Sunday 3 September 2023

PM Modi speeds up Blockchain in digital drive (The Sunday Guardian)

 The RBI needs to remember that unless global crypto norms get established as suggested by the PM, several of its measures may have a negative impact on domestic jobs, revenue and economic growth.

In times of crises, people in India turn to gold, and this is what they did soon after the 1962 aggression by the PLA took place. The austere Finance Minister of India, Morarji Desai, came up in 1963 with what he thought would be a solution to the swelling imports of gold. Ban import of gold completely. For millennia, the people of the subcontinent had been purchasers and holders of gold, often for use as a last resort in case times turned sour. To expect them to stop buying gold was a leap too far of faith in the potency of government edicts in a sprawling country. Till Morarji’s ban, India had not just been an importer but an exporter of gold, often in the form of jewellery. More than two million citizens were directly or indirectly involved in the gold business. Overnight, they lost their occupations, and less scrupulous individuals took their place in the now illicit gold trade. It was from India’s 1963 Gold Ban that Dubai began its ascent as a major trading hub. Sending gold to India through a medley of ways became a lucrative business in the sheikhdom. Among the undesirable side effects of the banning of gold was the appearance of the mafia, in the shape of illegal importers of gold from Dubai to India. Smuggling of gold remained a profitable business in India until 1992, when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao once again legalised the trade by scrapping the ban. During the UPA period, Finance Minister Chidambaram imposed a 10% duty on imports of gold. After that, smuggling once again became viable, and illegal operators entered a boom period. Not surprisingly, recorded gold imports fell drastically and collections from the new tax were small. Business in gold flourished, but illegally and in cash, with the government getting no revenue out of such business. An import duty on gold in excess of 5% promotes not revenue but smuggling of the precious metal. Dubai’s rise as a trading power dates back to the banning of gold imports in 1963. Had Narasimha Rao’s policy of permitting the gold trade not been reversed by the UPA, by now India would have been the global hub of the gold trade, and would through its exchanges exert a powerful effect on not just supply but price of the precious metal. Unsustainable taxes and overzealous regulation only succeed in driving away legal activity to other shores and inflating the illegal economy.

More than a third of the GDP of the Irish Republic has its origin in a few high-rise buildings in Dublin that serve as corporate headquarters for companies selling their goods across the world. Rather than having headquarters in their home countries, they operate from Dublin because of the lower tax that needs to be paid. 10% of a million is 100,000, while 40% of 100,000 is just 40,000. A low tax and easy compliance system that promotes growth would generate far more revenue than a high tax regime and regulatory mechanisms that soak up much of the time of top and middle management in matters of compliance (rather than in market development and product upgradation). CCP General Secretary Xi has converted the business environment in China into a morass, thereby giving a chance for India to acquire a faster and faster growth rate. This has begun to happen during Modi 2.0, and needs to be in full bloom during the next five years.

There is need to be watchful that those with control freak mindsets, such as those behind such self-goals as those made by Morarji and Chidambaram on gold policy, are kept out of economic policymaking. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has subtly reminded the Reserve Bank of India that the central bank should not kill jobs in the belief that higher interest rates (rather than lowering supply constraints) would curb inflation. All that higher rates would do would be to reward those (mostly external players) who depend on arbitrage for their millions. Instead of cosying up to arbitrage vultures, central bankers need to give them a wide berth. In the US, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are slowly choking the status of the US dollar as the reserve currency of the world by the Fed’s high interest rates and Treasury’s Russia sanctions. However, in other fields the Biden administration is doing well, among which is the rapidly emerging market in crypto assets. Binance (a PRC-controlled crypto platform) exulted at the fall of FTX, but before long, it too was substantially taken down, together with Coinbase. The hand of US authorities was scarcely concealed in such takedowns. As a consequence, the US-based NYSE and CMX are emerging as the biggest crypto exchanges in the world. That honour could easily go to India. There was a time not long ago when India had over a hundred million crypto wallet traders. Since then, a crackdown supervised by the central bank has seen almost all such traders migrate to other platforms, none of which are based in India. Worryingly, several migrated to PRC-controlled platforms, and as a consequence, while authorities in India became unaware of crypto trades by Indian nationals, the CCP was in the know. When an asset is not tax deductible when it loses value, but pays a hefty tax when it gains value, few will hold that asset and make legal trades in the taxing country. Those behind the “crypto crackdown” in India had the effect of stifling a domestic industry that continues to grow worldwide. Central bankers need to pay attention to the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ignited the massive digital revolution that has been taking place in India over the past six years. The RBI needs to remember that unless global crypto norms get established as suggested by the PM, several of its measures may have a negative impact on domestic jobs, revenue and economic growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has looked towards mainstreaming Blockchain technology and ensuring the creation of platforms based on that technology. Once this happens, exchanges and the transactions taking place in them will be transparent, and therefore tamper proof where operators skilled in rigging and manipulation of stocks and commodities are concerned. PM Modi is right, for Blockchain is the future. Crypto assets are inevitably going to be a part of that future. India could have been the global hub of the gold trade, but Morarji and Chidambaram made that possibility stillborn. Another example is Prohibition, which was once imposed in Haryana. All that Chief Minister Bansi Lal succeeded in doing was to ensure the proliferation of mafias in his state, not stop the consumption of alcohol. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, by adopting Bansi Lal’s ways, has cost the Bihar exchequer as well as public health countless sums of money by imposing Prohibition. Unless political leaders understand the realities of the 21st century and adapt policies to them, they will harm the people who trusted them with power. The sooner policymakers in India accept the realities of the present, the faster will India be what it once was, the global hub of commerce. Policies are needed that benefit India, rather than have the effect of driving business away to other shores.

Whether it be e-commerce, gold or crypto, India can be the global leader in legal and well managed transactions. The foundations of policy need to reflect in full measure the 21st century mindset that Prime Minister Modi’s enthusiasm for digital solutions and support for the adoption of Blockchain reveals.

PM Modi speeds up Blockchain in digital drive

India stands up to Xi’s bluster (The Sunday Guardian)

 The year 2023 will be a special period in the roster of G20 annual meetings. It is the year after the members of NATO became engaged in a proxy battle with the Russian Federation, so far in Ukrainian territory. It is the year that followed the “informal” distribution of a set of maps in the Samarkand summit of the SCO during 15-17 September 2022 by the Chinese delegation. The maps were inaccurate, to say the least, as it showed vast tracts of sea and land territory as belonging to other countries but which the cartographers labelled as Chinese. The international institution that was given the task after World War II to keep the peace globally was fractured, as its permanent members were divided into Russia and China on one side and the US, Britain and France on the other. It was only at the last moment that a sufficiently anodyne agreed statement was presented to the world by all the members of the G20. If 2022 was difficult, it was clear that 2023 would be even more challenging. Rather than walk away from the challenge by consigning the rotating chairmanship of the G20 to an insignificant space, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided on the opposite course. The group would get a makeover and be placed in a much higher orbit in the world of international diplomacy than it ever had been before. There would be explosions all around, and many minefields to traverse, but India would wade through them and brave the fire. The country would showcase the concerns of the Global South in a manner not witnessed before within the G20. What this writer christened the G200 (standing for the group of 200 members of the Global South) would be given a seat at the table each time there was a meeting during the Indian presidency, and there were an unprecedented number of meetings. In each, task forces set to work in order to come up with diagnoses and solutions to the problems facing the world, and by the time the 2023 Summit takes place in Delhi, each of them would have cogitated and come up with reports that would be of immense value to those policymakers seriously rather than superficially concerned about the state of the world.

More than 95% of the work of the task forces set up under the Indian presidency is complete, which means that the leaders gathering in Delhi will have a full menu of options to consider in their deliberations. For too long, the G20 was a talking shop, a sideshow that featured indifferent international theatre. All that changed in 2023. Next year, it is certain that Brazil will enthusiastically take up the baton given to South America’s largest country by India, the world’s most populous country, and thereby ensure that the G20 remain on the elevated trajectory that it has been placed in durinG2023. Of course, there are those who seek to ensure that any peer country is seen to be less than successful, and that appears to be China’s dynamic with India where the 2023 G20 is concerned. This would surely have been anticipated by Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and shock absorbers created to offset the effect of any of the “shocks” to the 2023 G20 Summit that CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping was likely to attempt. In case reports that Xi is skipping the 9-10 September Summit are accurate, it would be out of frustration that thus far, the proceedings of the G20 have gone well. Xi’s absence would indicate in a way few other actions can that he is not sincere in his protestations about boosting the prospects of the Global South. After all, the concerns of the Global South are at the centre of the deliberations thus far of the different mechanisms of the G20. Vladimir Putin showed grace and regard for India by not attending. Were he not to attend the Summit, Xi would demonstrate a lack of grace as well as make public his dislike of the world’s most populous democracy, indeed the most populous country in the world. Prime Minister Modi will continue on the path he has mapped out, flagging the concerns of the Global South in particular and the need for the G20 to work harder at making the world a better place. Not every leader of a big country sees life in Zero Sum terms in the manner that Xi Jinping quite clearly seems to. Given the strong foundation that has been built over the past nine months, what is certain is that the 2023 G20 Summit will be a success. That would be a victory for the entire Global South, in the way that the Chandrayaan-3 landing has been


India stands up to Xi’s bluster

Sunday 27 August 2023

Ahead of G20 Summit, Modi steers BRICS towards neutrality (The Sunday Guardian)

 Despite efforts by some of its members to convert the group into an instrument of bloc politics, BRICS has remained neutral. Despite similar efforts directed at causing disharmony within the 2023 G20, the proceedings have gone on smoothly.

New Delhi

The XV meeting of the BRICS Big Five (one of them attending virtually) that took place during the week in Johannesburg drew international attention on a scale not seen before. The reason was the perception in international media that the association would change from its present neutrality to a stance that opposes the Atlanticist powers, specifically the United States. This did not happen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has thereby ensured that the autonomy of India where foreign (and domestic) policy is concerned remains intact.

Despite the fault line created within the UNSC and the G20 (to name just two international bodies) by the intensification since February 2022 of the conflict in Ukraine, India has remained on the best of terms with both the Russian Federation as well as the United States. Within BRICS, India was clear that the bloc politics of Cold War 2.0 needed to be avoided, and that the platform should continue to remain neutral. As a corollary, it was made clear that any new member should be carefully and unanimously chosen, so that bloc politics did not creep into the selections. All six of the new members are on good terms with India, and among them only Iran, partly as a consequence of the scrapping of the nuclear deal under President Trump and partly because of its clerical regime, can be considered hostile to the Atlanticist powers . Efforts made by some in the group aimed at bringing in additional members, at least two of which were closely aligned to Cold War 2.0 bloc politics, was put aside in deference to the view of the Indian side that BRICS needed to remain a neutral platform even after it was expanded by six new members to BRICS Plus. Both Brazil and South Africa, the other two members of the Global South within the current BRICS framework, were on board with the Indian stand that the platform ought not to become an instrument of bloc politics and recrimination.

India’s success at maintaining a balance within BRICS between the two competing blocs in the new Cold War has been unwelcome news to the PRC, which under its present leadership seeks to dilute the friendly relationships that India has with the powers (the US and Russia) that are the principal protagonists in a conflict in which Ukraine has become a proxy for NATO. It had been informally sought by an important country in Asia that President V.V. Putin come in person to the G20 Summit that is to take place in less than two weeks at Delhi. His physical presence at the conference venue would have resulted in the 2023 Delhi Summit being at risk of setting at naught the immense work done by several delegations in the preparation of policy briefs intended to better promote growth across the board, and across the globe, and not just in the nineteen countries that are part of the G20 together with the European Union. Brazil and South Africa joined hands with India to champion the cause of several other countries as well, most of them being in the Global South. Instead, the 2023 Summit would have witnessed a cacophony of accusations and counter accusations by the two sides at each other, given the passions that the Ukraine war has ignited within both the G7 as well as the Russian Federation.

A malicious trope had been assiduously spread that President Putin had avoided going to the BRICS Summit in South Africa “in order to prevent his arrest under the international warrant issued in his name” thanks to the efforts of the G7 countries.The fact is that there is no way that the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, would have detained the President of Russia, a country that together with India had always stood by the African National Congress during the dismal years when South Africa was in the grip of apartheid. However, the very presence of Putin in Johannesburg would have shifted international media focus away from the work being done by BRICS to the visit of the President of the Russian Federation. In order to avoid such a diversion, he disappointed troublemakers, and made sure that his presence would only be virtual. Interestingly, the very country that had informally lobbied to ensure that President Putin avoided going to the BRICS Summit in South Africa had been hyperactive in seeking to ensure his physical presence at the New Delhi G20 Summit in September. Once again, immediately after Moscow’s clarification regarding the physical absence of President Putin from the Delhi Summit, the same malicious trope has been spread that this decision was because of the possibility of arrest once President Putin arrived in New Delhi. In actuality, there was no way that the Russian President would be at risk of arrest in a country that is not even a signatory to the international convention that calls on international arrest warrants of the kind issued against the Russian President, unlike South Africa, which has.

As a consequence of his longstanding friendship with Prime Minister Modi, the Russian President resisted powerful voices, especially from an influential nearby country that sought to ensure that he go to Delhi for the G20 Summit. Instead of obliging such voices, the Kremlin publicly communicated to the Indian side that Putin would, instead, of coming to the Summit, remain in Russia. Being a man whose words need to be taken seriously, it is likely that there will be a spurt of activity on the Ukrainian front during the period when the 2023 G20 Summit is taking place. The ostensible reason given by Moscow for Putin’s absence is after all his “preoccupation with the Special Military Operation” in Ukraine. By his statesmanlike decision to skip the meeting, perhaps even virtually, President Putin has shown that despite efforts by the G7 to terminally weaken him and in the process his country, he maintains to the extent present circumstances permit Russia’s independence in foreign policy, especially where friends such as India are concerned. It needs to be said to the credit of another friend of Prime Minister Modi, US President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, that he had confirmed his physical participation at the G20 Summit much before it was officially stated by the Kremlin that President Putin would not be making the visit to India, at least not at this time.

There has been speculation about whether there will be an outcome document signed by all the members at the Summit. The fact is that the 2023 G20 mechanism created by India has ensured the completion of several policy papers that would serve as guideposts for the future. An outcome document would be icing on the cake, but would not be critical in judging the success of the 2023 Indian Presidency of the G20. At the New Delhi Summit, India is likely to present the case made by Prime Minister Modi earlier, that the African Union (AU) be included as the 21st member of the group, following the precedent created by the admission of the European Union to the G20, which in reality comprises only nineteen countries, the EU being the twentieth member. There has been intense diplomatic activity by the Indian side led by the Prime Minister and assisted by the External Affairs Minister to try for the admission of the AU into the G20, perhaps in the 2023 Summit itself. The expectation is that the Modi Initiative will be supported by President Biden. The G20 would thereafter become the G21. Africa is a continent with enormous future potential, and the admission of the AU at the request of India would strengthen the G20, just as the admission of South Africa strengthened what till that time was simply BRIC but then became BRICS and will be BRICS Plus by January 2024.
In a year when high explosives are literally going off with abandon in significant parts of the globe, the fact that India was able to navigate its way through such a minefield in both the BRICS as well as in the G20 without an implosion is a feat that may not be welcome to hostile powers, but is evidence of the success of the Modi government in weaving through the obstacle race that international relations has become since the onset of Covid-19 and the Ukraine war. Despite efforts by some of its members to convert the group into an instrument of bloc politics, BRICS has remained neutral. Despite similar efforts directed at causing disharmony within the 2023 G20, the proceedings have gone on smoothly. India has in 2023 shown that it is the UNSC that is the loser when the country with the largest population on the globe continues to be kept outside the list of Permanent Members of that now fractured body.

Ahead of G20 Summit, Modi steers BRICS towards neutrality

A neutral BRICS Plus is a win for India (The Sunday Guardian)

 The presence of PM Modi at the 2023 BRICS Summit proved to be an effective counter to what was expected to be the overwhelming influence of Xi Jinping.

It is a relief that there has not been a demand from the G-7 that President Zelenskyy be invited to the BRICS Summit that has just concluded in Johannesburg. It would be a measure of diplomatic finesse on the part of the G7 were such a demand to also remain unsaid where the forthcoming G-20 Summit is concerned. Given the South Africa precedent, President Vladimir Putin will join the forthcoming summit only virtually if at all, given that his physical presence would convert the conference into a cacophony of recriminations. The British delegation, in particular, has from the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in February 2022 been particularly anxious to demonstrate a complete absence of the calm and understatement that so many in the UK claim as their special trait. In the UNSC, the British delegation has been even more “frank” (to use diplomatese) than the US side, although neither can compare with the histrionics of that perpetual Special Invitee, the Ukrainian delegation. If there was ever a time when the UNSC was taken to be a serious and significant forum, ever since the repeated meetings on Ukraine, its proceedings have taken on the characteristics of a circus. Along the way, the G-7 has lost much of the goodwill that countries within the group had accumulated in the populations of those countries that are not situated on both sides of the North Atlantic. There is a perception that all that the Europeans and the Europhiles on the other side of the North Atlantic care about is themselves. Or in other words, about those who are either European or of European ethnicity, specifically Ukraine. After a hiatus, the perception that the world is divided into the West and the Rest has returned, with practically the entire “Rest” unable to understand the fixation of the West on a country in Europe that is of strategic value only in the advent of a kinetic war with the Russian Federation. Small wonder that the Kremlin has become obsessed about the worry that NATO was going to do what it had avoided doing throughout the period when the USSR was around, which was to launch a war with Russia. The more the western resources and manpower that gets thrown into the quagmire that the Ukraine conflict had from the start been for the West, the greater the sense of a double standard in the rest of the world. In the US, a new crop of Republican leaders has been making their presence felt, of which Vivek Ramaswamy has been the most forthright. If elected President of the US, he says his first mission would be to go to Moscow and try and wean the Russian Federation away from the primary danger to the democracies, which is the People’s Republic of China. As the 2024 Presidential election comes closer, the rising popularity of such a stand within US voters may perhaps even seep through the doors of the White House, which is presently throwing in a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars into the all-consuming fire that the conflict on Russia’s borders has become for NATO, an organisation that in its present form at least, has outlived its utility. The memo that the PRC is, in a much more potent form, the challenge to the US that the USSR was until the 1980s seems to have been misplaced on its way to the Oval Office. Included in the collateral damage that this has caused is a sharp diminution in the trust and therefore loyalty of several countries that the US had previously firmly had in its corner.

Several of converts to mild or serious strains of Westphobia have indicated their desire to join BRICS, a group in which neither side of the North Atlantic plays any role. Indeed, the effort by Putin and Xi is to refashion BRICS as a counter to the numerous post-1945 structures that continue to be dominated by the West. Had the two been successful in bringing Brasilia, Pretoria and New Delhi to their point of view, BRICS would have expanded not by just six additional members but by more than a dozen. Smuggling in bloc politics in the name of moving away from such games has been the PRC effort, but given the convention of unanimity, Xi joined by Putin was not able to get their way except on members that were approved for inclusion in January 2024 by the other three members of BRICS. The three, India, South Africa and Brazil ( unlike Russia and China) are part of the Global South, as are four of the six new BRICS members, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE by virtue of their wealth being part of the Global North, in contrast to Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and Iran. Of the six, only Iran is Westphobic, partly out of its clerical rulers and partly out of the reaction caused by the tearing up of the Obama-era pact between Iran and the US that set guardrails on that country’s nuclear program. It was an agreement that was more generous to the other side than to Iran, but for the “All or Nothing” President Trump, it was not good enough to retain. Instead of his subsequent “Maximum Pressure” policy cutting back Iran’s nuclear program, it has expanded to a level that the Obama-era agreement was designed to delay, if not avoid. Given that none of the new members of BRICS are within the PRC sphere of influence (except Iran by default), it is unlikely that Beijing would be able to exercise the degree of control over an expanded BRICS that Washington has long had over the World Bank and the IMF. Even as debts to China accumulate to unrepayable levels, the nightmare facing Beijing is that several countries may simply repudiate that debt, especially if they were able to garner support from countries opposed to PRC expansionism in such a move. In the past, the PRC poured money into the pockets of influential US citizens through various channels in order to ensure policies suitable to itself, only to watch that investment go up in smoke once President Trump calculated in 2017 that taking measures against China was not a vote loser but a vote enhancer.
The presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 2023 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg proved to be an effective counter to what was expected to be the overwhelming influence of Xi Jinping. With the possible exception of Iran, which is still smarting over the cutting off by India of oil purchases as a response to the Trump sanctions, the other five countries that will in four months become members of BRICS (or BRICS Plus, as the group has been renamed) are friends of India, especially the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with Indonesia expected to follow soon. Despite the presence in the group of Russia, China and Iran, BRICS Plus cannot be termed anti-West or Sino-centric. Often in diplomacy, something that does not happen is equally if not more significant than something that has happened. BRICS in its new form will not change, it will remain a bloc-neutral platform. At the same time, inspired untruths (such as that India was opposed to BRICS expansion) were promptly shot down by the MEA. All in all, the 2023 BRICS Summit has been a win for India and the rest of the Global South.

A neutral BRICS Plus is a win for India

Chandrayaan shows Global South’s mettle (The Sunday Guardian)

 When Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his joy and gratitude to the scientists, technicians and others responsible for the soft landing of the Vikram on the south surface of the moon, he was joined by the entire country in such an emotion. Under PM Modi, the full weight of the Indian private sector has been harnessed in the development of the space program, and multiple private entities played a role in the success of the Chandrayaan mission. For too long, the private sector was considered a much lower priority than its public counterparts, several of whom were converted into monopolies by a stroke of the pen. Not surprisingly, many did badly. It was only in the 1990s that this double standard was, if not abolished altogether, at least diluted. The consequence has been much faster economic growth. It needs to be remembered that a double digit growth is not just desirable but necessary for India, given its expanding young population. Unless the ten million and more young Indians coming into the job market are given the opportunity to work, unless they are educated in a manner that fits 21st century needs, the Demographic Dividend so often talked about would go to waste. The importance of the success of Chandrayaan is also in the demonstration effect that the feat has on investors looking at India, now that geopolitical tensions and domestic policies have made China far less attractive as a production base than before. Whether it be gadgets or semiconductors, India has shown that these can be made in India not only in a cost-effective way but in a manner that improves quality.

Chandrayaan has shown that when the Prime Minister says that India is an ideal destination for investment, no matter how advanced the product, he is being completely accurate. Across the world, while in a few countries such as China that are competing with India in attracting investment and have caused tensions in bilateral relations, in other parts of the world, the feat was welcomed, particularly in the Global South. Although China under Xi Jinping claims to be a part of the Global South, both in terms of geography as well as in terms of GDP, the country is no longer part of the group, unlike India, which has become a champion of the interests of countries hitherto ignored. The success of Chandrayaan is the success of the Global South, which is why it must have been warmly welcomed by the leaders of South Africa and Brazil at the BRICS Summit. Given that a similar mission by Moscow failed a short while ago, the President of Russia may be excused for being as unenthusiastic as his PRC counterpart at the soft landing of the India-developed space vehicle on the south side of the moon, a first in the history of space travel dating back to the 1950s.

Some years ago, when ISRO in India conducted a successful space mission, there was a disparaging cartoon on the front page of a prominent US newspaper. The cartoon showed a skinny, evidently starving, man in rags carrying a rocket under his arm and knocking at the door of a large house, inside which a few wealthy people were having a laugh at the apparition at their doorstep. The message in the cartoon was unmistakable. It was that a country with a per capita income as low as India’s ought not to try and break into the world of activities that were the prerogative of the wealthy, such as space exploration. If that cartoonist, and the editor who placed such a cartoon on the front page, are still around, they would have learnt of the success of the soft landing of the Chandrayaan mission to the moon and remembered their earlier work and its meaning. Certainly India has a per capita income that is far below what it ought to be (and will be within a decade). However, although not in per capita income but in brainpower, India is easily among the top countries in the world. Financial stringency had the benefit of making ISRO scientists work hard at rockets that were much lower in cost than those launched by other countries. India has the least cost per unit of output of any space program in the world, which is why countries across the world have started to rely on Indian launch vehicles to get the satellites made by them into orbit. Unlike other space programs that concentrate on military needs, with the civilian component piggybacking on the military, in India the nuclear and space programs have as their foundational mission civilian needs, with military applications only a by-product. At the BRICS Summit that took place in South Africa, India, Brazil and South Africa worked together to ensure that the Global South in the form of IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) was given its due, and would together become a symbol not of backwardness but of progress. The Chandrayaan mission is a major milestone in such a necessary road.

Chandrayaan shows Global South’s mettle

Sunday 20 August 2023

Accessible and speedy justice possible by 2029 (The Sunday Guardian)

 PM Modi would surely welcome CJI Chandrachud’s emphasis on inclusive justice, given that inclusion has been a watchword of his.

Mahatma Gandhi gave a talisman to the policymakers of an India that would soon be freed of the colonial yoke. This was to sift through the records kept by memory and settle upon the most wretched, the most deprived individual who has been encountered. It may be a beggar getting drenched in the rain but still importuning those ensconced in passing limousines to hand over a few coins of the wealth they possessed to him or her, but getting only indifference in return, even as the desperation on the face of the beggar visibly grows. It may be some other person, wracked by fever and shivering in the winter cold with only a tattered sheet to keep him warm, with passersby scarcely bothering to glance in the direction of the man huddled in a corner in a fetal position. It may be some others whose luck, if ever it existed, had long since run dry. The Mahatma asked if the measure being contemplated by the policymaker would have a beneficial effect on that most wretched individual, or whether it would not in any way alleviate his or her misery. If the latter, it would not be a policy that was worthy of being carried out. When Covid-19 surged across the border from China to India, often not directly but from visitors from faraway lands that the virus had travelled to during the course of its spread as a pandemic that during 2020 and 2021 caused tens of millions of lives, as much as some of the wars of the previous century. As a response, Prime Minister Modi ordered that a sustainable level of foodgrain be provided to every family that was in need, a figure that at its peak reached hundreds of millions. Leafing through glossy magazines or watching programs on television screens, it would be a rarity to find an image or a mention of the poor of the land. The higher the position of an individual in the social ladder, the greater the chance of figuring in the news. The rest remain invisible.

Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud is right on target when he says that the greatest challenge facing the judicial system in India (or in practically all countries, with few or no obvious exceptions) is to ensure that the justice system ensures access to all citizens, especially the least privileged. The Chief Justice correctly saw technology as a means towards the fulfillment of such an objective. In the democratic system of governance, checks and balances are what keep the in flywheel of society stable rather than veering off in an unstable direction. A modern executive in a country as complex and populous as India comprises millions of individuals. Despite the best leadership and a preponderance of the honest and the able within the bureaucracy, there will still be elements who seek to profit personally, often by harming the interests and welfare especially of those who may lack the resources and the ability to react to such breaches of the governmental code of conduct. In such a situation, should the victim knock at the doors of the nearest court, he or she may be faced with counters from a phalanx of individuals who have a vested interest in misgovernance, and who may come up with superficially credible reasons why allegations against wrongdoers are not true even when they are. Ensuring that every court proceeding gets live streamed is a way in which technology could operate as a deterrent against false statements. Perjury in the sense of knowing something to be false and yet repeating that as truth in a court, needs to be punished severely.

Once there is complete transparency in court proceedings through the internet, the odds would be high and rising that untrue averments will get noticed and protested against. Apart from access, what is needed is speed in the delivery of justice, and here also technology could help. Virtual hearings could take place, and courts may need to regard it as normal practice to have a hybrid system that is both physical as well as virtual, including not just advocates and clients but judges as well. Much of the cost of getting justice involves travel expenses, and a virtual mode could not just ensure that powerful judicial minds listen to and decide on cases even in remote locations, but that others involved in the case too avoid travel where possible. Prime Minister Modi has mentioned in his Independence Day address some of the priorities that will be followed during a third term. He would surely welcome CJI Chandrachud’s emphasis on inclusive justice, given that inclusion has been a watchword of his. The Prime Minister and the sitting Chief Justice of India need to work together to ensure that transparency, access and faster delivery of final verdicts become the hallmarks of the justice system in India by 2029.

Accessible and speedy justice possible by 2029

Zelenskyy would be a distraction at G-20 (The Sunday Guardian)

 Before becoming the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a showman, entertaining audiences with his comic routines. A showman and his stage are seldom parted, so it comes as little surprise that Zelenskyy is constantly on the hunt for stage after stage in order to once again present the same pyrotechnics that has won his country what appears to the world outside the NATO alliance to be a self-destructive level of support for a lost cause. For Vladimir Putin, retaining Crimea and other parts of Ukraine that he helped break away from the control of Kiev in 2014 is existential, and explains occasional menacing references to the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia, should there be an “existential” threat to any territory defined by the Kremlin as belonging to the Russian Federation. Given that much of his working life was spent as a comic on stage, President Zelenskyy may be excused for not comprehending the mounting risks to NATO and to the rest of the world by his brinkmanship. What is incomprehensible is how politicians such as Chancellor Scholz of Germany, who was earlier believed to have a firm grasp of global realities, has morphed into almost as much of a cheerleader for Zelenskyy as his Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock. The nominally Green leader appears to be rivalling Victoria Nuland in her obsession with humbling the Kremlin, no matter what the risk or the cost. When Putin ordered his troops to march into Ukrainian territory (albeit controlled by surrogates of the Russian Federation) in February 2022, some geniuses close to the White House must have seen such a move as another Afghan misadventure by the Kremlin, and thereafter pushed for a series of measures that (in the view of these geniuses) would push Russian forces into as deep a quagmire as the pit they got into in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

President Biden, smarting from the obloquy earned by him as a consequence of his lighting fast total withdrawal from Afghanistan the previous year, would have seen in a strategy of bogging Russia down in Ukraine a way of showing that he was at heart also a warrior, despite what happened in Afghanistan. Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister of the UK, saw in a full-blown European conflict a means of keeping him in office despite Partygate and Cakegate, and the other members of NATO fell in line with the duo. Judging by western media, their perception about Russia was the same as what Adolf Hitler had about the USSR when he invaded that country in 1941. This was that the entire state was rotting from the inside, so much so that “a single hard kick would cause it to come crashing down”. That did not happen, and the odious Fuehrer of the Third Reich almost destroyed Germany because of the error he made in invading that vast country. Given Russia’s size and armoury, there is no way Zelenskyy can get what he seeks, which is the return to the pre-2014 position where control over territory by Kiev is concerned. Those outside the charmed circle of NATO, in Asia, Africa and South America, have begun to believe the old trope that Washington cares only about Europe. This is because of the way in which Ukraine has been showered with weapons by the US that are effectively given free of cost, in contrast to Taiwan, which has been given much less hardware, and that too on fiscally extortionate terms. The sooner a cease-fire in Ukraine is declared, the better. If the next G-20 meeting is to make progress towards that, the presence of Zelenskyy at the deliberations would only be a distraction. Far better that there be a few major international conferences, including the G-20 summit to be hosted by India next month, where the showman is a No Show.


Zelenskyy would be a distraction at G-20

Sunday 13 August 2023

Manipal, where a single acorn became a tall oak (The Sunday Guardian)

 The example set by Dr T.M.A. Pai illustrates the truth that we Indians have what it takes to be world-beaters, even in locations where such advancement is not expected by others.

On 9 August, the Indigo flight from Delhi to Mangalore from Terminal 1 lifted off a bit before its scheduled departure time of 2.15 pm. Milling around the departure gate were passengers clustering around in small knots. Judging by the conversations taking place in English, Hindi, Kannada and a few other languages, most of the passengers were Manipal-bound. They were either going because they were students, or the parents of students, or teachers and other specialists coming to the campus to listen to (or to give) a talk. Nestled next door to Udupi, the university town of Manipal conveys a portrait of 21st century development. It would be hard to believe that in the initial years after India became free, Manipal was just a small village, where even the sight of a pair of bullock carts was rare. It was here that Dr T.M.A. Pai was born, and even after completing his medical education elsewhere, returned so as to be together with his family rather than settle in a big city elsewhere. Dr Pai believed in a bright future for India, and saw the route to that objective through the achievement of excellence through education by citizens across the country.

He thereupon drew up plans to set up a medical college in the small village of Manipal itself. Those who were close to Dr T.M.A. Pai knew that such a feat was not beyond his reach, given his tenacity of purpose, but others scoffed. A private medical college, indeed an educational complex, in the back of the back of beyond? Impossible! The 1950s were not a good period for private initiative, and neither were the 1960s or the 1970s. It was considered optimal by those in power to give the state sector control of the “commanding heights” of the economy, and private institutions were being taken over by the government on almost a daily basis. Whenever the efforts of the state to hobble his educational institutions proved to be too much to shrug off, Dr Pai would turn to the courts, and they would more often than not ensure that he was given enough leeway to implement his plans. By the time he ended his time on earth in 1979, Manipal had become a known hub of quality education that drew in students from all parts of India and even from outside. He refused to call himself the founder of the education hub that became the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, saying that many were responsible and not just him. Many did assist him, because each of them had been inspired by his vision and confidence that anything was possible in India, and that too in the tiny village of his birth.
By the 1990s, the private sector ceased to become a term of abuse in the abodes of power, and the decks were cleared for his son Dr Ramdas M. Pai to take over the now substantial chain of institutions built by his father. Steering away from politics and from most of its practitioners, Ramdas Pai expanded the university to the far corners of the globe, ranging from the Americas to West Asia to Malaysia, and Nepal. Today, on the mother campus in Manipal (or in other campuses within India such as in Jaipur, Bangalore and Sikkim), there are students from a multiplicity of countries. Dr Ramdas Pai persuaded a doctor-researcher of renown, Dr M.S. Valiathan (the founder of the Sri Chitra Institute in Trivandrum) to join as the first Vice-Chancellor of the university, now with its newly-conferred status of being a “deemed” university. Why private universities in India are unable to call themselves what they are, full universities, rather than go by other titles remains yet another totem of Official India’s wariness about the private sector, although such handicapping may not last much longer, given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has from the start of his term in 2014 given the private sector the same respect being bestowed towards the public sector. It was Manipal, under the inspiration of Dr Ramdas Pai and Dr Valiathan, who set up in 1999 what was probably Asia’s first Chair in Geopolitics. Since then, the Department of Geopolitics & International Relations has become a teaching department that each year trains experts in geopolitics who get snapped up in institutions across the world. International relations is taught in Manipal with a focus on India and its needs, rather than following the commoner track of recycling International Relations theory from a US or Russian or Chinese or other perspective. As has been often said about a large public university in the national capital, “it has taught International Relations from every country’s point of view except that of the Indian”. Manipal is very much a product of India, and is proud of that fact. Even during the 1990s, India was not considered even a major power, much less a great power, but times have changed, especially during the past decade. From the start of their odyssey in the 1950s, the architects of Manipal always considered India to be a potential Great Power, and now most of the rest of the world has seen that this dream has come true, and this is what has been happening during the past few years.

The example set by Dr T.M.A. Pai illustrates the truth, which is that we Indians have what it takes to be world-beaters, even in locations where such advancement is not expected by others. The truth that the people of India have the inner spark that generates excellence, that this is there in hundreds of millions of people in our country. If a small village barely noticed by any other person than its inhabitants could in a generation grow into an educational colossus as a consequence of the belief in its possibility by a single individual, it is clear that such potential exists across the country, awaiting its release through inner confidence, through the inner empowerment that creates the foundation for a strong country. Whether it be the Amul story scripted by Tribhuvandas Patel and Dr Verghese Kurien, or the belief of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata back in 1868 that India could be the natural home of a global conglomerate, individuals have made a difference to the country and the world that can endure through the centuries. In today’s young citizens, there are many such individuals. They are acorns that will create oaks, as the years ahead will show in the shape of many, many stately “oak trees” of achievement.

Manipal, where a single acorn became a tall oak

Delhi, the national capital, is special (The Sunday Guardian)

 If Arvind Kejriwal has his way, the primary challenge for the BJP would come in 2029 not from the Congress but from the AamAadmi Party. In a ruthlessly consistent and effective manner, Kejriwal has ensured the marginalisation of any individual who regarded himself or herself as his superior or mentor. Whether it be activists such as Anna Hazare or Aruna Roy, individuals who have worked for decades in their attempt to bring into fruition more of their ideas for the direction India needs to take, both at one time overshadowed Arvind Kejriwal. Today they have been eclipsed by him and almost never heard of. In contrast, Kejriwal’s party was very much in the news when he opposed Central say in the Delhi administration officialdom. A wide spectrum of opposition parties joined hands with the AAP to oppose the bill moved by Home Minister Amit Shah to change the laws so that control of important officials within the Delhi government will vest with Central and not the state authorities. Political parties such as the Congress, that have been at the receiving end on several occasions of the drive by the AAP for expansion of its voter base, have been vociferously defending the stand of the Delhi government. This is that it is Delhi CM Kejriwal who has the right to control and direct the officials working under him. Were the Congress Party (or even the AAP for that matter) in control of the Central government in the way that the BJP now is, neither would have supported the stand of the AAP joined with several opposition parties that the state government in the Union Territory that is the national capital of the country has the right to control even the senior officials working for it, and not the Central government. Anytime the two were on a collision course, as has been the situation for more than six years now, the Central government would find it difficult if not impossible to function from the national capital. It would find itself severely circumscribed by the Delhi government to take advantage of the broad powers that it has assumed for itself to work on ways of inconveniencing and impacting the functioning of the Union Government. Given the undoubted political talents of not just Chief Minister Kejriwal but some of his closest lieutenants, such an outcome would have been very likely, had the changes to the law effectuated by the Union Home Minister not been passed in Parliament. A city that is paying a high price for reducing the national government almost to an administrative nullity in several crucial fields (including the city police) is London, where MayorSadiq Khan is following his own course where the metropolis is concerned. This has had an effect on the city that is visible, and which is different from what the capital of the UK was before his term as Lord Mayor of London began. Because of the vast powers of the Mayor of London, it is a political prize. Should Boris Johnson once again become Mayor, and Rishi Sunak and his party lose the next general elections to the Labour Party, he would automatically be the most senior office-holder in the Conservative Party, thereby giving him tailwind such as to once again be the standard bearer of his party. Had the Mayor of Washington DC been given the powers that the AAP believes it has a right to exercise over the national capital, the repercussionswould be substantial for whichever administration has been elected in a Presidential contest.Under the circumstances, granting even UT status to Delhi, with an elected government superseding the Municipal Corporation, was going to be a risky proposition had the Delhi government been on a collision course with the Central authorities, as has been the situation between the AAP and the BJP. Delhi is not just another city, not even just another metropolis such as Mumbai or Bengaluru, but is the capital of India. The Central government needs to have the principal voice where the national capital is concerned. 

Punjab has shown the potential pulling power of the AAP over the voter, just as Delhi earlier had. Although relatively small in size compared to the Congress Party, the AAP leadership knows that it must win over the existing Congress voter base to jump-start its position within the political spectrum. In fact, not just the AAP but several regional parties are in effect competing with the Congress Party to secure power, which is the reason why the Congress is weak where regional parties are strong, and vice versa. The only way out for the party is to try and ensure that it is seen as the most potent challenger to the BJP. Should such a perception take root, those who are hostile to the BJP would gravitate towards the Congress. The problem for the party is that in Bengal for instance, it is the BJP that is regarded as the strongest challenger to Mamata Banerjee, a regional party-BJP contest that is replicated in many other states as well, leaving the Congress as a peripheral force, including in seat-rich states such as Bihar. The South was a Congress bastion that saved the party from ignominy in 1977, but even there, except in Karnataka, it is not dominant anywhere. The hope of the Congress leadership is that an anti-BJP wave can get created in states where in 2019, the BJP swept the board and that the party would be the beneficiary. Such is the calculation behind the unrelenting effort by the leadership of the Congress Party, especially Rahul Gandhi, to damage the image of the BJP and its leadership, a compliment in reverse that is being returned by the BJP with interest. The Congress seat tally in 2024 needs to cross 75 for the party to have a reasonable chance of heading UPA-style the coalition it is a member of. Which is probably why the major regional players in the I.N.D.I.A alliance try  to part with as few LS seats as possible to the Congress Party in the states where they are strong. As an example, AAP even being ready to part with a single LS seat in Delhi to the Congress Party seems doubtful. Given the poor performance of the party in Tamil Nadu, the DMK too is likely to be similarly parsimonious where seats are concerned. Of course, should the Congress Party replicate its Karnataka performance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, that could change. It was not an accident that the JD(S) did poorly in the assembly polls, given the strong showing of the Congress under KPCC President DK Shivakumar, who is also a Vokkaliga, as is HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S). Of course, an assembly victory sometimes turns out to be a mixed blessing, in that an anti-incumbency vote may rise as a consequence of the state government being from a party different from the BJP.

Given the overpowering presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the organisational depth of the BJP, 2024 remains very much in that party’s favour. An opposition composed of mutually feuding parties and a history of indifferent governance in the states seems less than poised to prevent a Modi hat trick in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.


Delhi, the national capital, is special