Modi is like President Mahinda Rajapaksa comes from a humble background. When a leader comes from a humble background, he respects individuals, human beings and the people. I am very hopeful that a new kind of Indian diplomacy will be implemented
QUESTION: That also brings me to a point where there is divergence of perceptions. When you say countries should not be used as a platform for launching terrorist attacks, the first thing that comes to the minds of people here is that India was used as a platform to launch the armed movement which had devastating consequences. How do you view this?
ANSWER: These things were done by the Gandhi family and Premier Narendra Modi has nothing to do with the Gandhi family.
We have had an unhappy past. We have different kind of leaders and the future is going to be different from the past.
Certain things were done which in my view are big mistakes. I am not making excuses for them. From the Indian point of view help given to the LTTE is negative. Those things were done by the Gandhi family. There is big difference between the Gandhi family and the Modi government.
Closer cooperation in all fields can only be possible through greater contacts between the people of both countries. More students should learn in each other’s country. There should be more respect to each other’s traditions. I have been a follower of The Buddha since I was 20. I am grateful to Sri Lanka for having preserved Buddhism. I think more contact is what is needed.
Narendra Modi is the first post Nehruian Prime Minister. I cannot believe that he will do the mistakes done by Prime Minister Nehru. He will avoid those mistakes.
QUESTION: When you say that the Modi Government is the first post Nehruvian Government, what about the governments under the premiership of Narasinha Rao?
ANSWER: Former Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao and Lal Bahadur Shastri tried very hard to escape from the Nehruian policies. Shastri passed away before he could succeed. In my view Shastri could have transformed India in a very good way had he continued for 10 years. Rao had another five years to transform India but he was defeated by Sonia Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi split the Congress party by launching a strong campaign against Rao that he is an anti Muslim. Whenever a leader is doing good things, efforts are being taken to blacken his reputation and to weaken his support base.
Modi is a much stronger position where Rao and Sastrhi could not succeeded. Nehru saw the government as the supreme. He wanted ‘all powerful’ governments.
Nehru wanted a system the same as British colonials that government has the supreme power over its citizens. Premier Modi talks about minimum government with maximum governance. He wants to reduce the power of government over the citizens. It is now legal for an Indian citizen to himself sign a certificate otherwise he has to go to a government office to certify a certificate. Government officer will not know the citizen but he will certify it, if he is paid a bribe.
The new Prime Minister says he is a citizen of India. Let’s trust him and believe him. He is reducing the power of the government and increasing the power of the citizens in many small ways.
That is why he is post Nehruvian. I have no personal relations with Prime Minister Modi. It is purely professional contact. I meet him occasionally as an academic. In my opinion the power of citizens rises to the level which is there in the Western democracies.
QUESTION: There have been columnists who have said President Rajapaksa was requested to implement the 13th Amendment by Prime Minister Modi. That was seen by some of them as the beginning of relations on a wrong foot? What is your response?
ANSWER: Prime Minister Modi is a very direct person and he speaks in a frank and open way. Frankness and openness should never be mistaken for enmity and hostility.
It is better that friends speak frankly with each other. I am sure your President has spoken in a frank way. He is also a very direct and frank person.
In my view, Sri Lanka is going to a situation of devolution of authority to different parts of the country. I think the Prime Minister was expressing that. I do not think he was in any sense trying to put pressure on Sri Lanka. He has a habit of speaking frankly to any person.
This should not be interpreted in a negative way. President Rajapaksa is highly respected for destroying terrorism. It was a serious threat to Indian security.
QUESTION: There is negative feedback from the UN Human Rights Council. The government has been put in the dock unfairly in some quarters as far as Human Rights are concerned. Development is taking place in the country as well as the economy is on a high plateau. What is your personal views on Sri Lanka after the end of war?
ANSWER: I do not want to express my opinion about the internal developments in Sri Lanka.
I have studied President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President Rajapaksa has got a very good policy - Three language policy. He is stressing the importance of the use of the English language.
The Sinhala leadership in the 1950s destroyed the future of Sri Lanka by downgrading the use of English. Sri Lanka could have become a 100 per cent English literate country by 1975. The competitive advantage and brains of Sri Lanka were not properly used as English language was given less and less importance from 1950s.
Sri Lankan leaders have made a big mistake in blocking the spread of English.
President Rajapaksa is rectifying this mistake. Sri Lankans are the most brilliant and intelligent people in the world.
The three language formula is very important and it is very much in the Buddhist tradition. Tamil is spoken in Buddhist temples too.
I saw Lord Ganesh in a Buddhist temple. Temples of The Buddha have warmly welcomed Tamils. This is very much part of the global Buddhistic tradition.
Certain elements from abroad are planting information and trying to create certain perceptions. My view is that the people of Sri Lanka are becoming prosperous and my hope is that they will gain that prosperity in the future too.
It is not my business to comment on political and internal issues.
QUESTION: Some of these issues have been made into issues at the United Nations Human Rights Councils though they are internal issues. What are your views?
ANSWER: The UNHRC is something that Sri Lanka should not take very seriously. It has become an international joke. It ignores certain things.
I am also the UNESCO Peace Chair and I may be thrown out from the post because of saying this. But I am prepared to take the risk.
The UN has become an instrument of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is a public relations agency of the NATO. The United Nations is in the habit of selecting certain countries to be ignored while another group of countries are selected for attack.
QUESTION: On what basis are they making the selection?
ANSWER: Look at the way the UNHRC is focusing on some countries. They make the selection on the basis whether the governments are dominated by the West or not. If President Mahinda Rajapaksa goes to Paris, London and Washington and say that we will do what these countries want in Sri Lanka, then no resolution would come from the UN.
They will abandon it completely. But President Rajapaksa is independent and a proud Sri Lankan, these countries are going after him.
India will take a correct stand in Geneva as the new government is pragmatic and a progressive one.
That is why we need new architecture. You have a president who wants to have a new architecture.
The independent stand of President Rajapaksa is very much appreciated by the global community. We hope that other leaders will also take the lead and have this independent stand.
QUESTION: Both President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Modi are accused by some quarters because they care about the majority community. This is being interpreted as an anti minority policy. There seems to be a huge backlash. Why is there this kind of negativity? Is it because we were one time colonies? Are we still tied to some kind of colonial paradigm?
ANSWER: The reason is Buddhism and Hinduism have high potential appeal in the Western society. If missionaries and monks from India and Sri Lanka travel to these countries, millions of people may get attracted to the old ancient faiths of India.
This is something very worrying to these countries. So they want to demonize Buddhism and Hinduism. For example they are demonizing Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar by saying Buddhists are violent murderers. They talk of Hindus as violent murderers. The core philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism is non violence.
They want to create an image that Hindus and Buddhists are violent. I think we should not be worried about this. We should ignore it.
People will understand the truth. The core point is economic development. If there is strong development all these propaganda will have no sway. The existing leadership will remain stronger and they will focus on development which is not related to any community or minority.
The difficulty was that colonial style governments looked after the minority. They kept the majority weak by giving extra facilities to the minority.
This is a part of the divide and rule system adopted by the colonial rulers. That should be avoided and every body should be given equal rights.
Whenever a situation arose in India, former Prime Minister and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi said the first priority is for the minorities. And this created a backlash.
The government’s first priority should be to serve all the people and not the minority or the majority.
QUESTION: There is also a view it is not easy to bring economic development to the countries in Asia unless governments are not more authoritative. They point fingers at Singapore and Malaysia. What is your idea?
ANSWER: Let’s take China for example. There is lot of freedom for business and other activities.
The governments should give freedom to individuals for good education including in the English language and they should spread the internet as much as possible.
Internet and easier access to business are needed for economic development while tightening the grip on law and order to prevent extremism and violence.
There is good and bad aspects when authoritarianism is considered. A knife can be used to cut fruits as well as harm people too.
It is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Strong government is good for the citizens.