Sunday, 18 April 2021

Flying the skies with the Maharaja ( Sunday Guardian)


During the decade when the UPA was in office, the airline crashed to the ground so far as its financials were concerned.

Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata was that overused word, a visionary. JN Tata had founded Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel in 1903 when he was denied entry into a hotel in that city “because he was Indian”. It was acceptable to the Colonel Blimps to have Indians serve at tables or make the beds, but allowing someone from that ethnicity to enjoy the privilege of staying in a room of whatever hostelry it was that excluded the founder of the House of Tata was “not cricket” to the racist mindset that has fortunately diminished considerably in size in the UK but has yet to disappear. The manner in which life was made impossible for Meghan and Harry, the eagerness with which the Prince was stripped even of his His Royal Highness title, may have been due to curmudgeonly elements within the palace staff or to the usual jealousy between sisters-in-law. If the second, it adds strength to those who argue that Queen Elizabeth and her children and grandchildren do not have a racist bone in their bodies. However, the spectre of being a bit too Churchillian in the wrong way will hover above Buckingham Palace until Meghan and Harry are reinstated in rank to what they were before they left not just their family home but the country itself. 2021 is not 1937, the year in which Edward VIII had to abdicate the throne because he insisted on marrying Wallis Warfield Simpson. Marrying a divorced spouse was not a cardinal sin then, nor should it be now, although this may not be the view of traditionalists linked to the Windsors who believe that any divergence from Standard Operating Procedure in the 1930s would inflict disaster on the British royals. Fortunately for the Crown, Queen Elizabeth has moved with the times, and many expect that she will ensure the return into the fold of HRH Prince Harry and the bride of his choice, Her Highness Meghan. Such a move would strengthen the bonds of sentiment that individuals across the world have for the British monarch, even if some do not share a similar view of the institution of the monarchy. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi effected a cultural revolution in India when she stripped royals of their privy purses and titles (saving Rs 60 crores for the exchequer) in 1969. No Prime Minister in Britain thus far has followed her example of erasing with the stroke of a pen the solemn promise made by Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel to the princes in exchange for the states they ruled, some for centuries. Less than a decade later, after having first imposed the Emergency in 1975 and then made restitution for that by holding free elections in 1977, Indira Gandhi was voted out of office despite having torn up the Covenant entered into between the princes and the Union of India. All in the name of the people of India.

Another Tata who was a visionary was Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata. It would be unfair to blame him for the complexity of his full name, for JRD was not at fault but his illustrious ancestors. Among the assets he created was Air India, which began as Tata Airlines in 1932. In 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that the government he headed was the majority stakeholder, although JRD Tata continued as the Chairman of the Board. The inventive mind of Bobby Kooka ensured that Air India (the Flying Maharajah) became well known across the world. During the decade when the UPA was in office, the airline crashed to the ground so far as its financials were concerned. Even the Frequent Flyer program was handed over to some company of indeterminate ownership. This columnist has had a soft corner for the airline ever since the days when it was the only option available. All that Air India needs is a complete overhaul of its aircraft seats and entertainment systems to once again make it among the finest airlines in the world. A lot of prize slots in several countries were handed out as confetti during the UPA period, but a few good ones somehow escaped this process. As has from the beginning of freedom been commonplace in India, there does not seem to have been any accountability concerning the individuals who crash landed the airline financially. Until he is able to introduce much greater transparency and accountability in the policy and implementation process, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan for India to emerge as an economic superpower may get delayed beyond three terms. Thanks to whichever entity is in control of the Maharajah’s frequent flyer program, this columnist was a few weeks ago abruptly downgraded from the highest to the lowest class in the program. The crime was that he hardly flew at all during the course of the pandemic. Were Air India to have offered reimbursement of the costs of treatment of Covid-19 for customers, the swift downgrade would have made more sense than it did in a situation where flying at all became impossible and is still difficult. Fortunately for his faith in the Maharajah, their earlier class was swiftly restored to all members in recognition of the need for citizens to observe the protocol needed to avoid Covidiot status.

This columnist was among those who flew in the first direct India-US Air India flight (from Mumbai to New York, if memory serves right). Designer on board wear and the usual warm and uniquely Indian onboard Air India service ensured a superb flight. After dinner and a normal night’s sleep given the length of the flight, the aircraft closed in on its destination. There is talk of Air India getting new management. Whoever that is should recreate the excellence that J.R.D. Tata ensured in the years that he was in command of the controls.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

India should learn from Rodrigo Duterte's Unrequited Love ( Sunday Guardian)


Around 200 PRC ‘fishing boats’ have entered Philippines waters and despite love calls from Duterte to his counterpart in Beijing, refuse to leave.

President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte may have his faults, but a lack of confidence is not among them. So convinced was he of the persuasive impact of his charm that he was certain that the leadership of the PRC would reciprocate in a generous manner to his obvious preference for China over the US as the primary ally of his country. After giving marching orders to US forces stationed in the Philippines, Duterte waited for the bonanza from China that he expected would flow from that decision. He is still waiting. In the meantime, the territorial waters of the former US ally are being overrun by the PRC. Most recently, around two hundred PRC “fishing boats”, many of considerable size, have entered waters decreed by a UN-designated agency as Manila’s, and despite love calls from Duterte to his counterpart in Beijing, refuse to leave. Every citizen of the PRC has been told by the leadership of their country that the entirety of the South China Sea belongs to them, and hence that they have a right—indeed, a duty—to roam those waters unmolested by any other country. Even PRC diplomats have caught the mood of Chinese exceptionalism, and have returned to the earthy traditions established by Mao Zedong until such habits got stopped by Deng Xiaoping. Schoolbooks that speak of vast tracts of territory belonging to countries such as India rightfully belonging to the PRC have bred a mindset within the public that make more difficult if not impossible the compromises and adjustments in territorial negotiations with other countries. Compromises that are essential to the escalation of tensions that could even lead to war. The frequent public assertions of the PRC leadership that the South China Sea is as Chinese as the Yangtze river have been accompanied by demonstrations of military power by the PLA. Under Xi, an overwhelming number of citizens of the PRC, especially within the military,are convinced of both the legitimacy of China’s numerous claims as well as the PLA’s ability to secure them by force. The marked change in mindset in the aftermath of the coming to power of Xi in 2012 led to incidents such as the deadly confrontation that occurred at Galwan on 15 June 2020. This was when an Indian patrol came up to what the other side had agreed was within the territory allocated to them. The patrol was nevertheless attacked, and its Commanding Officer pushed to his death. This infuriated his men and led to a violent altercation in which a substantial (but hitherto mostly unacknowledged) number of PLA soldiers were killed along with 20 soldiers of the Indian Army. They lost their lives because of the unexpected pugnacity of a PLA unit that ought never to have been where they were on that day.

Despite every meeting of the Special Representatives across thedecades ending without result in terms of settlement of the border issue, this ritual continues. Every telephone conversation between functionaries in Delhi and Beijing is regarded by sections of the media as a “breakthrough”. A recent consequence of the multiple interactions that have taken place has been the withdrawal by India from vital positions that came under the control of the Army in the Pangong Tso sector. This was on the understanding that the PLA would reciprocate in the other sectors that were discussed during talks between the two sides, both military and civilian. Rather than opening talks on “dis-engagement” in a sector where conditions on the field conferred an advantage to India, such talks should preferably have focussed on sectors where the other side had seized an advantage. The withdrawal from other sectors by the PLA has yet to take place, which ought not to be much of a surprise, given the change in tone and tactics by that military in the era of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Successive governments in India have expended a considerable amount of time in seeking better relations with both Pakistan and China. Given the unimpressive yield from such efforts, perhaps a more productive use of time would have been to work harder in other ways. This would be geared towards ensuring that in the event of a single or two-front kinetic conflict, India would not face its attackers alone as in past wars but would reap the benefit of a previously agreed logistics chain bringing the material needed to ensure that on both fronts, the armed forces of India prevail. Also needed is to work towards a situation where any such attacker would face the consequences of escalation dominance from newfound allies of the world’s most populous democracy. Planning with present and prospective partners needs to be meticulous for these requisites to be met, and those who have supported Narendra Modi from the time he was CM of Gujarat remain confident that such a process must be taking place under his (now national) watch. The next conflict will show this. Given the overall situation where China under Xi is concerned, those wagering on “peace in our time” are likely to be proved wrong, that too before the next Lok Sabha polls in 2024. The impression of a melange of confusing and sometimes conflicting policy moves on the crafting of a “worst case” security matrix needs to be replaced with public awareness that the Modi government has been planning in a manner designed for India to prevail in a future contest. More than anything else, such an outcome would give citizens the energy and confidence needed to ensure rapid progress across a variety of fronts. Among the reasons why Narendra Modi is much more popular than Rahul Gandhi is that in interactions with the public, the former implants hope within the people, the latter despair. Success would promote hope, failure despair.

While he was in the opposition, the current President of Seychelles was opposed to a naval base that would be built by India. He needs to reflect on the swarm of Chinese “fishing boats” plying the waters of the Philippines, and on the intrusions and occupation by the PLA of waters that in UN-sanctioned law belong to the other members of ASEAN. The naval base proposed by India would protect the Seychelles and nearby island countries from a Philippine-style invasion of their space. Such a violation would of course be in violation of UN conventions that Wang Yi once again recently swore to abide by. Keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open would benefit each of the littoral countries of those waters, and this explains the warm response from them to PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar’s vigorous diplomacy throughout the Indo-Pacific Rim.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Ambivalence is neither strategic ambiguity nor autonomy ( Sunday Guardian)


Nehru believed that he was neither ambivalent nor ambiguous, but on the side of ‘non-alignment’, whatever that was intended by him to be in practice.

Friendship is tested in times of stress. In the1962 Sino-Indian conflict, offers of assistance came only after the PLA had demolished the illusion of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon that “China would never attack India”. And the offers came with conditions that were not simply humiliating but impossible to accept for any government relying on the mandate of the people for its power. In other words, there was an ambivalence surrounding the support offered against the intrusions of the PLA that was very similar to that displayed by India towards those countries (the US especially) in the past. At the same time, countries belonging to the “Non-Aligned Movement” that had been lavished with such care by Nehru observed a studied attitude of “non-alignment” during the boundary conflict. True, Bhutan stood by India, but it may be argued that Thimpu was in fact aligned—with Delhi—rather than being part of the “non-aligned” movement. Every other country was silent despite requests from Nehru for support against what was being committed by the PLA on the Indo-Tibetan border, the frontier that had been certified by India as the Sino-Indian border from the start of the 1950s. There had been no ambivalence in the matter of India’s approach to the Peoples Republic of China, with Nehru almost beating Stalin in the race to be the first to recognize the regime founded by Mao Zedong in 1949. Throughout the 1950s, not just nibbling at but gulping down of vast tracts of territory on the part of the PRC took place, with the Government of India silent for much of that period. Nehru’s approach was a make-believe one that implied to the public that there were no intrusions nor any loss of territory to China, when the contrary was the case. Why Prime Minister Nehru chose to mislead the people of India is still a matter of debate, given that the Intelligence Bureau documented the expansion of Beijing’s control over territory that was part of India, while (at least in public) going along with Nehru that “war” was out of the question. Given his clean chit to China even in the matter of the incursions of the PLA, the ambivalence in terms of action of the US once the salami slicing of land by the PLA was replaced with securing huge chunks of territory during October-November 1962 could have been anticipated. With the takeover of most of Xinjiang by the PLA during the 1940s itself, it was apparent that Tibet was next. Nothing was done to enable that territory to defend itself, while the eager welcoming by Prime Minister Nehru of the PLA’s occupation of Tibet gave the needed fig leaf for avoidance of blame, at least to the British, who did nothing in the 1930s or the 1940s. These days, there are those across both sides of the Atlantic who favour a similar “hands off” policy with regard to the oft-threatened occupation of Taiwan by the PLA, except that unlike the Tibetans before they were overrun, it is not pacifist monks who are in charge of policy in Taipei. The PLA is likely to get an unpleasant surprise should they attempt a unification by force of Taiwan.

“Non-alignment” was in effect discarded in 1971 with the signing of the 25-year Indo-Soviet treaty. This had been masterminded by D.P. Dhar, who knew that such a treaty was the only way to prevent China from sending its forces across the Himalayas in the by then inevitable event of India moving militarily into Bangladesh to stop the genocide taking place there. Fortunately, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi shed the ambivalence that had characterised so much of India’s foreign policy and accepted Dhar’s advice over objections from others around her. Once again, as in 1962, the entire “non-aligned” bloc ignored the Pakistan army’s rapine and mass murder in Bangladesh and joined with almost all other UN member countries in looking askance not at Pakistan army war crimes but at the Indian Army’s rescue of the people of that land. Although he leaned towards the Soviet side even in the 1956 USSR occupation of Hungary, Nehru was not antagonistic to the Atlantic powers but simply ambivalent. In some of his moves, he even showed some affinity towards the US and its allies, while in other ways, he exhibited sometimes emphatic, sometimes mild, opposition. In later times, the term “strategic ambiguity” came into vogue (as did the phrase “strategic autonomy”, which referred to India’s sovereign right to buy whatever weapons it liked from whichever countries it chose). However, Nehru believed that he was neither ambivalent nor ambiguous, but on the side of “non-alignment”, whatever that was intended by him to be in practice. There have been PLA incursions and more salami slicing, especially since 2006, once the pacifist Manmohan Singh and his soulmate A.K. Antony were Prime Minister and Defence Minister courtesy AICC president Sonia Gandhi. These were substantially ratcheted up in scale in May 2020 and afterwards. During that encounter, there was no ambiguity about where Moscow stood. It was “non-aligned” in a manner that reflected its close relationship with China. In contrast, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper unapologetically took the side of India. There was no ambivalence there, and there ought not to be in India, a great power that is—given smart policy—en route to being a superpower. Neither ambiguity nor ambivalence will get India among the Top Three, only clarity of purpose and action. Such a clear policy matrix alone can ensure that genuine strategic autonomy is secured for India during Modi 2.0, especially against territorial and other forms of aggression (including cyber and sabotage) by hostile powers.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

DINOs may yet scuttle Biden-Harris policy reset ( Sunday Guardian)


It is up to Biden-Harris to decide whether the health and lives of billions of people should be preferred over an expansion of wealth of a few Big Pharma czars.

Former US President Donald J. Trump often talks about RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). What he is actually referring to are members of his party who are uneasy with the manner in which the Grand Old Party (GOP) since 2016 has been converted into the FTP (Forever Trump Party). Given that the 45th President still has a laxative effect on the Republican leadership, such a situation will change only if the US 2022 midterm polls result in an expansion of Democratic Party control of the House of Representatives and to a majority in the Senate. Even then, the Forever Trumpers will pass the blame onto the majorly intimidated RINOs. The transformation of the Republicans into Trumpers has come about because of the New York tycoon’s transparency in seeking to ensure that the world’s most powerful country retains its white majority, and then President Trump’s willingness to attempt whatever was necessary to ensure such a result. His problem is that the white majority, at least in the US, comprises substantially of folks who understand that skin colour is never a reliable guide to ability or culture. This is something that seems to have eluded Trump associates such as Stephen Miller, the mindset promoted by whom was probably the second most important reason why Trump lost, after the (then WHO-approved) export of Covid-19 to the globe from Wuhan in early 2020. The third reason was the manner in which President Trump filled his team with Wall Street faithful, after having declaimed against that reliable ally of the Communist Party of China (CPC) all through his election campaign during 2016, an error not repeated by Joe Biden, despite the influence of the Clintons and other (often closet) backers of Wall Street over Main Street within the Democratic Party. It was the perception that Hillary Clinton was close to Wall Street rather than to Main Street (while Trump was perceived as opposed to it) that led to the victory of the Republican candidate during the 2016 contest. Bernie Sanders has been a bit careless in permitting several elements close to the Wahhabi International and to those “useful idiots” of the Sino-Russian alliance who work at widening fault lines in US society rather than seeking an expansion of the moderate middle. What cannot be denied is that Senator Sanders and other idealists such as Elizabeth Warren have ensured that the Biden administration has the lowest number of Wall Street favourites on its rolls than was the case with either the Clinton or Obama administrations. This is probably a good enough reason why the FTP (Forever Trump Party) has ensured that within the US Congress, House and Senate Republicans oppose Biden-Harris even more viscerally than they did Obama-Biden.

The $1.9 trillion Biden stimulus package, to be followed (if all 50 Democrats in the US Senate free themselves of the clutches of the FTP, DINOs and Wall Street) by another $3 trillion, outshines even the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Should it be passed and implemented by President Biden, the money would transform the US and reset its society. This will make much more difficult efforts by the Sino-Russian alliance and their domestic “useful idiots” to engineer societal division and consequent chaos in the US in the same manner that they are seeking to do in other democracies, such the UK and Germany, where violent protests have erupted in some locations in a manner not seen for a long time. In India, efforts have also been made to multiply faultlines and to bring tensions to a boil, but thus far these have been less than successful, although an anaemic performance by the economy may alter the situation. Unless the Republican Party reverts into what it was before it changed into the FTP (Forever Trump Party), the likelihood that the Democratic Party will do much better electorally overall than was the case in 2020 is high. The FTP’s only hope is that the benefits of the spending to the immense majority of US citizens (black, white, brown or other) will not percolate sufficiently for a Democratic sweep in 2022, or else be choked off at the start, through the opposition of DINOs (Democrats In Name Only).
It was President Clinton who opened the floodgates to greed through his changes in law involving financial institutions, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi together with Wall Streeters such as Tim Geithner who leaned on Candidate (and later President) Obama to push millions of homeowners onto the sidewalks to lavish money and ensure zero accountability to the few hundred individuals who used the Obama-Bush “reforms” to enrich themselves at the expense of not just much of the population of the US but investors across the world. The decline of US influence began in 2008, although Biden-Harris are attempting a comeback for a country still key to global stability. Among the ways in which this could be done would be to follow the guidebook (belatedly) adopted by President George W. Bush in involving India in the supply chain of the therapeutics that were needed to prevent the loss of millions of lives (mainly in Africa) because of HIV. There is no way that universal healthcare can become a reality in the US on an affordable basis, unless India is made part of the supply chain over the howls of protest from Big Pharma.

Big Pharma in the US has been boasting about the manner in which it has succeeded in developing vaccines for Covid-19. Transparency is needed on the lavish funding authorised by the Trump administration to select entities to ensure this, so that these may be compared with the much smaller amounts spent on developing equally reliable vaccines in India. Not surprisingly, there has been a manufactured outcry against vaccines produced in India, similar to the almost unbearable pressure brought to bear by the US Trade Representative during both the Obama as well as the Trump administration to fully dismantle the laws and procedures which ensure that affordable medication produced in India can save tens of millions of lives worldwide. It is now up to Biden-Harris to decide whether the health and lives of billions of people (including the entire population of the US) should be preferred over an expansion of wealth of a few Big Pharma czars, as took place during Clinton, Bush and Obama. The attempted reset of US policy by Biden-Harris has some way to go before success, but if DINO-FTP obstacles are overcome and President Biden succeeds in his reset, it could be a transformational period in the history of the US, even more than was the case under Franklin Roosevelt.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Organised religion needs to promote gender justice ( Sunday Guardian)


Given the diversity and complexity of Sanatan Dharma and its nearly 1.5 billion practitioners, it is incomprehensible how the presumed tenets of Manu have been accepted as gospel for adherents of a uniquely tolerant faith.

On 12 March, the Times of India edition at Mangalore carried an item about women priests and qazis defying centuries of patriarchy and gaining more and more acceptance within society. To decree that women cannot be ordained as priests is to imply that they are “children of a lesser god”, a proposition that is absurd. In this context, it was a welcome move by Pope Francis to change church law in such a manner that women were permitted to do more of the tasks during Mass that men perform. The expectation is that the time will come (possibly during the time of the present Pontiff) when women will be ordained as priests in the Catholic church in the manner that they are in some of the other branches of the Christian faith. Another significant set of reforms is being carried out by an unlikely leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), who has become the first member of the Al Saud dynasty to repudiate Wahhabism and seek to anchor Saudi Arabia in the moderate faith that represents the fundamental tenets of Islam more accurately. Recently, the Crown Prince has through the patriarchy of the past three centuries of Wahhabism and admitted women to perform several of the tasks carried out in Medina and Mecca, a first for the kingdom. Slowly, restraints on women are being eased, and while progress may seem slow to some on the outside, inside Saudi Arabia they have come across as welcome and much needed changes in a country. In Saudi Arabia, the population is predominantly young and whose leaders are aware that the clock of obsolescence is ticking where the use of fossil fuels is concerned. Certainly, there have been setbacks, as for example through the (later in his term) errors of President Donald J. Trump, when he sacrificed the Kurds to Erdogan or surrendered to the Taliban, forcing the elected government in Kabul join him in such a capitulation. Overall, however, despite the shrill sounds coming from the extreme fringe, the moderate, modern majority in each of the great faiths is asserting itself. Through this, they seek to reclaim ground lost in the past to less tolerant, more exclusivist, elements.

Given the diversity and complexity of Sanatan Dharma and its nearly 1.5 billion practitioners, including several closet adherents in the West, it is incomprehensible how the presumed tenets of Manu have been accepted as gospel for adherents of a uniquely tolerant faith. In his teachings (as understood), a woman has to obey her father in her youth, her husband in middle age and her son in old age. Despite having been told by our former colonial masters that such teachings were “authentic and representative” of Sanatan Dharma, fewer and fewer women are taking such paternalistic opinions seriously. If what the rule maker is said to have written about women is true, Manu must have lost his mother as an infant and never had a spouse or a sister, much less a daughter. Had he been more fortunate, he would have better understood the fact that women are not just the equal of men, but are in many ways better than the latter. Which is why it is welcome that even a casual inspection of social media posts reveals hundreds of women who are priests and a smaller number who are qazis. Or who conduct marriages even within some of the denominations of the Christian faith. There are over 600 women who are Hindu priests in Maharashtra alone, although as of now, only around 30 Muslim qazis, according to the newspaper report mentioned earlier. May that number increase manifold each year with the addition of more reformist religious schools that break away from the fossilized practices and teachings of all too many religious institutions that seem not to notice that India is in the 21st century and not the 19th. This is not to say that there ought not to be places of worship where only those of a particular gender visit or serve, but these need to be the exception rather than the norm.

That gender or ethnicity plays an ugly role in mindsets across the world was shown recently at Oxford University, where a talented young lady, Rashmi Samant, was trolled out of the Presidentship of the Oxford Students’ Union by a cabal of Sinic supporters of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Corbyn wing of the Labour Party, India-phobes from Pakistan and a few of what may be described as Triple H, or “Hindu Hating Hindus”. The CPC enthusiasts disliked the fact that Rashmi was Indian, while India-phobes from parts of the subcontinent found fault with her being Hindu. The Corbynites disliked the fact that it was an Indian and not a PRC or Pakistani woman who was been elected (by 1966 out of 3708) students over her rivals. Should Rashmi Sawant, the elected president of the Oxford Students’ Union, not be brought back after the verbal lynching that she was subjected to, that would remain a stain on the reputation of a once venerated university.

Organised religion needs to promote gender justice - The Sunday Guardian Live

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Quad leaders led by Biden, Modi overcome hostile lobbies to script history ( Sunday Guardian)

The purpose of the Quad is not to cause a war but to prevent a conflict by demonstrating even to the military-minded Xi Jinping that such a war will end badly for the PLA and its army of soldiers who have never seen battle except recently across the Himalayas.

New Delhi: Despite a lobbying effort that began in 2019 after the first meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the four Quad partners, the combination of the PRC, Russian and Wahhabi lobbies have failed to prevent the first ever meeting of the Heads of State (or Government) of the US, Japan, Australia and India. It took three meetings at the Foreign Minister level (the last a short while ago) before the 46th President of the United States Joe Biden came forward with a proposal that a virtual summit be held of the four Quad leaders (himself, Morrison, Suga and Modi) even before a physical meeting of the four at the G-10 summit. It would appear that the ill-advised resistance of Prime Ministers Trudeau and Suga to the expansion of the G-7 to the G-10 by the addition of Australia, South Korea and India has been dropped. A G-10 makes much more sense in today’s geopolitical environment than the G-7, while it is a fact that the re-inclusion of Russia (thereby making the group a G-8) would make little sense now that Moscow has signed on as the junior partner to Beijing in the latter’s geopolitical adventures. The holding of the summit, plus the first-ever joint statement by the four leaders, has upset the calculations of Beijing and its associates, principally Moscow, that such a meeting could be postponed to an indefinite future. The Pakistan lobby in the US and the Russian lobby in India worked overtime to de-legitimize the Quad but failed in the face of the determination of President Biden and PM Modi to deepen the comprehensive collaboration between Washington and Delhi. It is instructive that Vice-President Kamala Harris was present at the summit, as her affinity for India (the country that her beloved mother was born in) is known to her family and friends, which is why her visit to the country will further strengthen the friendship between the two biggest democracies in the world. The purpose of such an alliance, and indeed the Quad, is not to cause a war but to prevent a conflict by demonstrating even to the military-minded CPC General Secretary that such a war will end badly for the PLA and its army of soldiers who have never seen battle except recently across the Himalayas.


Wars are not caused by calculations as by miscalculations. Judged in this light, the rants by Global Times, the English language companion of the Communist Party of China (CPC) flagship, People’s Daily is a signal that the law of unintended consequences could be leading the present leadership in the CPC to actions as would inevitably lead to a kinetic conflict. Once launched, apart from the safe forecast that neither side will want to risk the destruction of the human race by igniting a nuclear conflict, it is difficult to predict the point where a war involving the two superpowers and their respective partners will end. Given the balance of forces, such a conflict will terminate in the overthrow of the existing leadership of the “losing” entities, whether it be the leaderships in Moscow and Beijing or that in Washington, Delhi, Tokyo and Canberra. Just as the self-inflicted defeat of the Indian side in the 1962 conflict with the PRC marked the close of the ascendant phase of the prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru, whichever side gets the worse of the armed encounter (which is certain to be carried out in multiple theatres, given the advantage of escalation dominance held by the Quad) will see a rapid erosion in trust in the leadership and consequent moves by either the ruling party or the people or both to depose the individuals responsible for the situation. There are those on the outside who regard the outpourings of the Global Times as being merely the propaganda part of Agitprop of the CPC, but this seems unlikely. The comments and conclusions are such as would cause amusement (or in some cases, bemusement) rather than fear, so out of touch with facts on the ground are the stated conclusions of the GT editorial writers.


It is precisely such an obvious (at least to those outside the bubble occupied by the CPC leadership) disconnect from reality that is cause for steps designed to prepare for the inevitability of armed conflict while talking about—and hoping for—peace. Given that the Global Times reflects the view of the world as seen by the leadership core of the Communist Party of China, it is clear that the leadership of the world’s most domestically powerful political party is completely out of touch with ground reality, and is living within the “leadership bubble” in a world populated by Alternate Reality, much as the 45th President of the United States, Donald John Trump, was. In his case, even the defeat on 3 November 2020 did not shake him loose from that Alternate Reality universe inhabited by him and his close cohorts, who still maintain that they won the 2020 presidential polls and only foul play by the Democrats, cowardliness by the courts and treachery by Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) caused the swearing in of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr on 20 January 2021, rather than Trump himself for a triumphant second term. It was the disconnect from reality that caused the downfall of Trump, a disconnect mirrored in the feverish reports of Trumpian media about what was going on within the US. These days, the same quality of a separation of reportage from reality is evident in the columns of what must be regarded as the reflector of the views of the PRC leadership, the Global Times. In recent days, it has spoken of moves to bring Delhi and Washington together as the equivalent of teaming up with mafiosi, forgetting that the country that has spent more on building good relations with the US than the next nine countries engaged in a similar effort combined is the Peoples Republic of China. If building better ties with the US is such an odious activity, why does the Chinese Communist Party seek to improve ties with the world’s most powerful country on a persistent basis? Or in the Alternate Reality that holds sway inside the Zhongnanhai bubble, are such moves good only for the PRC and bad for other countries, who presumably should show their wisdom and decency by signing on to the efforts being made by Beijing to replace Washington at the top of the global pyramid? According to the Alternate Reality revealed by Global Times, India is engaged in forming a “cabal” aimed at the PRC, a country that enjoys a trade surplus of over $60 billion annually (all import flows licit and illicit considered) from one of the world’s poorest albeit biggest countries. Neither the US nor India has ever sought to degrade the security of the PRC in the transparent manner that GHQ Rawalpindi has been over seven decades and counting, with assistance from the PLA. Is the combination of Pakistan and China that has been immeasurably strengthened under General Secretary Xi Jinping not a destructive cabal targeting India? No, according to the Alternate Reality accepted as truth in the CPC leadership and revealed by Global Times, it is a saintly combination that ought jointly to be awarded the next Nobel Peace Prize. It is this disconnect from reality that is worrisome, as such lack of an anchor—any anchor—to facts on the ground were what led some powers in the 1930s to plunge the world into a global conflict. The 1941 attack by Germany on the Soviet Union, followed by the immediate alliance of the UK and the US with the USSR sealed the fate of the regime in Berlin, although their own bubble of Alternate Reality kept them from understanding this almost till the final days of their existence. The rants of Global Times is why the Quad is at the core a defence and security alliance, and which is what it needs to be to enable the Indo-Pacific to overcome efforts at converting its waters into a private lake. While their own role in such a development seems not to have penetrated the Alternate Reality bubble, what seems to have embedded itself in the thinking there is similar to that seen in the Reichkanzlerei in Berlin in June 1941, which was that the Red Army would be a pushover rather than the instrument of death it turned out to be for the Germans. The Alternate Reality bubble in the PRC leadership appears to regard India much as Berlin saw Moscow in an earlier era, as inconsequential. They forget that this time around, India under Prime Minister Modi is working towards crafting a global alliance that would ensure that a kinetic encounter with the PLA would end only in a single direction that would be less than welcome to the Global Times.

In the bubble world that events in recent years have revealed that the CPC leadership core is living—and believing—in, the disconnect between ground reality and the filtered perceptions fed by courtiers upwards to the top has ensured that a succession of mistakes have taken relating to countries across the present frontiers of the PRC. President Duterte is known to have a soft corner for General Secretary Xi Jinping, and there are several tycoons in that country who have made immense profits by tying up with Chinese businesses. Despite their influence, the manner in which the claim (upheld by an international tribunal) of the Philippines to the Spratly Islands was rubbished by Beijing has cooled much of the goodwill towards that country. Given the way in which Manila is being treated, it is only a matter of time before “money ceases to speak”, and even Duterte will need to establish close links with the Quad, something the armed forces have been seeking for two years. Now that it is clear that the US under President Biden is committed to the protection of a free and open Indo-Pacific against efforts to convert much of its waters into a PRC lake, it is expected that Hanoi will also establish an increasing number of linkages with the Quad, with Indonesia certain to follow. Just as the UK and France are natural members from Europe of the Quad Plus format, so are the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam within ASEAN. Indeed, a strong case can be made for renaming the South China Sea the ASEAN Sea, as the latter designation would more closely fit the ground reality of littoral rights over the waters. The PRC claim is based on ahistorical accounts and maps deliberately drawn for the purpose. Just as the time has come for the G-7 to morph to the G-10 (with the addition of Australia, South Korea and India) as suggested by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the time is approaching for the Quad Plus format that includes the five additional countries mentioned, two from Europe and three from ASEAN. Both Laos and Cambodia will be outside the grouping, as they have joined Pakistan in becoming a state that has adopted a position of subservience to the dictates of Beijing.


Once again, thanks to Global Times accurately reflecting the thinking of the CPC leadership core about the situation in BRICS and the SCO, it is clear that Beijing seeks to ensure that both groups bend to the dictates of the PRC. Any country that dares to assert its independence from PRC dictates is to be thrown out. India should never fall into the trap of leaving on its own, but should participate fully in BRICS and SCO meetings. In each, its views need to be presented forcefully, even as Beijing and Islamabad join together in presenting an India-phobic viewpoint. Should General Secretary Xi Jinping not come to India for the BRICS summit, that unfriendly gesture could be reciprocated by PM Modi declining to travel to China for the next future conference held there. Serious thought needs to be given of a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, as public opinion in several countries is leaning towards a boycott as comprehensive as that seen during the 1980 boycott of the Games at Moscow. India erred in not joining ASEAN and in allowing Pakistan back into the Commonwealth. Neither SCO nor BRICS are the personal property of any of the member countries for them to discard those who refuse to bend to their dictates. It is astonishing, given the pride of the Russian people, how completely under the tutelage of Beijing that Moscow appears to have become, and by extension a facilitator for the Pakistan military in its operations against certain countries.


Enormous lobbying had been resorted to by the PRC-Russia-Pakistan lobby in the US, the Pakistan and PRC lobby in India and the PRC lobby in Australia and Japan to prevent the Quad summit that took place on 12 March. This has happened despite the billions of dollars that have been spent on such efforts, especially in the US. Both President Biden as well as Vice-President Harris have shown that they are aware of the reality of Cold War 2.0, including that this may switch to a kinetic form, especially given the assertive and aggressive moves being made by the PRC across the southern and eastern arc of its borders. In this, they are joined by Prime Ministers Modi, Suga and Morrison.
Now that the Sino-Russian lobby together with Pakistan have failed to block the first ever Quad Summit, the next focus is to mobilise the well-paid assets that the PRC in particular has in Washington to lobby for the same de-coupling of commerce from security-related tensions between China and the US. It will be remembered that until 2020, profits from the operations of PRC-controlled entities in India financed the PLA in its offensives across the Himalayas as well as the finances needed for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In effect, thanks to the de-hyphenation of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, tensions and conflict with trade and commerce, India remained the second biggest contributor to the balance of payments surplus of the PRC, after the US. The effort will be to ensure that a collective of voices rise to a crescendo in the US demanding that “tensions with China not stand in the way of business”. In other words, an India-style de-coupling of commerce from security that ended only when PM Modi announced the apps ban that stunned the Chinese side.


The outbursts of the Global Times about the Quad, specifically the increasing role of India in the group, underline the frustration felt in Zhongnanhai at the progress being made towards a matrix of cooperation that covers several issues, including health and technology. In an age of bio-terrorism health too is security-related, as is technology. It cannot be forgotten that General Secretary Xi has made no secret of his plan to equip the military with high-tech weapons. These are not just meant for parades but for use against countries that need to be “taught a lesson”. Once the architecture of the Quad reaches a certain threshold of effectiveness, it is not India that will be taught a lesson but its adversaries. A future Quad must evolve into a Quad Plus, with only the four original members having the veto power. Ultimately, the Quad will overshadow a UNSC that has become dysfunctional as a consequence of Cold War 2.0 in much the same way as was the case during Cold War 1.0. The next steps are a small secretariat as well as air, land and sea bases where the militaries of the four countries can train together. The Daulat Beg Oldi airfield would be a good location to have joint air exercises, while the waters around the Senkaku islands would be the perfect location for naval exercises. War is inevitable if those at the top fear war. This is the lesson of the 1930s and needs to be remembered while dealing with another revisionist, expansionist power that is threatening peace, prosperity and stability across the Indo-Pacific.

 Quad leaders led by Biden, Modi overcome hostile lobbies to script history - The Sunday Guardian Live

Time for dual citizenship in India ( Sunday Guardian)


Agree to dual citizenship, provided this is confined to vetted citizens of countries friendly to India.

No other country in the world has a policymaking matrix that clings so obtusely and obstinately to long obsolete “past precedents”. An example is the refusal to countenance dual passports from selected (friendly) countries, given only after a thorough vetting has taken place. The fear of making changes in a context where everything around has changed reflects a lack of confidence in our country within the policymaking community. This is where those in governance continue to differ from the people they rule. In the 21st century, the people of India—especially the young—do not any more have even a smidgen of an inferiority complex while scanning the world. True,India remains less than impressive when judged by per capita metrics, as for example, having as many desperately poor people as Sub-Saharan Africa. Living and literacy standards lag much below those reached by countries further east or much further to the west. Much of the persistently patchy performance can be tracked to the indifference of most politicians towards anything other than benefits for themselves, friends and family. Although outward expressions of pride and loyalty to the country and its people are numerous, many conduct themselves in their public duties in a manner suggesting that they regard the country and its people with contempt. Many times an apparent “superiority complex” has roots in the contrary emotion. The way in which even ageing politicians dress up in denims, sports shirts and trendy headgear while travelling in private to “developed” countries indicate their wannabe desires. Apart of course from their need to have a receptacle for moneys made from India but clandestinely parked abroad. Settling a close family relative in an “advanced” country (preferably as a citizen) is an admission of the fact that several of those who rule India see the country as the inferior entity that it was considered to be by British colonialists in pre-1947 days. Exactly as the colonial administrators did, many of their successors regard India as simply a means of personal gain, with no obligation to give anything back except the minimum needed to fool voters into backing the politician concerned, a low standard of expected performance that explains several of the suboptimal choices that policymakers have made in India. Countries where policymakers have pride in their country fashion policies better suited to growth and stability than in countries where the colonial carpetbagger mindset continues to hold sway within the policymaking and policy implementation community.

Such a pervasive subcutaneous inferiority complex about a country that has the longest continuous civilisation in the world is bred out of an ignorance of the actual Idea of India. This is not the Nehruvian construct, which places preponderant weightage on the most recent six centuries of national life, and dismisses as either irrelevant or mythical the remaining 90% of scientifically provable Indian history. The Idea of India is the country and its entire compound of civilisation comprising the Vedic, the Mughal and the Western strands. It is lack of such comprehension that facilitates the greed within the policymaking community that has so diminished the overall per capita performance of India in comparison to other countries since the 1950s. Unfortunately, a persistent colonial complex manifests itself in multiple ways. Throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s, it was possible for many times more citizens of India to have migrated to the UK and to other Commonwealth countries, and in the 1970s to other countries. This was constrained mainly by the difficulties involved in securing even so fundamental a right as a passport. A consequence was that, especially in proportion to the population, several times more Pakistanis were able to settle in the UK than Indians. It was only around the 1990s that it became progressively easier for a citizen to secure a passport, and in these days of Modi, the process is as smooth as ought to have been the case from the 1950s.

Until the end of the Soviet Union in 1992, Cold War 1.0 between the US and that now forgotten country saw India in effect within the Soviet camp. Given the way in which the US and other countries working in tandem (such as the PRC) were seeking to cripple India’s nuclear and space capabilities, it was impossible to visualize a situation when dual passports would be acceptable to India. It is now the era of Cold War 2.0 between China and the US. Although much is made of the country remaining non-aligned for eternity (the theme of External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s otherwise insightful book on foreign policy), the realty is that India has chosen a side, and it is not that of the PRC and its all-weather partners such as Russia and Pakistan. Despite romantic feelings for Russia, in which far too much relating to USSR days is being imagined by Lutyens policymakers, circumstances are propelling India in the direction of an alliance with the US and its partners to stymie efforts by the Sino-Russian alliance to achieve primacy first over the Indo-Pacific before they unitedly move on to the Atlantic. In such a context, it makes sense to agree to dual citizenship, provided this is confined to citizens of countries friendly to India and who have been vetted before being cleared for dual nationality. Eternity makes no sense except to a philosopher or a sanyasi, and the existing policy of refusing dual citizenship “for eternity” needs (as do many other policies) to be despatched to the rubbish heap.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Despite GHQ-PLA unrestricted warfare, India's time begins now ( Sunday Guardian)


The battle of systems for mastery over the Indo-Pacific will be decided during the current decade. The reality is that the PRC seems much more formidable than it actually is in operational terms, as became clear at Galwan last year.

Manipal: The founder of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Mao Zedong, sought to create a New China out of the debris left behind by the decades of chaos since the close of the 19th century. To achieve that, he sought to engineer a “New Citizen”. Thus began the process in the 1950s of “dispensing with the olds to bring in the new”. Dissatisfied with the slow pace of progress of his societal reforms in a population taught from childhood to revere tradition, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. The GPCR was technically continued until 1976, but in effect was abandoned by the close of 1971. By then, its managed dissent against much of the CCP leadership at different levels had paralysed the party apparatus and rendered it helpless in the face of Mao assisted by the military led by Defence Minister Lin Biao. The presumed heir to Mao suffered the same fate in 1971 as did the NKVD executioners of Stalin’s Red Terror in the USSR. Lin Biao “died while attempting to flee to Russia” in a commandeered aircraft. With a shattered party unable to question his moves, Mao carried out the longstanding wish of his to befriend the US as a counter to the USSR. Mao also saw to it that the most prominent reformist still left in the CCP, Deng Xiaoping, was preserved from death or irreparable obloquy. Soon after Mao’s demise in 1976, Deng took control of the CCP and launched his production reforms in the favourable investment conditions created by the alliance with the US. Within a generation, the PRC had become a major economy that rejuvenated its once shattered agriculture and industry. Another generation later, the PRC became the other superpower soon after the reins of control were handed over to Xi Jinping in 2012.


It had been Mao’s dream since the 1930s to make his country the centre of global gravity, but it was CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping who first expressed this objective aloud. Even more telling than his words were Xi’s actions. So far as India was concerned, he made his intentions clear in 2013 by approving the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which cut through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and ended in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean through the backbone of Pakistan. From the start, the CPEC was, in essence, a security pact that created an amalgamated GHQ-PLA alliance designed to counter India within the subcontinent and beyond. In this partnership, it was the PLA that was in the driver’s seat, with the PRC paying the bills and GHQ undertaking “special projects” in India and elsewhere as part payment. In the US, for example, the PRC and Pakistan missions have worked closely if not always visibly together, with the latter facilitating access to domestic policymakers by the former, especially in quarters where PRC diplomats are usually unwelcome. With the commissioning of the CPEC, Xi has linked the PRC to the destinies of Pakistan, as a meltdown in that country through civil disturbance or reverses on the battlefield would have a knockdown effect on the PRC itself. Given the gulf between society in Pakistan and that in China, it is a titanic gamble that General Secretary Xi has embarked upon. In that process, he appears to have dispensed with any substantive effort at crafting policy that would establish a cooperative relationship with India. There remain several policymakers in the Lutyens Zone who remain oblivious to this fact, and who comfort themselves in the honeyed words uttered by diplomats such as Wang Yi in their friendlier moments towards India. It is a matter of astonishment that the security consequences of CPEC, especially regarding the CCP position on Kashmir, may not have been adequately factored in by several policymakers in India, perhaps as part of the hangover of the long decades of reliance on the USSR. The implicit assumption is that there is no real difference so far as India is concerned between that entity and present-day Russia. Through design and by circumstance, Presidents Putin and Xi have fashioned a military alliance that is growing stronger by the day. The implications of this are obvious, and yet appear to be disregarded in many of the still extant elements of policy. It is a relief that Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Modi 2.0 is finally making headway in clearing away the underbrush of outdated concepts. The PM is replacing them with those that more closely reflect the priorities of the 21st century in the circumstances caused by the battle of systems. This is the basis of Cold War 2.0 between the US and the PRC. Fortunately for Xi, romantics still in thrall to the pull of the “peaceful and mutually gainful co-existence” illusion abound in the US and the EU the way they do in India. Hence, the CCP’s confidence that the relationship between Washington and Delhi will never come even remotely close to that between Beijing and Moscow, but will remain a half-hearted and patchy pairing that would be of little value in a substantive crisis. Such a crisis could be caused not just by kinetic action against one or another of the two biggest democracies in the world, but through asymmetric actions such as cyberattacks on power, water and financial grids, especially in India, where awareness of such a mode of aggression is not as high as it needs to be.


Australia or Japan rushed to form part of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) led by the PRC rather than await the revival (under a new name) by President Biden of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). There has been a rush towards European brand extinction through the EU signing a comprehensive trade protocol with Beijing. Such steps make clear that in policymaking, hope triumphs over experience among elites in the more advanced democracies. Whether it be the carefully choreographed rollout of a digital currency that will be anchored to Blockchain or the creation of alternative (to US-led) Eurasian land and maritime supply chains through the Belt & Road Initiative, General Secretary Xi has made no secret of his intention to position Beijing at the top of the geopolitical pole displacing Washington, before he goes into retirement. In the case of India, it is not the sometimes soothing tones of Foreign Minister Wang Yi but the movements of the PLA that have made it transparent that the PRC (specifically the PLA) is fully backing GHQ Rawalpindi’s objective of attempting to seize control of much of the (remainder since the 1948 ceasefire) state of Jammu & Kashmir. That there will be further moves in this direction is a given. Under the circumstances, withdrawal from positions as the Kailash Heights may again be ascribed to the primacy of hope over long experience. There may of course be data in the possession of the government that may have made such a withdrawal desirable even before any PLA disengagement takes place along the entire Line of Actual Control (LAC), but from an outsider’s perspective, it is difficult to fathom what such considerations could be.


That Xi Jinping is fixed on achieving during his tenure as CCP General Secretary the objective of comprehensively overtaking and replacing the US in power and standing throughout the globe is now obvious, as is the methodical manner in which the General Secretary is seeking to achieve that goal. Obstacles need to be cleared up, and among the most significant is an India that exhibits strong growth and stability. Although growth has decelerated during the past few years in this country, the potential is for India to (a) become the destination of choice for investors looking for an exit from the PRC, (b) link with other Quad members and secure the Indo-Pacific as a waterway that is free and open to all countries, rather than having to go through a gatekeeper (c) put into the field fighting formations if need be in the millions on land, sea and air that can partner with others of like disposition to blunt any effort by the PRC and its allies to overawe other countries through kinetic means, and (d) combine with partner countries to ensure superiority in technology and in innovation, including those needed for the carrying out of the various types of warfare enunciated in the PLA doctrine of “all out war”. This being the case, trusting that an unconstrained India would remain friendly or at least relatively harmless to core CCP objectives is too big a risk for those in charge at Beijing to take. Better, they feel, to sign on to the GHQ Rawalpindi strategy of promoting a societal meltdown in India through expansion of faultlines and economic slowdown through a drumbeat of asymmetric attacks in multiple sectors. These would serve to weaken both public as well as state confidence and will to resist, besides enervating the economy. The only good result from the CCP leadership viewpoint would be an India incapacitated from ever achieving anything close to its potential. At all costs and by all available means, a repeat on the part of India of the spectacular performance of the PRC during 1981-2010 needs to be prevented. Given this, those Lutyens Zone policymakers with an optimistic perspective of the trajectory of Sino-Indian relations may be suffering from the same syndrome that began in 1951 and lasted until the final months of 1962. It is clear from his public statements that Prime Minister Narendra Modi fully understands the seriousness and nature of the threat that is being faced by India from the GHQ-PLA duo. The need now is for that consciousness of reality to filter down to policymaking levels that have too long been invested in earlier formulae geared towards appeasing Pakistan and the PRC in the expectation that such generosity will get reciprocated. It has never been, but that has not stopped those in favour of a policy of consistent appeasement from their refrain of “Peace in our time” being just around the curve. Of course, provided another concession is made to either Rawalpindi (Islamabad is inconsequential in policy towards India) or Beijing, or to both simultaneously.


As predicted, access to information about the activities of the Sino-Russian alliance in the US (together with US-based networks associated with Pakistan) has resulted in a considerable dimming of the G-2 (US-PRC partnership) mentality that was prevalent during the initial six years of the Obama administration. A substantive pivot to the Indo-Pacific finally took place only during the final two years of President Obama’s period in office, but in the case of Biden and Harris, in less than two weeks from 20 January 2021, the new US administration pivoted to an Indo-Pacific strategy. Of course, elements within the Biden administration with a long history of lucrative contacts in the PRC have been loath to use that term, preferring to continue to describe the region in the manner favoured by Beijing, which is Asia-Pacific. After all, come 2025 and in the eventuality of a Democratic Party defeat in the presidential polls, they may need to tap their former patrons across the Pacific once again to keep themselves in the style to which they have become accustomed. Fortunately, unlike the expectation in some of capitals that appeasers would dominate the policymaking process in Washington once President Biden got sworn in, such elements are much fewer in number and lower in influence than was earlier expected. The Secretary of State, the Defence Secretary and the National Security Advisor in particular are clear-eyed about the reality of Cold War 2.0, even though sometimes the US President himself seems to be hesitant to acknowledge this in public. This diffidence has not constrained Joe Biden from ensuring that clear signals have gone to Beijing that the 46th President of the US is resolute in confronting the most important security challenge facing his country. These included the invite given to the well-regarded Bikhim Hsiao, Taiwan’s Representative in Washington, to attend the inauguration of the President. This is the first time since 1979 that such an invitation had been given.


Taiwan is equally a significant future partner for India in the development of advanced tech. R&D centres could be set up by Taiwanese tech companies in locations in India. Rather than further clog the roads of Bangalore or Delhi, what would make better sense would be to locate them in smaller towns that have the ecosystems needed to nourish Big Tech. The emerging San Joses of India need to be discovered, but they are there. Their ecosystems include quality education, restaurants, cafes and other opportunities for diversion from work, as well as engineering colleges and medical schools that could provide skilled recruits for tech enterprises relocating to India from the PRC as well as take care of health needs. Not only Taiwan but Japan as well would be a likely entrant in such a tech relocation from the PRC to India. This is why Beijing is aware that the only country that has the capacity to absorb investment on a scale that matches the People’s Republic of China is India. And they intend to do something about it, together with “all-weather” ally GHQ Rawalpindi. Such a downsizing of India’s potential and future needs to take place before the alliance between India and the US in particular acquires dimensions such as the relocation to India of segments of the assembly lines of key weapons platforms relating to land, sea, air and space.


The battle of systems for mastery over the Indo-Pacific will be decided during the current decade. The reality is that the PRC seems much more formidable than it actually is in operational terms, as became clear at Galwan last year. Swarms of drones and robot soldiers look good on paper but have yet to prove their value in actual combat. By contrast, India has a reservoir of up to 40 million youths who can be trained in combat in eighteen months. A National Service Corps as well as much greater coverage of the National Cadet Corps would kickstart the process of training such youth, giving them experience and knowledge in a manner that reinforces their faith in the future of India. Not singly but together, the US and India possess the capability of ensuring that the waters of the Indo-Pacific remain free and open. In times to come, those in the Biden administration who are restraining talk of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” will inevitably lose to those who are better aware of the existential nature of the struggle that is being waged with a determined foe, and of the importance of pairing with India to bring this about. Meanwhile, the Modi government has not been idle. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar in particular has almost imperceptibly fashioned defence collaboration agreements with Sri Lanka, the Maldives and now the Philippines, with more to follow. An Indo-Pacific Charter may be next, as also a Freedom Alliance that would resist efforts at seeking to appropriate any part of the global commons for the exclusive use of any single country or the grabbing of territory by force. By around 2023, the chessboard would be set and the game would begin in earnest, although limited kinetic action may take place even earlier. This would include the asymmetric warfare that the GHQ-PLA combination specialises in. This is not simply a threat but also India’s opportunity. This could be India’s time, provided correct policy choices be made.

Despite GHQ-PLA unrestricted warfare, India’s time begins now - The Sunday Guardian Live

Rahul's RSS card works, but for the BJP ( Sunday Guardian)


Rahul’s verbal sallies on the RSS reinforce a perception that Congress continues to seek to make the majority community accept the second-class status given to minorities in some countries.

Rahul Gandhi seems to have hit upon a formula that he hopes will establish him as the alternative to the BJP and to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is to attack the RSS in a manner that suggests that he has spent very little time meeting its members or visiting its offices. Surely a necessary requirement before seeking to be established as an authority on what is probably the world’s biggest NGO. This columnist was explicit that the best favour that Rahul Gandhi could do for his party in 2019 was to rule himself out of the Prime Ministerial sweepstakes. The reverse took place. The victory of the BJP in 2019 was not a done deal in 2018, but became so once Rahul was declared the Congress Party nominee for the Prime Ministership. In 2009, the UPA was assisted by the contrast between L.K. Advani and not Sonia Gandhi as hoped for by the BJP but Manmohan Singh. While Advani was an able leader, he lost his chance for the Prime Ministership by backing A.B. Vajpayee for another innings in 2004 rather than staking his own claim. Had he been the PM face of the BJP in the 2004 polls, it is likely that the NDA may have limped back to office. Once the party lost to the Sonia-led UPA (and given the warmth with which the avuncular Vajpayee regarded the AICC president), Advani was damaged in a manner that gave the advantage to the Congress Party in 2009. As for the 2014 polls, had a more conventional leader than Narendra Modi been nominated as the Prime Ministerial face of the NDA, while the combination may have secured a slim majority, the BJP certainly would not have. Modi made the difference. In the 2019 polls, it was the combination of the Balakot surgical strike and Rahul Gandhi being seen by voters as the Opposition alternative to Modi that clinched the issue for the ruling party. The BJP improved upon its majority in what may be called a “Reverse Rahul Wave”. Not that the heir to the Congress leadership had not worked hard at improving his standing among voters. He clearly saw his ticket to victory as being a series of sharp attacks on Narendra Modi. That the Prime Ministership is still regarded with awe and respect in India, and that as PM, Modi has that protective layer around him, was ignored by Rahul Gandhi. The Congress leader’s attacks on Modi only seemed petulant and excessive, especially in the absence of any clear evidence or even specific charges against the individual who since 2013 has remained the most popular politician by far in India.

It was Swami Chinmayananda in the 1970s who first spoke of a “Hindu vote bank”. There has been much talk about the BJP being the favoured party of the RSS, but the reality is that the other national formations appear to have shut their doors to that organisation, thereby leaving its immense number of cadres little alternative but to gravitate to the BJP. The RSS itself has come a long way, asking only that a citizen of India acknowledge that he or she belongs to a country with a recorded history that goes back more than 5,000 years. Especially since Mohan Bhagwat took over as the head of the RSS, more and more of those flocking to its functions are dressed in denims and would be perfectly in place in any street in Los Angeles or London. RSS Sarsanghchalak Bhagwat asks only that the embrace of modernity never abandon its roots in the millennial traditions of India. Decades ago, this columnist visited the RSS offices in Delhi to meet on the then head of the organisation, K.S. Sudarshan. He took with him a friend who was a precursor of Rahul Gandhi in that he was a fiery critic of the RSS without having spent a minute meeting its members or visiting any of its offices. It was a bit of a surprise for his friend to enter what seemed to be a cosy old-folks’ home when he was expecting a bustling office filled with individuals ceaselessly seeking (in his reckoning) to create divisions and faultlines in Indian society. Grandfatherly individuals wandered around, many either talking to each other softly or reading newspapers. While this columnist went upstairs to meet Sarsanghchalak Sudarshan (who had a wonderful sense of humour and inside a somewhat forbidding exterior a very warm personality), the friend was left below in the company of the elderly “fanatics”. By the time this columnist returned after more than an hour— Sudarshan was an amazing raconteur and time flew in his presence—the once fierce critic of the RSS had befriended some of the grandfatherly figures he had met and was smiling and beaming away along with them. Perhaps Rahul Gandhi should do the same. After all, to “cross the river by feeling the stones” was an adage popular with Deng Xiaoping, some of whose immediate family such as his daughter know Rahul and Priyanka well. The RSS has several million active volunteers, and many more times that people who are its sympathisers. Each of them has friends and family, who do not recognise the RSS supporters in their midst as the ferocious fascists that members of the organisation have been painted as being by those phobic to the RSS. Each of them will lose some of whatever respect they have for Rahul Gandhi when they encounter statements such as that the RSS is the same as the terror schools of Pakistan. Interestingly, the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind (an organisation known and respected by this columnist) paid tributes to K.S. Sudarshan on his demise in September 2012. It was remembered that the former RSS Sarsanghchalak used to visit mosques quite often to exchange views on religion and society with the believers he encountered there.

The verbal sallies of the heir to the AICC presidentship on the RSS simply reinforce a perception (strengthened by the manner in which the Congress Party conducted its campaigns in 2014 and 2019) that the party continues to seek to make the majority community accept the second-class status given to minorities in some countries. It is the Congress Party that has made Swami Chinmayananda’s forecast of a Hindu vote bank come true. It is the Congress Party embrace not of secularism but of the contra concept of “Nehruvian secularism” that consolidated much of the BJP vote reservoir. Rahul Gandhi is by his tactics reinforcing that pool of voters, which is why BJP president J.P. Nadda must be grateful to him. In the meantime, Rahul by his language will continue to demonstrate to the tens of millions of RSS members and sympathisers that he needs to know a lot more about the NGO that he has joined a long list of politicians in denouncing.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Euro-Atlantic Quad takes shape under Macron ( Sunday Guardian)


A ‘coalition of the willing and the able’ should be formed from within the European members of NATO that would, in effect, form a Euro-Atlantic version of the Quad.

The Quadrilateral Alliance, a partnership that dare not speak its name in public, was formed in recognition of the need for select countries in the Indo-Pacific to work in unison, so as to ensure the maintenance of free and open access in its expansive waters. The Quad is not directed against any particular country, unless that country seeks to claim key waterways within the merged ocean as its exclusive territory and seeks to use coercive methods to keep others out. A PRC military analyst has correctly said that “the Indian Ocean is not India’s ocean”. Neither are the China Seas a part of the PRC. Both belong to the global commons. In such a context, seeking to establish choke points and control access through methods such as the occupation of uninhabited islands or rock formations, or creating artificial formations within the waters, goes against the “free and open” concept and seeks to establish ownership much the way colonising powers did over others in previous centuries. Any Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, for instance, needs to be based on the fact that the waters of the sea belong to all nations, although it may be said that by their location, the members of ASEAN have a special interest in the South China Sea remaining beyond the control of any single power or combination of countries. The Quad may find it of value to work on its own Code of Conduct ideally with ASEAN for the South China Seas that reinforces the centrality of the tenet of free and open access to the ocean. In case some members of ASEAN hesitate to sign on to such a view, individual member states such as Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines may be contacted to secure their assent to the proposition that the South China Sea belongs to the global collective, with ASEAN having the privileges associated with territorial congruence with its waters. Such a stance would be more likely were the Quad to itself become less ephemeral and tentative. It is clear which country some of the Quad members seem to be nervous about annoying through such an inevitable process, especially in the context of their experience over the past years. The years since 2013 in particular have demonstrated the need for an operationalisation and formalisation of the Quadrilateral Alliance in order to ensure that its objectives in the Indo-Pacific are met.

Just as there are Dialogue Partners in select country groups, there need to be Dialogue Partners in the case of the Quadrilateral Alliance. Vietnam and Indonesia need to be in such a list at the earliest. Many countries in Europe have almost as strong an interest in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific as they have in ensuring the same set of conditions in the Atlantic. Merging NATO with the Quad or within an expanded security and defence construct in Asia may not be the best way of ensuring its smooth functioning. Rather than expanding the Indo-Pacific Quad by adding outside countries such as the UK and France into the alliance, it would be better for a “coalition of the willing and the able” to be formed from within the European members of NATO that would, in effect, form an Atlantic version of the Quad. Joint meetings of the Indo-Pacific Quad and the Atlantic Quad could take place at regular intervals, sometimes among the members of the two blocs, and on other occasions, with Dialogue Partners of both sides participating. Given that it is also an Atlantic power, the US may join such a Euro-Atlantic Quad besides the Indo-Pacific Quad of which it is already a part of, with a grouping of the UK, France, Germany and the US. Such an innovation should be accompanied by an expansion of the G-7 into the G-10, with the addition of Australia, South Korea and India as suggested by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It has been said that Canada and Japan are unhappy at Johnson’s proposal to expand the G-7, but a G-10 would carry much more heft in the global community than the G-7, and make better sense in the context of evolving realities. Reports of the opposition of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga are hopefully exaggerated or inaccurate. The CCP under General Secretary Xi Jinping has understood the importance of regarding the Eurasian continent as a single entity for strategic purposes. Such comprehension has been the basis for Xi’s moves such as the Belt & Road Initiative and the establishing of the Sino-Russian alliance together with geopolitical chess grandmaster Vladimir Putin. Both Putin and Xi know that the path of their alliance towards primacy over the waters of the Atlantic needs to follow the establishment of primacy of the Sino-Russian alliance in the Indo-Pacific. Once this is established, the way is clear for the launch of a drive by the Sino-Russian alliance to establish a similar primacy over the waters of the Atlantic as well as intensified land pressure on the Baltic states and on other countries that were once part of the USSR. While the PRC would have the lead role in the Indo-Pacific, in the case of the Atlantic, it would be Russia that takes on the leadership.

President Emmanuel Macron of France is the closest of his predecessors to resembling Jacques Chirac, who in many particulars was similar in his approach to Charles de Gaulle. While the merit of some of the Macron initiatives may be the subject of debate, what is clear is that he is a strategic thinker who is unafraid to do what he believes is good for his country. President Macron has further reinforced France’s ties with India. Within the European Union, the unimaginative if steady Angela Merkel helped ensure that (with the UK no longer present), it is France that is in the driver’s seat on ideas. Creating an Atlantic Quad is essential in a context where sooner or later, the Atlantic is likely to witness the same contest for primacy that is presently being waged in the Indo-Pacific between the Sino-Russian alliance and those countries that are challenging their claim to primacy, such as India and the US.

Euro-Atlantic Quad takes shape under Macron - The Sunday Guardian Live