Sunday 29 April 2018

Xi and Modi usher in the Asian Century (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

The Wuhan meeting will have generated an unprecedented volume of ‘oxygen’ that will flow downwards to other levels of the policymaking process.

After Wunderkind Macron, it is now the turn of Mutti Merkel to hop across the Atlantic Ocean to persuade President Donald Trump not to move away from the Atlanticist underpinning of US policy since the 1940s. A substantial part of Trump’s political allure stems from his unapologetic showcasing of “White” America as the heartland of the immigrant nation, while his third wife and now First Lady Melania comes from a part of Europe that clings to its European ethnicity in the absence of tangible achievements. Macron and Merkel must be calculating that such sentiment and emotions will ensure that the 45th US President go the way of his predecessors from Franklin Roosevelt onwards and act as though only North America and Europe mattered. Almost all members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, barring a few exceptions such as Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris and Pramila Jayapal, subliminally or overtly, buy into this view of geopolitics, although increasingly other lawmakers are beginning to notice that Asia has become more central to US interests than Europe. Or that it is no longer Russia, but China that now poses the most serious risks to US dominance. However, displacing Moscow from its assigned role as the most serious threat to the Atlantic Alliance (and therefore by implication the US as well) would result in the removal of the primary reason for the alliance, which is security. Hence, the clockwork precision with which report after report of Russian “threats” and “excesses” surfaces in an “international” i.e. Atlanticist media that has remained a reliable propagandist for a grouping whose time is long over. Modi and Xi together lead governments that (are presumed to) serve 40% of the population of the globe, yet it was not their unprecedented informal and unstructured time together at Wuhan that gobbled up television talktime in the US and its NATO partners, but the inanities uttered during the Trump-Macron-Merkel meet-up.
The meeting between the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un and the President of the RoK, Moon Jae-in is designed to convince Congressional opinion to block a pre-emptive US strike on North Korea. The DPRK leader’s PR blitzkrieg is designed to ensure that domestic opinion in the US strongly disfavours military intervention in North Korea and thereby ensure that Trump does not use the military option. The images of Kim and his attractive wife and sister are designed to create a perception within mainstream opinion in the US that the North Koreans can be trusted to “act responsibly” with their nuclear capability, i.e. never use it. Pyongyang has seen for itself how lack of support within their respective legislatures made both David Cameron and Barack Obama back away from their announced intention to wage war against Bashar Assad the way they did against Muammar Gaddafi. The two times that President Trump has used the military option in Syria have had derisory results. The second (and hyper-trumpeted) tri-country rain of 105 missiles on three Syrian targets may have killed a few goats tethered in the vicinity, but apart from embedded journalists, no individual believes that any except the most superficial harm was caused to Assad’s capabilities as a consequence of the attack, which was helpfully revealed to be a “one time” shot by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who seems refreshingly impervious to the frequent use of hyperbole by so many policymakers in London, Paris and Washington. According to Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May, the attack on Syria was apparently ranked along with Operation Desert Storm in results and intensity, when it was little more than a make-believe use of force against targets that had either been emptied of men and materiel in advance of the strikes or had none of either in the first place. Hopefully, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia will buy more defence equipment from France and the UK post-strike. They would, if the sheikhs ruling the three regard CNN and BBC as purveyors of accurate information on subjects of concern to them, rather than expressions of nostalgia for a world order that has passed.
That the Asian Century has become a reality is visible in the 27/28 April unscripted meeting at Wuhan between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both leaders have defied powerful constituencies in their respective countries to hold an unprecedented summit characterised by a free-flowing dialogue, not just about their two countries or even Asia, but the world, as befits the leaders of countries that within a short time and for a long time thereafter will be the top economic power in the world the other country within the top three in the global table. The next country, Japan, may be feeling a bit neglected these days, but it has only itself to blame. For more than five decades, Tokyo has behaved as though it were a part of Europe situated in Asia, but has lately discovered that such a stance has not led to its acceptance as a quasi-European power by the Europeans themselves, even while post-1945, Japan’s obsession with acting as an ersatz member of the western alliance has distanced it from other countries in Asia. Japan has become something of an outsider in both Europe as well as Asia. Although China under Jiang Zemin sought to follow the Japanese example of being more European than the Europeans, President Xi has done away with such illusions and has worked to make the present century the age when Asia reclaims its space as the keystone of the world order. In India, unlike former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, like Xi, is a believer in an Asian renaissance, and understands that such an outcome would be substantially assisted by a close relationship between Beijing and Delhi. In the past, “carbon dioxide” from the lower levels of officialdom in China and India would move upwards and poison policies affecting the other country, including at the top. The Wuhan meeting will have generated an unprecedented volume of “oxygen” that will flow downwards to other levels of the policymaking process. Within about five to six months, this rejuvenation of a necessary friendship will manifest itself in shifts of approach and changes in policy that will draw on the synergies between Beijing and Delhi, rather than obsess on the differences. History will judge this meeting to have been the most consequential between the leaders of India and China thus far.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Modi, Xi take charge (Gateway House)

The leaders of India and China have decided not to leave the bilateral relationship to bureaucrats or ministers, but instead handle it themselves at the very top. The April 27-28 meeting promises to be a game-changer as Xi Jinping has accepted the need to improve ties with India as a priority. 

Friday 27 April 2018

‘Atlantic Alliance must lead world: Macron’ (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

EMANUEL Macron planted two pecks on the cheeks of Donald and Melania Trump, and seems later on to have won the hearts of the members of the US Congress by making a speech explicitly repudiating much of what President Trump campaigned – and won – on. He backed multilateralism, the Iran nuclear deal and the need to battle climate change. However, the central thread holding together a miscellany of thoughts was the need for the Atlantic Alliance to continue into the 21st century, in an era when three of the top four economies on the globe will soon be Asian. These are China, the US, India and Japan. The speech the President of France made to the US Congress was in its tone very similar to what a French leader may have said to the same body in the 1950s, which was the need for the US and Europe to act in concert so as to prevent the baton of leadership from passing on to countries outside North America and the European Union. It testifies to the separation from reality of much of the US Congress that they allowed themselves to share in the nostalgia for the past created by Macron in a context where the world had changed, but hardly at all the institutions that were set up by the victorious powers after the 1939-45 war between Germany and the trio of the US, the USSR and the UK.
The World Bank is still invariably headed by a US national and the IMF by a European. It is clear in Paris, Berlin and London that unless Washington continues to frame policy as though the world has not changed much since 1945, their own privileged position in the international order would come under threat from countries that are already much more consequential than them, but yet have to content themselves with the crumbs thrown in their direction at the Bretton Woods conference. The only Asian country that was given anything resembling a fair deal was China, and this was because of the insistence of the US. Aa for India, it was because of the opposition of Winston Churchill that Delhi was kept outside the Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council, but Paris was brought in despite a very limited role in defeating the German armies, several of which spent much of the war comfortably billeted in France, enjoying the many pleasures on offer to them
As the Republican Party candidate for the Presidency, Donald Trump had appeared to have understood the shift in geopolitical relevance from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. However, many of those within his administration and almost all the legislators in his party are still living with the fiction that it is still an Atlanticist world. In his speech to the US Congress, Macron got round after round of applause each time that he backed a policy the opposite of what Trump had proposed. His visit has become part of the Demolish Trump crusade that has been convulsing Washington since November 8, 2016, mainly through subtly casting doubt on the soundness of several of Trump’s policy positions. Both Melania and Donald seem entranced by the relatively youthful President of France, so it remains to be seen whether they will understand the camouflaged manner in which the 45th President of the US is being undermined in the eyes of international community by distinguished visitor.
Coming as she does from a country that is ever mindful of irs European roots, it may be that Macron’s implicit call for the US to work together with the Europeans to fight back modern trends in geopolitical power would have met with her approval. However, what may need to be remembered is the fact that the demonisation of Russia that has been going on unabated for years has at its root not any so-called “threat” from Moscow but the need for the Atlanticists to keep anger against Moscow white hot so as to ensure that the primary focus of US hostility remains Russia. Systematically, through the sanctions regime and by other ways, the US and the EU are trying to ensure that the Russian economy melts down, thereby creating a political avalanche that could bring back a Yeltsin Mark II in place of Vladimir Putin. In such a campaign, the effort is to make Donald Trump collateral damage, because of the former businessman’s appreciation of the need to pivot to Asia and away from Europe
A presumably unintended consequence of the rising frequency of challenges to Russian stability is a rise in closeness between Beijing and Moscow. But for China, the Russian economy may have entered Death Row by now. The two countries have fashioned a strong relationship that has weathered the disapproval of the US and the EU. President Xi Jinping, who has become the most consequential Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, is aware that the Asian Century is needed for the Chinese Dream to come to fruition. He has therefore taken to heart Deng’s warning that a rapprochement between India and China is needed for the Asian Century to flower. A consequence of such a view is the informal summit Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are holding in Wuhan. The two men are in charge of the governments of countries that house 40% of the population of the globe.
Both Xi and Modi have distanced themselves from those in their own entourage who seek to perpetuate tension between Delhi and Beijing. More, much mire than the Macron visit to the US and its revival of nostalgia for the past, it is the Wuhn Summit between Modi and Xi that will enter the history books as a groundbreaking encounter that could reshape geopolitics in the modern world. Including by persuading several in Tehran that entering on the nuclear deal was a mistake, for the reason that Macron will clearly not be satisfied with anything less than an Iran diminished in importance to the level of Bahrain. The French seek to keep the skeleton of the deal alive to keep the Iranians constrained, but are looking to gut it of any facet that would be advantageous to Tehran. The problem facing the President of France and his admirers in Washington is that it is no longer 1948 but 2018.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Modi-Xi talks this week set to be a game changer (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

The two-day meeting in China’s Wuhan will be confined to the Indian Prime Minister and the Chinese President.

The top leaders of India and China, which together have a population in excess of 2.6 billion, are to meet this week in Wuhan, a picturesque city in China. The two-day meeting will be confined to the two principals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Xi Jinping of China. Both are believers in the 21st century as belonging to Asia, and recognise that for this to occur, the two largest countries on the continent need to act in concert on several matters. Although both sides have routinely described the relationship between Beijing and Delhi in glowing terms, the reality remains that to this day, it is not a normal state-to-state relationship. There are tensions and constraints on both sides that hold back the immense potential for cooperation and mutual benefit. The effort of the two leaders will be to create an atmosphere of conciliation, cooperation and trust that would spread to lower levels, which could then begin to operationalise policies and programmes designed to benefit both countries mutually. “The oxygen of trust can be created through the meeting (of the two leaders), and this improvement in atmosphere will then reach all levels” such that impediments to cooperation get removed on both sides, a senior official revealed. A colleague added that “the meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi indicates that both leaders accept the need for the two countries to evolve understandings and mechanisms to promote harmony”. He added that the “unprecedented bilateral meeting” at Wuhan during this final week of April would be a “game changer” in the relationship between India and China.
Luck has favoured Narendra Modi since 2014, beginning with the way in which the swelling anti-incumbency wave against the UPA worked in his favour electorally. Next followed the collapse of world oil prices, thereby giving the Ministry of Finance a substantial cushion for releasing funds. Despite glitches such as the 2016 demonetisation of 86% of currency and the initial complexity of the GST when first rolled out, the Indian economy has performed better than that of any other large country, including China, and this has given PM Modi both status as well as a platform to enter the top tier of world leaders. This new status was apparent last week in Europe, when the leaders of the Nordic countries met the Prime Minister, followed by bilateral meetings in London and Berlin with Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has, within a short time, built up a close relationship with PM Modi, as has US President Donald Trump. In such a context, Xi Jinping will be looking to Wuhan to further an equally warm relationship with the Prime Minister of India. Despite some carping and negativity from Indian and Chinese media, officials in Beijing acknowledge that India will emerge as the third biggest economy on the planet just a few years after China overtakes the United States as the largest economy on the globe. “Rather than the US and India combining against China (once Beijing overtakes Washington) and increasing instability, it is better for the world and for all three countries that India, China and the US work together for global peace and prosperity”, a senior official pointed out.
Officials in Beijing say that President Xi, unlike predecessors such as Jiang Zemin, “acknowledges India to be a major power” and has, therefore, “instructed his team to give special attention to developing better ties” with India. While the Chinese economy is presently five times bigger than India’s, “this gap will get lower over time”. Hence, “closer economic cooperation between both countries would create a win-win outcome”, an expert close to the policy establishment pointed out. In the context of a spike in trade tensions with the US, and given recent moves by the Trump administration to block business linkages with PRC companies such as Huawei and ZTE, the Indian market has become crucial to the future operations of several Chinese technology companies, who are confident of overcoming competition from the US, Europe and Japan. “The Chinese leadership respects PM Modi for his boldness in taking tough decisions such as demonetisation”, an official claimed, adding that “only strong leaders such as Modi and Xi can take forward the relationship between the two giants of Asia at speed”. Officials point out to the “first time ever cultural welcome” given by Xi to Modi at Xian, where “Chinese traditional culture was on display to the leader of a country with an equally ancient civilisation”.
The two leaders are expected to focus on the big picture, “looking from the high mountain” of long-term historical perspective and overall interests, rather than zeroing in on specific problem areas. “Once the top leaders establish the atmosphere for taking forward the relationship in a smooth and constructive manner, the official machinery can take up the job of ensuring that this happens”, a senior official pointed out, adding that “before the third decade of the 21st century, both India and China need to work together to solve regional and global challenges”. That no advisors and no ministers will be present in the room with Xi and Modi at a summit of the leaders of nearly 40% of the world’s population, indicates the importance both leaders are giving to their own role in improving relations between the two countries. The problem areas are several. There is the question of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. There is the effort by elements of the international community to make Dharamsala the permanent home of not just the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet, but the very institution of the Dalai Lama once His Holiness passes, and therefore that of a possible XV Dalai Lama, who is likely to face a challenger based in Tibet. How such matters will get resolved remains to be seen. The view in Beijing is that the importance of India and China working together is so important that “patriotic elements of both countries will succeed in blocking efforts by third countries (such as Pakistan or Japan) to slow down or derail Sino-Indian relations”. Clearly, President Xi and PM Modi are seen as the vanguard of such “patriotic elements”, which is why the Chinese side is looking with unusual anticipation at PM Modi’s arrival at Wuhan in China for an informal and exclusive meeting of two of the world’s top four global leaders (the others being President Trump and President  Putin).

Tuesday 24 April 2018

#ModiXiSummit: Decoding The Deal Behind Sudden Bonhomie | Face off | CNN-News18

#ModiXiSummit: MEA Sushma Swaraj warns Pakistan on China soil, 'Time to act against terror states,' ahead of Xi-Modi meet, India's big message. Watch Face off with Zakka Jacob. 

Saturday 21 April 2018

Unite to defend, not deny, freedom of speech (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

India will remain less than a complete democracy until laws such as criminal defamation are removed.

In a city 3,800 kilometres away from Delhi, and where Gmail is very difficult to access, around midnight local time on 16 April, an Apple iPhone showed questions from two publications relating to an item carried in this newspaper. The item was by an exile from Kashmir, Sushil Pandit, who was explicit that it was a fictional account. His literary effort nowhere belittled the act that was described, nor justified it. However, being fiction rather than real life, the scenario presented in the story was different from the J&K police charge-sheet in an incident detailing a pack of animals who allegedly fell upon a little girl, snuffing out her life in a gruesome manner. It is always dismaying to come across accounts testifying to the brutality of men against women, especially those who are just a few years distant from being babies. This work of literature, which was explicit that it was unrelated to any real life incident, was unpleasant to some and offensive to many to read. However, the author nowhere justified the crime described nor sought to pass it off as trivial.
The Sunday Guardian often carries items with which the editorial team disagrees, yet publishes them on the axiom that a publication should not be an echo chamber for its editors. There was a period of over a decade when it was impossible for this columnist to get his writings published in mainstream newspapers. During this period, only two publications showed willingness to publish his work. These were Organiser and Radiance, and to both the present writer will remain grateful. None of those who nowadays speak out in defence of free speech emitted even a disapproving cough in support of a journalist colleague suddenly deprived of outlets to write for, a situation that changed only in 2011, when it became evident that the Manmohan Singh government was on its way out. “Freedom of speech” should not be restricted only to those views which those claiming to be its champions agree with.
Two decades ago, a contrived and hurtful charge was made against this columnist, that he motivated the Chief Minister of a southern state to make some incendiary statements about the chairman of the media company in which he was then working, and with whom he had an excellent rapport. Indeed, the chairman had asked him in 1994 to come to Delhi from Bangalore to (successfully) assist in defeating an attempt by some within the editorial team to empty the newspaper of much of its senior staff. Such assistance was, not surprisingly, looked upon askance by the venerable journalist who was leading the “Quit the Media House” movement, and the chance for revenge came within less than five years, when he was brought back with pomp into the editorial chambers. This “Ghar Wapsi” journalist was a maestro of networking, being as close to the A.B. Vajpayee PMO as he was with 10 Janpath. The venerable journalist’s revenge included the publication in a fortnightly newsmagazine through a friend of his that Yours Truly, helpfully identified as a “disgruntled employee”, was responsible for the statements of a Chief Minister who was known to often not even listen to herself, much less to others, in what she said or did. Seeing that the smear was being expertly spread, and was rapidly being taken as fact even by those who ought to have known better, the offer of one of Asia’s finest universities to create (for the first time in India) a chair in geopolitics was accepted with relief. The university has since proved to be a haven for this columnist, as its top level remains uninfluenced by periodic efforts from politicians and officials to make the institution withdraw its welcome to this columnist.
Over the past few days, ever since Sushil Pandit’s effort at detective fiction got printed in The Sunday Guardian, there has been a barrage of missives to institutions with which this writer is connected, demanding that he be removed. Less than flattering descriptions of him, including as an accessory to hate and other crimes, have been appended to such advice. Fortunately, the youthful Proprietor of The Sunday Guardian did not accept the bait tossed in his direction by so many to dismiss the Editor or the Editorial Director, but instead stood by his team. Messages were even sent to UNESCO in Paris warning that a “neo-Nazi”, no less, was among their Peace Chairs. Similar missives have presumably gone to the Editors Guild and to other entities. Each is welcome to take whatever action they deem proper. This columnist has throughout his career opposed curbs on free speech, which includes speech that is offensive to himself or to others. Those unwilling to accept even a fictional scenario detailing a bestial crime need to consider whether such an approach squares with a commitment to freedom of speech.
India will remain less than a complete democracy until such laws as criminal defamation be removed, Until it ceases to be easy as making mud-pies to drag a person to court to face charges such as those relating to “hate speech”. This columnist has written and spoken against the way in which some youths in JNU were prosecuted. He has written and spoken about the way in which the internet is being sought to be policed, or about the way in which matters such as diet or dress or lifestyle have been sought to be regulated the way they are in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Whether it be the central campaign against the AAP government or measures such as demonetisation, there has been far from an automatic endorsement by this columnist of several of the policies of the present government. Those in power during the UPA years created the very laws that are now getting used against a few of them. Those in the NDA who are adding to rather than eliminating such democracy-diluting laws will soon be at the receiving end of their own legislation and practices. In a context of the Rule of Colonial Law, instead of seeking to muzzle a publication and deny an individual exiled from his home province the right of freedom of speech, those appreciative of the need for free speech in promoting democracy need to unite to ensure that the journalistic profession become much less risky to life and liberty than is the case at present.

Friday 20 April 2018

Macron’s French colonial nostalgia (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

THE surprise President of France Emmanuel Macron is clearly addicted to the history of the French colonial enterprise. He has spoken of Paris playing the keystone role in the future of that state, very much as was the case when the Arab country was a French colony. Whether it be the UK’s involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts or Italy taking centre stage in negotiations over the future of Libya ( a former colony of that European country), the UN since the Kofi Annan years has adopted several of the characteristics of its previous incarnation, the League of Nations. Like the League in its time, the UN awarded trusteeships to countries over others, the most egregious example being Iraq following the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The UNSC resolution transferring control of the country to Washington gave powers to a foreign power that wholly negated the sovereignty and independence of the Iraqi people and their state.
Macron is evidently an individual who believes in dreams coming true. Certainly the once hopeless dream of him occupying the Elysee Palace did come about in a manner little short of miraculous. Now he is dreaming of conquering Syria the way the US and the UK did Iraq. Should he do so and ensure the end of Bashar Assad, it is almost certain that the GCC states would purchase around $ 20 billion of French defense goods at a minimum. This would add to the considerable purchases made by India under Narendra Modi, who stuck with the UPA decision to go in for the Rafale jet fighter rather than other options. This pleased both the Dassault company ( which has been saved from financial disaster by the India sale) as well as the French government. President Macron has established a much warmer personal rapport with Modi than his predecessor Hollande, who was far more restrained in his enthusiasm for the Prime Minister of India
Whatever Macron’s lessons in history, they are not likely to help him achieve his dream of getting a mandate to administer Syria the way France did during the age of European colonialism. Bashar Assad has establishing control over more than half the country, with much of the rest being in effective possession of Kurds. In order to keep their financial benefactors in the GCC happy, both Teresa May as well as Macron have to join in theatrical displays of military power such as the sending of 105 missiles to Syria as a show of resolve against Assad. It must be said that Macron is as loyal a follower of the US lead as was Nicholas Sarkozy before him. In his meetings with Trump, the French Head of State is clearly in awe of the physically much bigger US President. It was therefore no surprise that he followed the longstanding example of the UK in immediately joining with Washington in a military adventure.
However, the strikes were so obviously staged for television cameras then for military results that it is unlikely they will fetch Macron any political dividend. As for his idealistic dreams of a remade EU, the French economy is too small to carry forward such ambitions. Rather than reach the level of Germany, France is moving downwards in effective power to the level of Italy. However , the government in Rome is more realistic about its role in the world than is Paris Russian President Vladimir Putin now has to decide as to how he will react to the missile strikes against his ally. The most likely move will be to intensify the bombing and other attacks on the bob-Kurd proxies of the US and its allies. These are likely to be attacked in force by Iran, Russia and the Syrian military. They will pay the price for the need for President Trump to demonstrate to US television anchors that he is not hesitant to act against the wishes of Putin.
The Russia smear against Trump is having the effect of making his administration the most Russophobic in US history. US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley in particular seems an acolyte of Zbigniew Brezezinski in her hatred of Moscow. Watching her in action, memories come of V K Krishna Menon of India, whose acerbic comments against the US in the UN helped nudge Washington towards a policy of distance from India that remained even after the 1962 border war with China. The more the former colonial masters of the Arab states get involved in the internal matters of their former colonies, the greater the chaos that ensues. Iraq, Libya and Syria are the worst sufferers of the delusion by former colonial states that they somehow have the expertise for directing the policies of counties that were once made much miserable by rule from afar. Had France and the UK inserted themselves into Libya and Syria, and had they persuaded the US to follow their example, the world would have been much better off. Only Macron in his world of colonial nostalgia still believes that the way forward for the Middle East is to step backwards into a return of European colonialism together with the US.

Thursday 19 April 2018

ISI planning stormy reception for Modi in UK (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

Assistance is coming from well-wishers within British establishment, mostly from Labour, which has office bearers sympathetic to separatism in Kashmir.

The well-funded ISI module in London is working on overdrive to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets a stormy reception when he visits London next week for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They are being assisted by well-wishers within the British establishment, mostly from the Labour Party, which has several office bearers sympathetic to separatism in Kashmir. Unlike in 2015, when Modi had the advantage of a strongly supportive British Prime Minister in David Cameron, and when problems in the implementation of measures such as GST and demonetisation were yet to take place, this time around there has been much greater resonance to criticism of the PM. The two main thrusts of such attacks are the delay in the dawn of a stable double digit growth in GDP and a rising perception of sectarianism and intolerance created by the verbal and sometimes physical abuses indulged in by the lunatic fringe within the saffron camp. The Prime Minister’s delay in condemning such elements has added fuel to the fire of negative perceptions being created about him in the UK.
Efforts are on to assemble both separately as well as jointly (depending on location) groups willing to hit the streets accusing the Government of India of discrimination against Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits. Slogans are being tested out in the Pakistan High Commission, whose officials have spent the past three weeks fanning out across the UK to energise those who are looking to hold protests against Modi.
Interestingly, the friendly approach to pro-Khalistan elements in the form of liberal visas and other gestures by the NDA, perhaps on the prodding of the Akali Dal, or the reaching out in friendship to Kashmiri separatists by Mehbooba Mufti and the rest of the PDP has had the effect of increasing, rather than reducing their anti-India pitch. Within the UK over the past six years, several gurudwaras have been taken over by pro-Khalistan elements, several of whom regularly visit India while preventing Indian diplomats from entering gurudwaras newly controlled by them. Such activity has reached an uncomfortable level in the UK, which is why there is apprehension that several protests may get staged during Modi’s visit, dominating global headlines. The effort is to paint Modi as being the opposite of the “sabka sath sabka vikas” individual that he has shaped for himself. In particular, British politicians who are active in making claims that the NDA is hostile to the Dalit community have been preparing to raise such issues with the PM if given a chance.
However, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is expert in defeating ISI stratagems and it is expected that it will be ensured that the “no longer silent” majority of NRIs who are pro-Modi will mobilise in force and drown out the anti-Modi clamour in London. The next week will witness a showdown between these two groups, both active warriors in the battle of perceptions being waged around the personality and performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Monday 16 April 2018

Arms lobby against India-US defence ties (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

Lobbies in Lutyens Zone represent not defence, but foreign business interests.

The specific geopolitical needs of India mandate both a robust defence partnership with the US as well as a comprehensive commercial agreement with China, but are at risk of getting neither because of deliberate foot-dragging on both counts by the Lutyens establishment. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was blocked both by the Cold Warriors within his party and by the then dominant Clinton clique within the Obama administration from carrying to fruition his effort at a fullscope reset of India-US relations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the advantage of the last two years of the Obama administration, when the US President succeeded in reducing the influence of the Clintons over policy, and when Ashton Carter was Secretary of Defense. Unlike his predecessors, Carter was clear-eyed about the need for a refocus to the Indo-Pacific from the Atlantic, with consequent weightage being given to the relationship with India. However, he was blocked in his efforts at taking the military partnership forward by the well-connected and cash-rich foreign weapons lobby in the Lutyens Zone, who was apprehensive that existing foreign clients would lose out, once the US and India came much closer in matters of defence and security. The block on progress continues. In the task of forming a closer business relationship with China, the lobbies working in the Lutyens Zone against such a move represent not defence, but foreign business interests that would find their profits from India constricted were Chinese entities to be given a level playing field with those from the US, Europe and East Asia minus China. Such groups are assisted by the intelligence agencies of the countries that fear business competition from China, and who, therefore, expend considerable effort on convincing their peers in India that China is on the cusp of joining Pakistan in a two-front war against India. It needs to be remembered that a mutually beneficial comprehensive defence relationship with the US and its commercial alternative with China is possible only when agreement is reached on both, as any one of these two potential partners has the heft to drive too hard a bargain for India’s good in the absence of Delhi not having a smooth (albeit different) relationship with the other. The US and China being the only global superpowers, a balanced alignment with both these global giants is necessary.
During the initial stages of moves by the Ministry of Defence to purchase 126 fighter aircraft, the best choice was the Saab Gripen, not just for its cost and performance parameters, but because the Swedish company was willing to be sold to an Indian consortium for much less than the price tag agreed upon for Rafale jets. Such a strategic purchase would have given the same technology boost to our aerospace and defence establishment as Tata Motors secured for itself from the purchase of Jaguar-Land Rover. After the Saab option was rejected by India, the Swedish company was finally purchased by a consortium based in Hong Kong. It became clear thereafter that the (revised in 2014) Eurofighter offer was preferable to the Dassault option, for the reason that Airbus Industrie promised to relocate manufacturing and maintenance hubs of several of its products to India, were the Eurofighter chosen. This included joint construction of not just military but civilian aircraft, as well as space collaboration. Buying the Rafale gains geopolitical brownie points with the French, but going in for the Airbus Eurofighter would have added the UK and Germany to that list. However, this revised Airbus offer was turned down in favour of the Rafale. In the case of the initial US F-16 bid, this was unacceptable, because it was an offer very like that of the present agreement concerning the Rafale fighter aircraft, which is that the aircraft is being sold to India with scant technology transfer or domestic manufacturing capability. Now that Lockheed has offered its entire F-16 production line to India, this deal opens up the prospect of not just the spinoff of technology upgrade, but a market for the (India-made) F-16s in third countries, such as Vietnam and Malaysia. To this would be added the acquisition of some 300 modernised F-16s by the Indian Air Force, besides around 200 more for export. Following on the welcome mat set by Ashton Carter during the final two years of President Barack Obama, the Trump administration too has signalled its willingness to facilitate the add-on sale of the Boeing F-18 to India for use by the Navy in combat operations. It has also made clear that agreement on the F-16s and F-18s would be a first step towards India becoming as close a US partner in defence production and technology, as Israel and the UK presently are. Given such additional advantages, another look at the F-16 relocation offer in the context of the overall geopolitical needs of India is desirable.
In tandem, there needs to be agreement with Beijing on commercial cooperation, and a start would be to permit the Bank of China to open branches in Delhi and Chennai, together with reciprocal rights being given in Shanghai and Beijing to banks where the majority shareholding is Indian. North Block has been attempting to plug the Crony Capitalist gap in the balance sheets of banks in India with moneys that ought to have been expended in filling deficiencies in the lifestyles of hundreds of millions of people in India. It would appear from published reports that much of the savings cornered by the government through low oil prices has found its way into those banks that for unspecified reasons gave loans to Nirav Modi and others who had neither the intention nor the capacity to repay. There is an option to the painful (to the citizen) methods adopted by North Block to somehow replenish the banking system, and that is to have some of the more salvageable of such loans (i.e. those backed by physical assets) transferred to Chinese banks. These have longer repayment schedules and lower interest rates than the banks in India, which would get relief after such a switch. Hopefully, the RBI will not yet again go by the wishes of fund managers in New York and London and once again shoot down proposals for Chinese banks to set up branches in India, for such branches could take much of the NPA burden off the taxpayer’s back.

Friday 13 April 2018

Beltway pushes Trump towards war with Russia (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

CASH from wealthy members of the “Wahabbi International” ( the global alliance of Wahabbi interests) flows into think-tanks in the US and the EU, although mostly in the UK. These days, such money has also started flowing to some Scandinavian scholars and institutes, prompting them to write opeds about what they have been prepped to describe as “ creeping fascism” in the Nordic countries. Or in other words, restrictions on the entry of migrants from the Middle East, the single biggest issue in large parts of Europe, a continent that has changed forever as a consequence of the generosity of Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel ensuring that the EU permitted refugees to enter with minimal paperwork, before herself throwing open the door to citizenship in Germany to what will certainly be at least four million refugees and their extended families during the coming five years.
It must be admitted that the complex of think-tanks, mediapersons and former and current officials patronized by the Wahabbi International have proved very effective in influencing policy within the US and the EU, most lately in the Syrian conflict. Judging by the vituperation directed at Assad, it would be easy to forget that the only locations where Christians are safe in Syria is where Assad rules, followed by the Kurdish enclaves. Those parts of Syria still controlled by the “moderate opposition” ie any group funded by the NATO powers and their Middle Eastern allies) have been cleansed of Muslims,Shia and many moderate Sunnis. Such zones are firmly in the Wahabbi grip, and yet CNN and BBC consider such territory to be havens of democracy. The dress code, especially for women, is very strict. Unlike the more relaxed norms followed in those places run by those NATO is seeking to finish off, the Assad forces. Despite the experience of the past, the romance between the Atlantic Alliance and the Wahabbis still continues.
Although Wahabbi academics seldom permit outsiders into their homes,nor allow women to dress other than by the codes popular within Sudan’s Wahabbi elite, their personal conversation with NATO bloc scholars (many eager for grants and fellowships) revolves around the desirability of “freedom”. And in the pantheon of foes of such freedom, President Bashar Assad of Syria heads the list, now that both Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Kaddafy of Libya have been eliminated. It has become a matter of prestige for Wahabbis to somehow ensure that NATO finish off Assad at the earliest. The method of choice is the allegation that the Syrian military is using chemical weapons against women and children. Bashar Assad must be cursing the day he handed over his chemical weapons stocks on the initiative of Russia, which believed that such a sacrifice by its ally would ensure the end of sanctions against it. Instead, now that he is a less formidable foe as a consequence of the chemical weapons handover, the pressure by NATO on Assad has increased substantially.
The probability is high that the chemical weapons attacks blamed by CNN and BBC have been “false flag” operations, carried out so as to create a justification for a war on Assad similar to that waged against Kaddafy in 2011, and which would involve the air forces of selected countries as was the case in the Libyan regime change operation. The same grim pictures have appeared on television screens and the “talking heads” who have for decades backed Wahabbi causes are these days demanding “immediate and deadly” action against Assad and his administration.
The present ruler of Russia,Vladimir Putin, has shown that he understands the errors made in the past, including by Dmitry Medvedev as President, who stood aside while Kaddafy was defeated and killed and is clearly in the Gorbachev-Yeltsin mould. For Putin, the protection of the Syrian regime is a matter of supreme importance, as it ensures not merely a significant base area for Moscow within the Middle East but shows leaders of the region that Russia will not cut and run from its allies. An attack on Assad will be met with defensive systems that are certain to destroy hostile aircraft. How much farther can President Trump go before getting close to an all-out war with Russia? If that happens, and if Russia moves its forces into the Baltic Republics, the nuclear weapons at its command will mean that NATO will be unable to credibly respond. Should a nuclear weapons state of the potency of Russia launch a tactical nuclear weapon strike on forces from a non-nuclear country , the odds are close to zero that there will be a nuclear response from the US, the UK and France.
The three are well aware that a war between two full-fledged nuclear weapons states can only end in the destruction of the planet. This is the immunity enjoyed by a nuclear weapons state, and this is being seen in the behaviour of Israel and the responses to it. Any battle between NATO forces and Russia would spook global markets substantially. Brinkmanship works only if the other side is prone to blinking. If not, it can end in catastrophe. Catastrophe is what an attack by the US and its allies on the Syrian government would be. Such a move would meet with an immediate riposte from Russia, with unintended consequences that may end in the unimaginable. Hopefully, Donald Trump will remember his warnings against getting involved in quixotic wars, and free himself from the clutches of the Beltway. Should he instead do what television anchors are clamouring for, which is war, the world may witness a direct clash of arms between Washington and Moscow for the first time ever in their histories.

Monday 9 April 2018

Boao Forum for Asia: Expert on trade protectionism, China's reform and opening up (CGTN)

While “open” is the keyword of the Boao Forum for Asia, Donald Trump’s administration seems to be heading in the opposite direction. In response to growing US protectionism, South Korea said it will suspend tariff concessions on certain US goods, becoming one of the first countries to take such a line. Will more countries follow suit? How can Asia deal with the US when it's being so protective? 
M.D. Nalapat, vice-chair of Manipal University's Advanced Research Group in New Delhi, shared his perspectives on global trade with CGTN.
US' trade protectionism is harmful to both China and the US
Mr. Nalapat thinks the US is becoming more dependent on Asia, and global trade should be a two-way street and win-win situation. However, Washington thinks in zero-sum terms. He said the notion that America wanting to benefit from global trade without any costs is a delusion. Today’s Asia is strong enough to challenge the US. A united Asia has the capability to hurt the US economy, and that will affect the political standing of Trump and his party, he pointed out. 
Trump is a businessman who was elected on the hopes of making America great again. Mr. Nalapat added that the trade war instead weakens the country's economy, and will tank voter support for Trump. 
China will be the leader of innovation in the future 
In addition to the ongoing trade conflict between the US and China, Mr. Nalapat shared his insights on China's ongoing reform as well.
He said that China’s private businesses are “extremely capable and competitive,” as Chinese entrepreneurs are brilliant. As a businessman who has garnered global influence, Alibaba Group's Jack Ma will have more followers in the next twenty years. 
Mr. Nalapat also emphasized the flow of migrant talent, noting that the US shuts doors across the world, especially for people from non-European countries, China stands to benefit from this flow of human capital. 

Saturday 7 April 2018

Rajapaksa moves towards an encore (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

‘Lack of strong leadership’ is not a shortcoming of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 COLOMBO: Outside the room window at the Galle Face hotel, every few seconds bring the whisper of waves reaching the shoreline. It is a beautiful sight, very different from that December night in 2004 when a tsunami hit the island, taking with it more than 40,000 human lives. Five years later, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa finished off a different kind of tsunami, the war against the Sri Lankan state carried on by the LTTE under Velupillai Prabhakaran, who though being a Christian by faith, was not always conspicuous in paying heed to Christ’s admonition to “turn the other cheek”. During those weeks in 2009, the BJP under L.K. Advani was giving a sympathetic ear to ally Vaiko’s admonition to the party to try and save Prabhakaran from final defeat, and the Congress was heeding the call of its allies in Tamil Nadu to make the Sri Lankan military abandon its pursuit of the LTTE. At the same time, goaded by the Norwegians (who appointed themselves the patrons and protectors of the LTTE within the international community), both the US as well as the EU were raising to a high decibel pitch their commands to Rajapaksa to desist from finishing off the LTTE and its commander. Several times in the past, the Sri Lankan military had reversed its pursuit of the “Tamil Tigers” in deference to international pressure, thereby gifting that organisation several “lives”.
This time around, in Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabhaya (who as Defence Secretary was in effective command of the Sri Lankan armed forces), the Sri Lankan state had a pair who refused to play by the rules set by the former colonial masters of South Asia, and who continued to harry Prabhakaran and his men to their deaths. Not surprisingly, many civilians too (especially the human shields placed in key locations by the LTTE) lost their lives. Since then, an all-out effort has been launched to ensure that at least a few Sri Lankan generals (present and past) be brought before the International Court of Justice to stand trial for “crimes against humanity”. Rather than ask the US and the EU to first bring to account those from their own militaries who have caused such alarming loss of civilian life in operations in locations such as Fallujah, the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe unity government in Sri Lanka has gone a considerable distance in accepting the demands of the US and its allies that the Sri Lankan military be punished for winning the war on terror at a time when NATO has failed to subdue either the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
In the calculus of human rights in Sri Lanka of those countries that have thus far failed to prevail over terror groups despite having expended trillions of dollars on the effort, allowance does not seem to have been made for the fact that the country has been at peace since the final defeat of the LTTE in 2009 at the hands of the Sri Lankan military. In times past, Colombo was a warren of roadblocks manned by jumpy troops looking for the next suicide bomber. In the 2015 polls, because of a split in the Sinhala vote, Tamil and Muslim minority parties held the power to determine who ruled Sri Lanka. Had it not been for the boost in voting percentages among the Tamils to a level unprecedented since the 1970s, and had Muslim voters not turned against him because of the perception that he was tacitly backing hardline Buddhist groups, Mahinda Rajapaksa would have remained President of Sri Lanka in the 2015 elections. The Sirisena-Wickremasinghe unity government got passed a constitutional amendment barring an individual from standing for more than two terms, thereby taking Rajapaksa out of the next Presidential race.
However, every enactment has a loophole, and if Mahinda Rajapaksa can secure victory at the polls for a proxy candidate, that individual can dissolve Parliament and expect that Rajapaksa’s new party can secure an overwhelming mandate at the parliamentary polls, the way they swept the local body elections some weeks ago. After that, the newly elected (proxy) President can resign, thereby clearing the way for Rajapaksa to return to the office he held from 2005 until 2015. Given current trends, that would align with the wishes of the majority of Sri Lankan voters, who are getting disenchanted with the unity government and its “lack of strong leadership”. Whatever be the shortcomings of Mahinda Rajapaksa, “lack of strong leadership” is not among them. The loyal individual who resigns his Presidential chair after ensuring Parliamentary polls get held, quitting in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa, would be made Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the way the posts of President and Prime Minister were exchanged by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian Federation. Among the possibles for such a role would be G.L. Peiris, who has long been a backer of the former President of Sri Lanka.
In the absence of a strong push towards policies which can lead to faster growth, a clash of ethnic and cultural identities has risen to the top of the consciousness of politicians across several corners of the world. Since the Trump presidency began, the US has been rolling up, rather than rolling out the welcome mat for trained immigrants from locations with more sunlight and hence greater pigment than Europe. This will cost the US the edge it needs to ensure that the country keeps ahead of China in the technology race, especially if Beijing were to welcome such individuals into its cities and companies. However, it is the no longer hidden fear of the US becoming a country with a majority of “non-whites” that is a prime mover of the Trump poll machine, and the new administration is using the most counter-productive, indeed primitive, instrument at its command to try and stave off that day, which is by making it difficult for “non-whites” to get citizenship.
Among the new regulations are an effective bar on Green Card applicants who use public services in the country, even if this be for emergency medical attention. The number of H1B visas has slowed to half of what they were during the Obama years, and within years, this will result in Jack Ma prevailing over Bill Gates in dominating the technology of the future. Sri Lanka is no exception to such politics. The present government has the support of only a minority of the Sinhala population, relying instead on the near-total backing of the Tamil and Muslim populations on the island, both of which came out to vote in unprecedented strength during the 2015 polls (which saw the defeat of Rajapaksa). At that point in time, several Sinhala voters either stayed away or voted for Sirisena or Ranil Wickremasinghe. During the next round, they are likely to return to Rajapaksa, mainly because of a reaction to the consolidation of minority (Tamil and Muslim) voters against him. The era of the strongman of Sri Lankan politics seems to be on the cusp of return.

Friday 6 April 2018

Lankan PM Ranil ‘too nice’ for his job (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat

COLOMBO is among the most pleasant cities for a tourist to visit, and there are few hotels which can match the majestic Galle Face Hotel on Galle Road. Next door to the hotel is the High Commission of India, and next to that the US Embassy. These days, the closeness of the two compounds to each other mirror the growing partnership between Washington and Delhi, two capitals that have been far apart for much of the past. But the attractions of the hotel is not only its Old World charm but the view of the waves of the sea from the oceanfront hotel, followed by the calming sound the seawater makes as it reaches the beach. However, April 04 was far from a calm day for Ranil Wickermasinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, who faced a “Loss of Confidence” motion against him in Parliament that day. Ever courteous and soft-spoken, it must have been an effort for the UNF leader to remain calm as speaker after speaker excoriated him and called for him to step down, including several who had been his supporters till recently.
After the formidable Junius Richard Jayawardene, it had been Ranil who had taken up the leadership of his party, and after a lapse of three decades, it is clear that most of his party colleagues want to see another individual take charge. The most popular among these is the son of a former President, the legislator Sajith Premadasa. Even though Prime Minister Wickremasinghe is an outstanding human being and a competent administrator, it is clear that he has overstayed his welcome within the ambitious ranks of his own party. The consequence is that whatever is left of the remainder of his term in the second highest office in Sri Lanka ( after the Presidency of the Republic) will be marked with acrimony and controversy. Given the spreading sentiment against Ranil’s continuance, it would be best if he were to voluntarily quit rather than get forced out of office. This No Confidence motion has not succeeded, but others are certain to follow,in different guises. Indeed,the opposition motion was secretly encouraged by ambitious people from Ranil’s own party,the UNF .
Watching what is taking place in the Sri Lankan parliament about a PM who has stayed too long, Atal Behari Vajpayee comes to mind. By the close of 2002, Vajpayee had clearly lost the robust health needed to do justice to a job that mandates a gruelling workday. His medications made it difficult for Vajpayee to concentrate on the tasks and crises that he was confronted with on a daily basis, with the result that effective authority shifted to Principal Secretary to Prime Minister and National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra. From around July 2002, it was Mishra rather than Vajpayee who was calling the shots in the Prime Minister’s Office,the hub of governance in India. Being a lifelong bureaucrat averse to listening to any view or individual he disliked (and this was a long list), “Executive PM” Mishra in effect took precedence in policy over the Cabinet Ministers in the Vajpayee government, including Deputy Prime Minister and Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, who has always been unable to go against either Vajpayee or those nominated by Vajpayee to exercise his powers.
The lack of political antennae of Mishra and his (not surprising) bureaucratised approach to policy resulted in decisions being taken by the BJP-led government that steadily reduced the party’s popularity among its supporters, with the result that enough of them stayed home during polling day in 2004 to ensure that the Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi prevailed over the BJP in the Lok Sabha ( Lower House) elections to the national parliament. Had Vajpayee gracefully accepted that the state of his health made it impossible to continue into 2003,and handed over the baton to Advani, the BJP may have retained its hold on power in 2009. The health crisis facing Vajpayee made the Prime Minster offer his resignation. but this was tearfully turned down by Advani. The chance to be PM comes but once in a lifetime, and Advani lost it in 2002 by putting his affection for Vajpayee above the needs of the BJP and the country for a healthy PM. In the 2009 polls, Advani failed to enthuse voters and the BJP lost further ground to the Congress, regaining power only under Narendra Modi in 2004, who however seems to be going the Vajpayee way in being excessively dependent on officials for both policy formulation as well as implementation.
The problem with Ranil Wickremasinghe is that he is too nice for the job. The Prime Minister of a country should not be a “nice guy” who is obliging to as many people or interests as possible. He or she needs to be tough on certain issues, the way former President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa was when faced in 2009 with calls from the US and the EU to give LTTE leader Prabhakaran a safe exit from the trap that the Sri Lankan military had laid for him under the guidance of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Because of the Sri Lankan leader’s refusal to obey powerful countries used to deferential behaviour from others, Mahinda Rajapaksa ( with help from a few friendly countries) defeated the LTTE and ensured the end of terrorism in the island. As a consequence, the Sri Lankan economy started to improve and these days, the nightmare of violence and terror attacks that was the norm in the past is becoming a distant memory.
However, current President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe are seen by many as too eager to please the “international community” (CNN and BBC-speak for the US and the EU) by giving unprecedented concessions on sovereignity and self-respect to the US-EU combination who interfere in the guise of “ protecting human rights”. The concessions given by Sirisena and Ranil to Washington and its European allies will not save the Sri Lankan government from harsh demands to punish the Sri Lankan military for shaming NATO by defeating the LTTE in a way that NATO failed to do with the Taliban in Afghanistan and with Al Qaeda and Daesh in the Middle East, despite killing several tens of times more civilians than the Sri Lankan military did in its war with the LTTE. While Russia,Syria and Iran did the heavy lifting against Daesh, CNN_BBC-Al Jazeera gives the credit to NATO, the way the US and the UK forgot that it was Moscow that defeated Hitler from 1943 to 1945. More than any other reason, it is the perception by Sri Lankans of Sirisena and Ranil bowing to US-EU pressure that is clearing a way for the return to power of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the next Sri Lankan election.

Sunday 1 April 2018

Maldives response showcases ‘India Last’ (Sunday Guardian)

M.D. Nalapat

India First’ policy touted by Government of India is becoming ‘India Last’, in practice.

Some days ago, the Indian Express carried a short news item concerning the Maldives, which claimed that the Government of India had decided—as a gesture of friendship to China—against any form of intervention in the country which, though small in size, is core to primacy over the westernmost quadrant of the waters of the Indo-Pacific. Earlier, news reports had been printed of a flotilla from the PLA Navy steaming towards the Maldives, and which had (according to several accounts) dissuaded Delhi from going ahead with a strategy designed to restore democracy in the Maldives, as demanded by ousted Head of State Mohammad Nasheed and countless other moderate and freedom-loving voices in the archipelago.
The lack of action by India thus far on the Maldivian situation follows a very public snub to Nasheed administered recently by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and a lengthy period of silence by the MEA over developments in the Maldives after an initial burst of advice to Coup Leader Abdulla Yameen to abide by democratic principles and methods. Advice that was not simply ignored, but rejected with contempt by Yameen, under whom the Maldives has become a key recruiting station for ISIS and Al Qaeda, and where the moderate, syncretic Islam that still holds sway in India is rapidly giving way to Wahhabism. The BJP has apparently kept Prime Minister Narendra Modi so busy politicking that he has not found the time to focus on several issues that are unrelated to the party project of making the BJP what the Congress Party under Jawaharlal Nehru was in the 1950s, all-powerful except for a Communist Party government in Kerala led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad that was soon toppled by the Central government on the specious ground that law and order had broken down.
It had not, despite the best (or worst, rather) efforts of a coalition comprising the CIA and caste and religious leaders in the state to create chaos. Unless Modi steps forward and de-freezes the current block on an effective response by his government to the liquidation of democracy and moderation in the Maldives, any talk of India’s elevated standing in the easternmost quadrant of the Indo-Pacific will be impossible to sustain.
China regards not simply primacy, but dominance in the South China Sea to be an essential requirement in its steady progression towards displacing the United States as the primary power on the globe. Once that objective gets fulfilled, the next theatre for establishment of primacy will be the Indian Ocean, from where Beijing will work to displace the US as the dominant military force in the ocean waters. For the US, the only route towards retaining its dominance would be a partnership with India, initial steps towards which have been taken through the Quadrilateral Alliance of the US, Australia, Japan and India (hopefully to soon get expanded with the entry of Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines). Thus far, a hypercautious Lutyens Zone bureaucracy has fended off US efforts to get India to sign the other two of the three Foundation Defense Agreements, even after suitable tweaking of the language in them to take account of the lingering Cold War sentiment still prevalent in Delhi.
Neither will the US be long able to fend off Chinese moves to establish primacy over the Indian Ocean by itself nor can India alone come anywhere near having primacy for itself within these waters, important though that is for a country aiming to be a part of the global Big Four of the future, together with Russia, the US and China. If India regards itself as unable to back even its closest friends (such as the legitimate Head of State of the Maldives, Mohammad Nasheed), it is clear that the “India First” policy touted by the Government of India is in practice “India Last”. The Maldives, Sri Lanka and Indonesia are essential allies in any strategy designed to ensure the primacy of India (in conjunction with its Quad allies) within the eastern quadrants of the Indo-Pacific. Should the Modi government walk away from action designed to ensure the restoration of democracy and a rollback of officially sanctioned Wahhabism in the Maldives, the credibility of New Delhi as a friend and its deadliness as a foe would verge on the inconsequential. Some in the Lutyens Zone claim that it is Washington that has counselled Delhi to hold its fire in the Maldives crisis.
If true, this indicates a failure of Indian diplomacy to convince the US of the criticality of action in the Maldives to the objective of the Quad retaining its dominant position within the Indo-Pacific. Abandoning the forces of democracy and moderation in the Maldives to a dire fate at the hands of Wahhabi fanatics would result in a sharp loss of credibility for the Quad among the regional powers. The Maldives is the first major test for the four-nation alliance, and thus far, it has failed the examination miserably.
Once the anti-Quad forces in the Maldives comprehensively eliminate moderate competitors through the use of muscle power, political groups in Sri Lanka would draw the appropriate conclusion: that the US and India are shaky allies at best, while China (which has been a consistent backer of Abdulla Yameen) is far more reliable in good times or bad. Given the past unpleasantness between the (newly ascendant) Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka and the Lutyens Zone, it would be logical for the formidable former President of Sri Lanka to reach the conclusion that the downside is small to treating Delhi the way Coup President Abdulla Yameen in Male and Prime Minister K.P. Oli in Kathmandu are doing. As for Indonesia, it has watched as Wahhabi groups in Pakistan were funded, armed and trained for generations by the US and its allies, enabling them to grow to a monster that poses a threat to global security.
Since military dictator Suharto entered upon a clandestine relationship with religious extremists in Indonesia in the 1990s, Wahhabi groups have been multiplying in a country which till recently was a bastion of moderation and syncretic values. Unless Jakarta joins Colombo and Male in dropping anchor within the protective ring formed by the Quadrilateral Alliance, resistance to Wahhabism will remain inadequate for a rollback of this pernicious doctrine. If the first (and smallest) domino in the shape of the Maldives remains in the control of Wahhabi forces opposed to the Quad, the others are at risk of following suit. Hopefully, those reports that talk of a policy of pusillanimous inaction over the crisis in the Maldives will soon be proved wrong, else it will be clear that India Last has prevailed over India First.