ince September 2013, when it was becoming clearer that the next Prime Minister of India would be Narendra Damodardas Modi, a pragmatic President Barack Obama quietly set in place a reset of the approach of his administration towards Modi. The red carpet earlier proffered for the diverse groups who sought Modi's arraignment on human rights charges got replaced with a separation barrier, while a reluctant Nancy Powell was nudged into making the trek to Gandhinagar to pay courtesies to the new star on the political horizon of the country President Obama wishes to see as standing alongside Japan as the most trusted ally in Asia of the US. When the election results got declared, and before President Pranab Mukherjee had asked Modi to assume office as Prime Minister of India, President Obama gave him a congratulatory call. Officials on both sides say that the conversation was an ice-breaker, melting away a decade of distrust and dislike between successive US administrations and Modi. While he had earlier posted a fan of the Pakistan army, Nancy Powell, as envoy to India, this time around Obama has chosen an Indian-American (Richard Rahul Verma), who has worked informally for better India-US ties for three decades and counts his friends in India in the dozens.
While India's ambassador to the US, S. Jaishankar, is known and trusted in Washington, some of the officials who have come from Delhi to make preparations for the Modi visit were underwhelming, sticking to "the same whining litany of Indian officialdom's complaints about their US counterparts". Rather than merely put together a basket of MoUs, which is what Indian officials appear to their US counterparts to be focused on, President Obama wants Prime Minister Modi to initiate a "close and comprehensive partnership that can shape global geopolitics in the 21st century". In contrast, Indian officials (and, it must be said, most of their US counterparts) focused on "deliverables", which in essence was the same wish list that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought with him to Washington in 2005, or nine years ago. That so little has changed in what officials on both sides bring up with each other indicates the stasis in a relationship that has constantly been bedevilled by detail. However, US officials say that President Obama sees in Prime Minister Modi a leader "with the will and political heft to leapfrog over the status quo approach of his officials and initiate a new beginning that matches the needs of the 21st century".
Interestingly, ISIS is becoming a touchstone for India-US ties. Officials from India have thus far balked from agreeing to suggestions from influential individuals in Washington that New Delhi commit military assets to the ongoing battle against the terror group. Indeed, some officials from India have informally asked their US counterparts to "make it clear that the US does not expect India's participation in the war against ISIS", when in fact such a move would be welcomed across significant sections of the strategic community.
Given the excellent relations between Delhi and the two capitals most affected by ISIS, Baghdad and Damascus, India could be the bridge linking the regime in Syria as well as possibly Iran to the battle being waged under US leadership against the terror group. Within the Obama administration, there are an increasing number of voices calling for the US to enlist Damascus and Tehran in its latest war. What seems possible is that a Second Front will get formed against ISIS, that would pit Syria, Iran and Russia against ISIS. Such a front has become inevitable in view of the political incapacity of the Obama administration to enlist the assistance of Syria and Iran in fighting ISIS, despite the essentiality of both these countries in what will be a vicious war. Should India coordinate its actions with both camps, New Delhi would play a key bridge-building role in forming a global coalition against ISIS. Prime Minister Modi has the vision to go in for such a move, despite opposition from officials who favour the traditional Indian position of "lofty talk and no action". Should Prime Minister Modi use his diplomatic skills in reaching out to both the GCC as well as Syria and Iran, as well as to Moscow and Washington, India could become the prime mover in such a coalition, thereby becoming key to the solution to a problem that has emerged as a threat to stability in the GCC, the region hosting millions of Indian workers and from where the country sources the bulk of its petroproduct needs.
Although they were initially complicit in the funding, training and arming of thousands of the extremists now fighting on the same side as ISIS, the GCC states have increasingly accepted the view that the terror group can threaten the stability that this group of super-rich Arab states has enjoyed despite the shocks of the "Arab Spring". If he were to overrule his officials and (after consulting with authorities in Baghdad and Damascus) order the Indian Air Force and Navy to participate in the military operations against ISIS, Prime Minister Modi would catapult India into centre stage in a manner not seen since the early 1950s. Also, joining in the war would give the Indian military substantial on-the-job training in counter-terror operations in distant locations, besides boosting inter-operability with friendly countries such as the US. It would make Prime Minister Modi a global player, impossible to ignore when global issues are getting discussed. In Washington as well as in New York, both the US administration as well as US business see in the Prime Minister an individual willing to challenge the status quo and end the procrastination and timidity which has characterised India's policy since the time when Indira Gandhi was murdered in 1984, the very year which marked the close of single-party majorities till Prime Minister Modi led his party to victory in May. Joining the war against ISIS can become the issue that bonds the world's two biggest democracies together for the first time, while not sacrificing New Delhi's independent view of the best way of tackling terror threats, many of which have come up because of faulty policies decided in Washington and allied capitals.
M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
Now that ISIS and its parent organisation, Al Qaeda, have openly declared war on India, it is time for this country to join in the international coalition against it.
Displaced Iraqis at a camp outside Feeshkhabour town in Iraq, on 19 August. Some 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting in Iraq since the Islamic State’s rapid advance began in June. AP/PTI
very once in a way, another of the country's foreign policy or security experts looks directly at the television cameras and indulges in self-congratulation for being part of the multitude of experts and officials who kept India from agreeing to the 2003 US request for a division of troops to be sent to the Kurdish region of Iraq. While talk of major power status and complaints of being denied recognition of such status is commonplace among those invited to television studios or give of their wisdom in oped pieces, such worthies see no contradiction between such yearnings and successive governments in India constantly refusing to match such talk with the action needed to convince other global powers that India is ready for great power status.
In 2003, this columnist was among the handful who disapproved of then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra's refusal to send 18,000 troops to Iraq, and none of the chaos that has taken place in Iraq since then has changed his mind. Indeed, while the bulk of the blame for the post-invasion disasters in Iraq needs to get placed at the doors of those who framed US policy towards that country since the 2003 occupation of Iraq, some should be directed at those who refused to do what they were capable of in making Iraq a country that could reclaim a heritage on par with Rome, Greece, India or China.
Brajesh Mishra was, from early adulthood, steeped in the culture of the Indian bureaucracy, a group of citizens who regard the blocking of action as the most desirable course to follow in the overwhelming majority of situations. It was, therefore, no surprise that Mishra flinched from the unprecedented course (at least since 1947) of significant military intervention in a theatre far from home. He was wrong. Had India sent a division to Iraq, it would have shown to the US and the UK the correct way of ensuring security in a foreign country, without giving the local population the perception that they have mainly exchanged a home-grown tyrant with another from a distant country. The Kurds would have welcomed the presence of troops from a country that shares several cultural characteristics with them, and this would have ensured that Indian companies secured an inner track in getting access to the immense oil riches of the region occupied by the Kurds of Iraq. Overall, such a move would have silenced those in the George W. Bush administration who subsequently festooned the India-US nuclear agreement with conditions and codicils that have meant that Manmohan Singh's crowning glory is little more than a path towards the capture of the nuclear industry in India by foreign companies, at the expense of companies in India which could have emerged as world-beaters if given the encouragement that the Indian establishment has lavished on foreign companies backed by their governments in a manner unknown in India.
This is written in New York, a city that still harbours considerable unease about the likely trajectory of policy of the Narendra Modi administration. The blocking by India of a consensus at the WTO surprised the many who believed Prime Minister Modi to be friendly to the global powerhouses listed in the Fortune 500 list, a group which collectively has more influence in Washington than any other, no matter who gets elected President of the US. Thus far, self-goals persist, such as driving investors out of the country by aggressive taxation based on transfer pricing, with the world's largest mobile handset manufacturing base, the Nokia plant in Chennai, being among the casualties. This unit used to provide work both directly and otherwise to about 50,000 families, and by the end of this year, the final goodbyes will take place of the final thousand survivors of the carnage in jobs caused by the Finance Ministry going after Nokia.
Investors in the US and elsewhere are waiting to see if Prime Minister Modi can dissolve the obstacles to growth created by a bureaucracy which appears as firmly in control of overall policy in key departments as they were before 26 May. However, should Prime Minister Modi show that he matches talk with action, he will have won over hearts and minds in Washington. Now that ISIS and its parent organisation, Al Qaeda, have openly declared war on India, it is time for this country to join in the international coalition against ISIS, by using the Navy and the Air Force to "degrade and destroy" ISIS. All too many "experts" chatter on about what they declaim is the threat from China or Pakistan to declare a conventional war on India. Rather than justify the expenditure of tens of billions of extra dollars on buying equipment that is unlikely to get used in a war against either country, what is needed is to use the assets available against the enemy that is already out in the field, and which is clearly succeeding in seducing impressionable and fanatic minds in India into joining their noxious cause.
M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
When the whole world is seeking to learn English, including China, it makes little sense to expend effort on doing away with the language.
Police detain NSUI members during a protest against Civil Services Aptitude Test format in front of residence of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi in August. PTI
ajnath Singh loves Uttar Pradesh, which is why it is a shame that he lost the 2002 Assembly elections, which proved to be an early warning sign to the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led government in Delhi that the "acche din" were drawing to a close, as indeed happened two years later, when the NDA lost out to the UPA in what came as much of a surprise to the BJP as the results in UP to the just-concluded Assembly polls were. After Rajnath Singh's stint as Chief Minister, the BJP has yet to return to office in Lucknow. And now, since taking office as Union Home Minister on 26 May, Rajnath Singh has acted as though he was made not a minister but the chairperson of the Hindi Prachar Sabha. Police reform is urgent, the Maoist grip on a fourth of the country is consolidating, corruption within the BSF ensures a boom in smuggling of not just gold but narcotics as well. However, none of this seems to be of much import to the latest successor to Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, whose attention has been most concentrated towards ensuring that Hindi replace English in every sphere of government and national life. This at a time when the people in the Hindi belt are looking to learn the international link language, and are unhappy that only the affluent (such as the children of Mulayam Singh Yadav) have the funds needed to enrol their wards in the private schools where English is taught at a reasonable level of proficiency. The decision on whether to learn a language or not ought to be left to individual families and not to the Union Home Minister.
Despite the concentration of postings in NDA II from the Hindi belt and the many circulars promoting that language, the BJP has performed poorly in the bypolls in Bihar as well as UP. This is hardly a surprise, as the Hindi-speaking people are the reverse of chauvinistic. Unlike the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka or the Punjabis in Pakistan, who have sought to dominate the administrative and other structures of their respective countries, our Hindi-speaking people have never sought to gift themselves an equivalent primacy in India. Those speaking Gujarati or Malayalam have thus far regarded themselves as privileged as those whose mother tongue is Hindi. However, the Union Home Minister clearly is of the view that such a state of affairs should end, and that India should repeat what S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike did in Sri Lanka in the 1950s, banish English and instead make the Sinhala language the only vehicle of education and administration. Till then, his country had been much more advanced educationally than India, but after Bandaranaike's "Sinhala Only" edict, standards slipped steadily, and today, a country, which ought to have been the hub of the global knowledge industry or at the least its back office, is far behind the Philippines in this respect, all because till very recently, the teaching of English has been neglected in Sri Lanka. It is only in the past few years that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sought to revive the teaching of English in his country, so as to give those with low incomes the same chance at mastering the language as the better off have. Or to take the example of Bihar and UP, it was only after the language chauvinism of the post-1967 period that both began slipping relative to the rest of India.
Why is it that those with money, whether they be from India, China, Russia or Scandinavia, buy dwellings in London, if not for the fact that the city is seen as the natural home of the English language? Till the 20th century, the UK was seen as the hub of global English, but from the 1900s that position was taken away by the US. The people of India have the versatility and indeed the desire to ensure that India becomes the global centre of gravity of the English language, replacing the US. However, for this to happen, the Union Home Minister will need to appreciate that rather than convert Gujarat or Kerala into UP, he needs to ensure that UP follows the trajectory of Gujarat in economic development and of Kerala in social development. When the whole world is seeking to learn English, including China (where the Communist Party wants hundreds of millions to gain the same expertise as so many do in India), it makes little sense for Rajnath Singh to expend effort on doing away with a language that for decades to come will remain an indispensable component of India's quest to escape from the 19th century into the 21st. He needs to remember that Narendra Modi got his party elected on the promise of a march to the future, not a return to the past.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping.
fter two decades of stasis, "negotiations on a border settlement between India and China are to get fast-tracked so as to get completed before the term in office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping", according to a senior official. He added that "the 16-19 September developments at Chumar were a wake-up call to the Chinese leadership because it became clear that such incidents could derail the broader relationship".
An official said that the two leaders "clearly had a shared chemistry" and that "such an understanding was unprecedented in the past". A colleague pointed out that "Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai never became personally close" and that the only time an Indian and a Chinese leader developed a personal rapport was between Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. "However, unlike Modi, who seeks a practical and concrete outcome in every situation, Rajiv Gandhi and Deng could not translate their personal affinity into progress on the border issue". The officials said that "both leaders spent considerable time taking a long view of Sino-Indian relations" and that President Xi appreciated Prime Minister Modi's view that a settlement of the border was essential for the relationship to get developed to its full potential. Both leaders are understood to have asked their respective officials to give priority to a border settlement and to come up with clear milestones as to how this can be done.
While opening the door to the same level of economic and other interaction with China, as is taking place between that country and the United States or the European Union, Prime Minister Modi has reversed his predecessor's soft approach towards border defence. Over the past two months, Indian troops and paramilitary personnel on the India-China "Line of Actual Control" (LOAC) have adopted the same "no nonsense" stance as they have on the India-Pakistan "Line of Control" (LOC) since mid-June. Unlike in the past, when incursions went unchallenged except by the exchange of diplomatic messages, since this time, troops have been told to ensure physically that the sanctity of Indian territory is maintained.
At the same time, essential construction work, which had been held up for a decade because of fear of provoking a reaction from the People's Liberation Army (PLA), has been resumed, such as the construction of an irrigation ditch in the Demchok area using MNREGA funds, which the PLA professes to regard as a "military fortification" and has consequently challenged through troops in civilian clothes holding up protest banners in Mandarin.
Much more serious has been the buildup and incursion in Chumar, again in Ladakh, which went unreported because of the absence of an adequate number of reconnaissance missions. Unlike the PLA, which sends a UAV into the air every three hours for mapping facts on the ground, the UAV missions sent by India are few and far between, as are helicopter sorties.
Although the circumstances behind the leak of visuals of the Chinese soldiers in Chumar at precisely the moment when Xi Jinping was in India are obscure, as is how a news agency was in the same remote spot just when a local official broke the news of an incursion, the reality remains that the PLA has consistently sought to test Indian patience and resolve by patrolling and the claiming of territory which never in the past witnessed any activity from their side, whether civilian or military. The PLA Chengdu command, which is known to maintain close links with GHQ in Rawalpindi and is considered the authority on the Indian military, clearly expected that the Indian side would once again follow the "Manmohan Line" (of making only verbal or written protests rather than placing boots on the ground), when they intruded several kilometres into India-held territory from 10 September onwards, peaking on 16 September, the day before President Xi touched down in India. Although he has been blamed for this apparent show of bad faith, informed sources in Beijing say that President Xi was unaware of the operation and was as much taken by surprise as Prime Minister Modi by the PLA's muscle-flexing in Ladakh.
Incidentally, the western sector has seen a sharp rise in incursions over the past year, in contrast to past years, when the frequency was much more on the eastern side. "This is clearly at the request of the Pakistan army, as they seek to shelter under the Chinese umbrella in the region", an analyst pointed out, adding that "it would appear that the PLA's stance on the border is getting decided by GHQ in Rawalpindi".
The Prime Minister gave instructions to the Ministry of Defence that a firm response on the ground rather than merely on paper should be given to the intruding troops, and this has been done. The expectation is that President Xi, who has been indulgent thus far towards the PLA because of family connections, will take matters in hand and ensure that "the Party controls the Gun", rather than allow the PLA any more to set foreign policy by confronting countries as diverse as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and India, thereby dissipating the goodwill earned by China over the decades in the region. Officials believe that the events of 16-19 September would show to the Chinese leadership the urgency of not allowing the Pakistan army to have a veto over a border settlement between China and India, which has been the case thus far.
Despite the tension, the diplomatic gains of the Xi visit were visible. Both President Xi and even more so his telegenic spouse Peng Liyuan charmed their hosts by abandoning formality and mixing with local citizens. Breaking protocol and going against the advice of conservative officials, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed China's head of state Xi Jinping to Ahmedabad not just as a global statesperson but as a personal friend, as a "Lao Peng You" (Old Friend). Despite the border situation, the Xi visit has for the first time ever in the history of Sino-Indian relations created the conditions for a fullscope transactional relationship between the two countries, the way it is between China and the US, or China and the EU.
While some have dismissed the reported figure of $20 billion as investment into India until 2019 as below the Japan promise of $35 billion, what is forgotten is that this sum represents mainly the official investment, and that separate investments by Chinese corporate entities (including in the industrial parks) will be many times that number. Add to that the likely long-term loans by Chinese financial entities at low interest rates to Indian companies, now burdened by RBI-mandated high interest rates, and the total volume of inflow of Chinese capital into India would be in the vicinity of ten times the figure of $20 billion for official investment. Both President Xi as well as Prime Minister Modi are aware of the immense synergy between the two economies, hence the attention paid by them to an examination of the sectors where both sides could work together.
The Chinese side is aware that there are two competing narratives in Asia, the first involving a coming together of the US, Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam and other countries (excluding China and North Korea) into an Asian version of NATO. The other is a collective security pact suggested by Beijing, in which countries in Asia would band together to ensure mutual security, without the involvement of outside powers such as the US or the EU.
Each time the PLA marches to the Pakistan army's drum, opinion in Delhi moves towards the Asian NATO option rather than its Chinese competitor. That the PLA, by its muscle-flexing, is creating the conditions needed for the setting up of an Asian NATO to deal with its increasing assertiveness, is presumably clear by now to the Chinese leadership.
India is the country whose participation will decide the primacy of either grouping. Given this, despite — or perhaps because of — the fracas on the border during the Xi visit, it is expected that he will do what his predecessors failed to achieve, ensure an equitable border settlement with India "if not during the first term, then certainly during the second term of Prime Minister Modi", according to a senior official, who added that "such an achievement would make both leaders eligible for the Nobel Peace Prize".