Saturday, 31 October 2020
The Opposition is relying on emotions caused by the pandemic resulting in a protest vote against the Central and state governments in Bihar.
Depending on the results of the Bihar Assembly polls, either the Congress Party or the BJP will claim that the election was not a referendum on the central leadership of the losing party, but was based on state-specific issues having scant relation to the national level. Such a reading would be incorrect. So far as the Congress Party is concerned, increasingly since Jawaharlal Nehru was nominated by Mahatma Gandhi to be the first Prime Minister of India, the dynasty begun by Motilal Nehru has become inseparable from the party that ruled India for the longest time, and may well do so again, such being the inexplicable nature of politics in the world’s most populous democracy. As Prime Minister, Nehru accounted for much of the oxygen (authority) within the Congress Party, and by 1969, almost all the oxygen was diverted to Indira Gandhi. Because of the unprecedented mandate that the Congress Party secured in the 1984 polls, Rajiv Gandhi maintained the family’s dominance, but this began to fray after his defeat. P.V. Narasimha Rao ensured that Rajiv’s family was protected, but did not as Prime Minister concede to 10 Janpath the immense store of “oxygen” that gets attached to the most important job in the country. The loss of his job and his authority happened practically simultaneously. Once Sonia Gandhi formally took over as Congress President (or CP, as she is referred to within the party leadership), she demonstrated a ruthlessness that was absent in Rajiv, which is why she continues to hold sway in the party and has the ability to transfer its formal leadership to Rahul Gandhi, who seems much more like his father in temperament than his mother. While Sonia Gandhi enjoys being in the vortex of politics, Rajiv did not, and seemingly neither does Rahul, although Priyanka may be more like her mother in this respect. In the BJP, practically all the oxygen at the national level is provided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, much as was the case of the Congress Party under Nehru in the 1950s.
While the Congress Party has depended on targeted voting clusters and state sops for maintaining its support level, the BJP depends on both sops as well as generous dollops of emotion. Fortunately for the Prime Minister, much of the media in India admires him, and their coverage reflects this. The abrupt change from dropping in on Nawaz Sharif to celebrate a birthday to the Balakot strike assisted the BJP I’m surprising the Congress Party in the 2019 polls, and in 2024, the party seems confident that a similar appeal to emotions will see it through. The problem facing the BJP is that emotions are intermixed not just with distaste for an enemy power or concentrated on those seemingly bereft of national pride, but in economic realities. The manner in which the 2016 demonetisation was carried out by North Block and the RBI drained liquidity from key sectors of the economy, especially those at the lower end. The impossibly high rates and bewildering complexity of GST when first fully rolled out in 2017 similarly had an effect on the economy. Even more consequential have been the WHO-recommended lockdowns this year that were intended to reduce caseloads and fatalities caused by the novel coronavirus that flew to the far corners of the world from Wuhan during November 2019-February 2020. Medical practitioners in Hubei warned local authorities of the toxicity of the disease, but were silenced rather than rewarded for their concerns. While those flights caused what ought to have remained a localised outbreak became a pandemic across continents, the impact on international goodwill for the People’s Republic of China has been severe, as are the longer-term economic consequences to its economy of the deceleration in growth caused by the countermeasures taken by key markets in the wake of the pandemic. In India as well as in the US and elsewhere, the calculation of the proponents of the “lockdown theory” is that millions of lives were saved as a consequence of restrictions that were applied. What is not contested is that hundreds of millions of livelihoods have been affected. Jobs have vanished, incomes have plunged, and this has produced emotions that have so far been mostly latent, but which are nevertheless potent. The rate of growth of GDP in India had been falling for some time prior to the Great Indian Lockdown, but despite the pain that was caused by that, there was also hope that the future would be better. This is the first time since 2014 that such a hope seems to be diminishing. Even in the middle classes, there is a growing sense of hopelessness about the future that multiple assurances of “green shoots” from those in authority have not extinguished. Bihar is the home of millions of migrant workers who were left to fend for themselves during the first lockdown and found their reserves of money running out in the absence of work. The abrupt extension of the lockdown panicked many, and resulted in their leaving for home rather than in a strange place bereft of shelter, food or income. The exodus of migrant workers from cities fuelled the spread of the pandemic across the country. The Opposition is relying on the emotions caused by the pandemic resulting in a protest vote against the Central and state governments in Bihar.
The obstacle to this calculation by the Opposition is the credibility of Narendra Modi as the instrument of beneficial change across the country. The elections in Bihar will test whether this is intact despite the economic pain of the present. Even if intact, that is all the more reason that those working atop Raisina Hill concentrate more on policies that ensure that millions be assisted to jump out of the economic ditch into which they have fallen. Emotions rise when jobs vanish and incomes fall. Check what happened in Germany in the 1930s. It is time that North Block and the RBI stopped refusing to go ahead with enough of the monetary and fiscal measures that need to be taken this year and for two more years to enable recovery from the pandemic and its effects. The need is for the government to direct a copious flow of income directly into the pockets of the lower and middle classes who have built this country by their toil and need help now. Before their patience and hope runs out, such a response needs to come.
Despite the influence of known GHQ Rawalpindi proxies in the Biden camp and less so in the Trump set-up, it will no longer be possible for any administration to untangle the two interlocking DNA strands that form the India-US partnership.
New Delhi: The signing of the final defence and security foundation agreement between the United States and India has placed on a firm and fast track the Indo-Pacific partnership between Washington and New Delhi. It is instructive to note that the initiation of formal engagement and interlocking of the US and Indian militaries began in 2001 with the signing of the military information protocol between the two sides, but was set back by the granting of “Major Non-NATO Ally” status to Pakistan in 2004. The same offer was made to India, which refused to accept the longstanding US policy of being equated with Pakistan. Appointing the arsonist (the Pakistan army) to head the Af-Pak Fire Department after 9/11, was among the long list of errors committed by the George W. Bush administration in its haphazard battle against Wahhabi terrorists in Afghanistan. Another was the permission given to Pakistan to evacuate terrorists as well as their GHQ Rawalpindi trainers from Kunduz in the early stages of the 2001 conflict in Afghanistan. This was an astonishing decision, which in its subsequent consequences ought to have led to the censure of President Bush by the US Congress. The US followed the path taken by the USSR in not understanding that the key to success in Afghanistan vested in holding Pakistan accountable for its actions in that country, and taking action against GHQ Rawalpindi rather than rewarding that military for having nurtured terror groups even after 9/11. A US request to send a division of Indian troops to safeguard the Kurdish zone in Iraq following the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was turned down by the A.B. Vajpayee government owing to domestic political calculations. Earlier in the 1990s, the Clinton administration had brushed away feelers from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao for a de facto alliance between the US and India to replace that which had collapsed with the fall of the USSR in 1991. Instead, President Clinton doubled down on pressurising India to dismantle its nuclear and missile program. It also backed officials such as Robin Raphel, whose mentor in Pakistan (Shafquat Khakhakel) converted the brainy and hard-working US diplomat into a lifelong apologist for GHQ Rawalpindi and a foe of Indian interests. In 2004, the UPA came into power in India, and security and defence cooperation between India and the US slowed to a crawl. They were speeded up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, who came to office after the influence of the Clintons was on the wane within the Obama administration. The foundational logistics agreement (LEMOA) was signed in 2016 through a cutting away of Pentagon and State Department red tape by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and the communications agreement (COMCASA) in 2018. After another gap of two years, the final foundational defence and security agreement (BECA) has been signed last month. This makes the Indo-Pacific Partnership between the US and India an operational reality, and was made possible by the leadership and insight of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the close relationship that President Donald J. Trump established with him, exactly on the same lines as was done by his predecessor Barack Obama.
INDIA AND US COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER
Neither India nor the US can by themselves secure the Indo-Pacific against the vigorous and well planned drive by the Xi-Putin alliance to establish primacy over the Indo-Pacific. Both the US and India have complementary capabilities that need to be jointly harnessed and deployed in offensive and defensive roles. While India has been a laggard in developing its own advanced defence platforms, except for its space and missile capability, the US has developed long-range precision munitions capable of inflicting crippling damage on enemy forces and fortifications. Examples are the Precision Strike Missile and the Naval Strike Missile. Under President Trump, the Marine Corps has been transformed into a deadly first responder in cases of aggression. Within the Indian military as well, there are substantial reserves of manpower (including a growing cohort of fearless women) who can be deployed along with US forces in future contingencies, once inter-operability gets perfected and the flow of US equipment to the Indian armed forces multiplies in a manner that reflects mutual security needs rather than narrow commercial considerations. Such a shift in priorities will save rather than increase costs for the US even in the short run, and these savings would increase in the medium and long term.
With the signing of BECA, the two sides have established the US-India Indo-Pacific Partnership. This construct transcends the boundaries of partisan divides in both democracies. In the US with the exception of fringe elements. Despite the influence of known GHQ Rawalpindi proxies in the Biden camp and less so in the Trump set-up, it will no longer be possible for any administration to untangle the two interlocking DNA strands. This fixity of tenure irrespective of political changes is possibly among the reasons why Prime Minister Modi refused to delay the signing of BECA till after the polls. He went ahead with an agreement that is central to security in India, given the expansion of offensive and defensive capabilities that it creates. The foundational agreements signed with India are different from others that have been entered into by the US, and it was this insistence on the uniqueness of a country of a billion and more people that caused the Obama administration during its Clinton-heavy phase to continue to insist on India accepting conditions similar to those offered to states with much lower geopolitical potential. It goes to the credit of the Trump administration that the exceptionality of India was recognised so that agreement was reached to sign two more foundation agreements (COMCASA and BECA) during President Trump’s current term in office.
Both in the Beltway as well as in the Lutyens Zone, bureaucracies are used to operating in silos that have tunnel vision. The larger picture is either not factored in or not understood, while the short run consequences of any policy or action get precedence over longer-term interests. Such a mindset has caused the substantial underperformance over the years in the US-India relationship. Both countries have differences that are short term but have similar long-term visions of what constitute desirable future situations. Another issue relates to tactics. The US and India usually agree on objectives but differ on how to get there. An example is Iran, where Washington has been slow to understand that it could pay a high price (in terms of loss of its overall interests to the PRC) by arm-twisting India into stopping purchases of crude oil from Iran. This decision has been a disaster for India and also for the US, and has affected the Chahbahar project as well. India’s central role in this port and link project is essential for both countries (India and the US) in ensuring that Afghanistan remain free of the danger of being choked of supplies by proxies of GHQ Rawalpindi with the assistance of Beijing.
INDIA AS PRODUCTION PLATFORM
In 2014, soon after the Lok Sabha polls, the Merkel administration in Germany suggested to the incoming government that India could in effect replace China as the production platform for much of the manufacture of products by European consortiums. This is an offer that it would be wise to relook at, and if found feasible, to consent to. Along with that, US defence companies should be incentivised to shift part of their manufacturing to India, now that manufacturing them in China is out of bounds for security reasons. Such a move would also expand the markets for US products that compete with those turned out by the Sino-Russian alliance. The establishing of a strong partnership between the US and India is a security and defence imperative. These measures, including the signing of the foundation pacts, have opened the door to investment by countries and companies that are de-coupling from the PRC. Much work needs to be done to bring administrative and other systems in India to the standards required for seamless decision making and operation of facilities, and hopefully this will be a priority during Modi 2.0. The crony capitalism of past regimes needs to be wholly eliminated, as crony capitalists are known for becoming rich at the expense of the enterprises they run on money borrowed from the public banking system, not to mention concessions made at the cost of the exchequer. Eliminating crony capitalism needs to be a high priority during Modi 2.0, and sharing of information between India and the US on financial flows would greatly facilitate such a process.
INDIA, US TOGETHER DOMINATE IN CAPABILITIES
Establishing primacy over the Indo-Pacific and ensuring a multi-polar Asia (as expounded by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar) mandates the joint presence in an expanded range of situations between not just the US and India but between all four members of the Quad. This would cover not just the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) but, where needed, other parts of the Indo-Pacific as well. Now that situational and intelligence awareness can be shared extensively, the Beltway in Washington will need to come to terms with the fact that an expansion of capacities by the Indian military is essential for US interests, and that this has to be done in a manner that is financially sustainable for the smaller economy. Such activity would have both a demonstration as well as a deterrent effect. Rather than provoke a war (as apologists for the Sino-Russian alliance argue), it would deter conflict. With the signing of BECA, the way is open for the US and India to partner in strategic capabilities in a manner that has not been attempted in the past. At least six new nuclear submarines need to be built in India as per government. Surely it would be in Washington’s interest that the reactors for these be made in the US rather than in Russia. Also in the field of atomic energy, the use of thorium as feedstock and fusion rather than fission energy could be jointly explored by India and the US. The Beltway needs to understand that India is in key respects a co-equal partner of the US, and work on that basis rather than seek to follow a routine that is more familiar, of regarding the other country as subsidiary. Once the principle of acceptance of Indian exceptionalism is established, biotechnology, cyber and space could be other frontiers of cooperation that would reduce overall costs to the US while maintaining if not enhancing quality. Over the horizon radar technology could be developed by India as part of the joint production of defence platforms between the two biggest democracies.
Should there be another war over the Himalayan massif, J-STARS aircraft may fly across the Line of Actual Control to assist in offensive and defensive moves by the Indian military. Targeting information by the US military could be passed on to Indian airborne, naval and land shooters. Stockpiles of essential equipment could be kept ready across the Himalayan theatre for use in an eventuality. A war that involves India and China will give indications of whether it is Beijing or Washington that will prevail in the 21st century contest for primacy between the two. The Indo-Pacific partnership with India begun under Obama-Modi and completed during the Modi-Trump era will be a deciding factor in the outcome of Cold War 2.0.
Saturday, 24 October 2020
The Opposition in India is anticipating that discontent caused by loss of jobs and income will lead to an eruption of protests on the streets.
From the time international flights from infected locations landed in cities across the world and spread a disease that ought by the authorities to have been contained in Hubei, conversations about Covid-19 have been tinged with the panic that comes out of terror. The WHO acted far too late in warning against transmission through passenger jets, but sought to make up later (when the disease had already taken root globally) by describing the novel coronavirus in horror movie terms. Television screens filled with images of patients nearing their end, many gasping for breath and surrounded by ghostlike figures in PPEs and not by family. Death rates in those who were hospitalised soared, in no small part because treatment protocols for the new scourge had yet to take shape. Out of more than seven billion inhabitants of the planet, around a million are estimated to have died because of the manner in which Covid-19 was permitted to become a frequent traveller rather than contained in the location where it originated. The inability of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to prevent the global spread of the pandemic has resulted in a fall in its goodwill that has wiped out decades of effort by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to build bridges with populations in every continent. Although the PRC has made a quick rebound from the economic slump courtesy the measures taken to stamp out the infection within the country, the worldwide impact of Covid-19 on markets and on supply chains will not be anything other than a steep minus for China. In countries across the world, politicians regarded as being close to the CCP are facing blowback from publics angered at the effects of the pandemic. Which explains why Donald J. Trump is seeking to portray Joe Biden as a “panda hugger”, an individual friendly to the ruling establishment in China, and why news about Trump having a bank account in China is getting disseminated at speed by the Democratic Party. Of course, another factor working against the 45th President of the US is the fact that almost a year of Covid-19 has affected nerves and tempers. Joe Biden is obviously much more boring as a conversationalist or as a travelling companion than Donald J. Trump, but in these times, many voters would prefer a duller existence to the high-voltage uncertainty that the pandemic has made of ordinary lives. This is the difference that Covid-19 may make when compared with 2016, when the flashier, less predictable candidate won.
In India as well, the pandemic has brought with it an overflow of anxiety about the future. Tens of millions have lost their jobs, while others have seen their incomes reduced and savings get depleted. Fear of catching the disease is a nightmare not only because of the horrifying images of patients battling for life in the ICU, but because of the financial ruin its onset can cause in a situation where EMIs have become much more difficult to repay. And where there has been no substantial effort by the state to ensure that the burden, especially on middle class and urban citizens, gets reduced. Giving just limited relief (such as waiving the interest on interest) has resulted in the widespread perception that any citizen facing the pandemic is on his own. Sums amounting to 5% of the GDP need to be spent over each of three years to repair the damage caused by the pandemic and the WHO-mandated measures taken to limit its spread. Such expenditure needs to focus on employees (thereby taking some of the wage burden off companies) and on MSMEs facing financial and other difficulties because of the pandemic. Banks have indeed been infused with lots of government cash, but are thus far giving loans only to businesses that are less stressed rather than to those who need infusions of money to carry on their operations. Bankers are wary that they function in a country where the CBI can come knocking at the door of an individual 15 years after retirement about a loan that went sour during his service in the bank. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to allay such fears, as has Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, but they persist with the result that the banking system has failed to address the crisis in the operations of several businesses because of the pandemic. Not to mention the lockdowns designed to eliminate it. Bankers know that guarantees—mostly verbal—that are given by a particular government are likely to be ignored by its successor, just as Trump has systematically sought to reverse each of the signature policies of President Barack Obama, in many instances to the detriment of US citizens and possibly his own chance for re-election. Although President Trump has been accused of subordinating the Republican Party to his whims, the reality is that he has mostly done what his party grandees wanted for their own purposes. As a consequence, Trump has alienated several of the independent voters who ensured the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016, including with his judicial picks. Should Trump get defeated and his party lose its Senate majority because of its insistence on doing away with the Affordable Care Act and the right to abortion for women, it may not merely be the US Supreme Court that sees an increase in bench strength. The judges the 45th Preident has appointed have been remarkably predictable in their verdicts on matters of interest to the Republican base, and are not just ideologically but ethnically far from representative of the country that elected Donald J Trump four years back.
The consequences of Covid-19 on society and the economy will play out in the US elections on 3 November. In India, the next Lok Sabha poll is in 2024, still a considerable way ahead. What the Opposition is anticipating is that the discontent caused by the loss of jobs and income by the pandemic will lead to an eruption of protests on the streets of towns and cities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seeking to allay the difficulties of those in rural areas, but thus far, a similar activism has not been witnessed in the urban areas. Millions of lives may have been saved by the lockdown, as supporters of the measures taken by PM Modi such as Bill Gates claim. However, many more millions have seen their income and consumption levels crash during the year, and most of them are below middle age. Modi’s rivals calculate that anger is rising as patience is falling, and that in months the time will be opportune for a mobilisation on the streets on the lines being seen in some other countries. The Bihar elections will show if Opposition expectations of a dramatic shift in the degree of public backing the Union Government has are beginning to come true.
The CCP has since 1949 regarded itself as being in a war with the US over primacy. The difference is that in the Chinese mind, ‘war’ need not be kinetic. War to the Chinese means the subordination to their interests of the other, and using this definition, China has been ‘at war’ with the US for a long while.
New Delhi: The drive by Jospeh Stalin for the expansion of territory and influence of the Soviet Union that was visible after the 1939-45 war convinced US policymakers that (what was subsequently called) the USSR-US Cold War was a reality. This swift acceptance of reality came about because both Russian as well as western tradition defines war in kinetic terms: guns, bombs, troops. The Chinese do not. They believe in achieving their objectives through chipping away and reducing the physical, psychological, economic and technological advantages of the adversary. Such “victory through stealth” suppresses the ability of the rival power to respond effectively, especially if that country is a democracy. This is what had been taking place with India since the PRC pace of establishing superiority accelerated in the 1990s. Territory has been lost, meta data got vacuumed up in copious quantities to feed the Artificial Intelligence capabilities of the PRC, and domestic enterprises were serially destroyed by crony businessmen importing substitutes flowing from China. Much of Beijing’s expansion of territory on land and water and industrial and technological capability has taken place outside the public radar. The first President of the US to seriously call out China for its primacy-seeking policies was Donald Trump in 2017. This had never been attempted in the past, and indeed several US Presidents (including Nixon, Carter and Clinton) showered benefits on Beijing while occasionally scolding the CCP in public.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has in the US somewhat changed the public perception of China as less of a threat than Russia or even Iran, even in the foreign policy team of the Biden campaign there is widespread denial about the fact that a new Cold War has been taking place—this time between China and the US. In part, such a suspension of belief is because of a lack of comprehension about the ideological roots of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought was enshrined as the core ideology of the CCP in the 1950s, the reality is that the last strand dominates over the previous two. Adherence to Marxism is minimal, while it is Stalin rather than Lenin who is the role model for the CCP. Under Mao, the CCP championed a vision of the future where the Chinese people would “stand up”, not just in China but across the globe. The CCP considers itself the lodestar of ethnic Chinese, no matter the country to which they belong. After the stabilisation since 1949 of (vastly expanded) borders carried out under Mao, the task of Deng Xiaoping was to ensure economic success, and this was accomplished before the close of the last century. After Mao and Deng, the third foundational leader of the 99-year-old CCP is General Secretary Xi Jinping. He is as different from Deng as the latter was from Mao. The overt nature of Xi’s drive to replace the US with the PRC at the centre of global geopolitics has resulted in an increasing number of analysts even within the Democratic Party accepting that there is now a new Cold War, this time between the US and China.
Such a realisation has come a bit late.
The reality is that the CCP has since 1949 regarded itself as being in a war with the US over primacy. The difference is that in the Chinese mind, “war” need not be kinetic, and in fact, the ideal conflict would be non-kinetic. War to the Chinese means the subordination to their interests of the other and using this definition, Communist China has been “at war” with the US for a long time. The earliest expression of this was the essay of Lin Biao that “the villages of the world will overcome the cities”. “Cities” referred to the western world, “villages” to the rest. Of course, while the US led the “cities”, it would be China who led the “villages” to victory. Looking at the trajectory of its growth and influence since that period, it is evident that in this war (by the Chinese definition), it is the PRC that has prevailed over the US from the time President Richard M. Nixon sought Mao’s assistance in dealing with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Even during the period of Japanese occupation in the 1930s, Chairman Mao skilfully leveraged the Japanese threat to ensure a steady flow of military and other assistance from the Roosevelt administration, a policy that has continued under his successors since the 1970s. The CCP achieved this by leveraging USSR-US rivalry during Cold War 1.0 in a manner that India has so far been unwilling or unable to do in the new era of PRC-US rivalry during Cold War 2.0. Even after the collapse of the USSR in 1992, massive US assistance to China continued. President William J. Clinton continued the bipartisan policy of opening wide the doors to US technology to China, even while denying the same to India. Much of the growth in the national power of China since the 1980s is due to Taiwan, Japan and the US, all three of whom are now at the receiving end of “Xi Jinping Thought”. This is a philosophical construct that remains faithful to Mao’s vision of a China-led global order. Added to this is the incorporation rather than rejection of several of the philosophies of the Imperial Age. In this, General Secretary Xi has chosen to differ from Mao, who had contempt for the ancien régime and its architectural, intellectual and cultural leftovers. In terms of geopolitical as distinct from economic boldness, Xi is much closer not to Deng Xiaoping or to his immediate predecessors than he is to Marshal Lin Biao (who provided the sinews for Chairman Mao to launch and sustain the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) in his willingness to take risks. Xi has fashioned a tapestry of Sinic excellence and capabilities that he expects will ensure the support of the Chinese people to both his methods as well as his objectives. It is therefore a surprise that several policymakers in Europe and the US, seem in denial of the extent of the makeover that Xi Jinping is seeking of the international order.
XI’S AMBITIOUS GOALS
The Belt and Road Initiative is among the signature policies of Xi Jinping, as are his digitalisation of Chinese currency and the harnessing of social media to create a “national will” such as would facilitate the CCP’s objectives. The BRI is intended to make China the hub of Eurasia, while the digital currency is designed to substantially replace the US dollar as the global reserve currency. In dealing with prospective and present allies, Xi has revived the Jimifuzhou or the Jimi system of Imperial China as the model that Beijing would like to follow in dealing with the countries it regards as allies. The system preserved the protocol privileges of foreign rulers while ensuring that they functioned in a manner that promoted Beijing’s objectives. The overall objectives would of course be decided in Beijing, and would be so designed as to achieve and subsequently protect the primacy of the PRC in the global order, displacing the US. The exception is Russia, which especially under Vladimir Putin is seen as a diminished but almost equal partner. Which is why the use of the term “Sino-Russian alliance” rather than “China-led alliance” is more appropriate. In the case of the US, the term “Indo-Pacific Alliance” would better describe the construct that is getting formed to take on the Sino-Russian alliance. While the US is the pre-eminent power in such a grouping, it would not be the “leader” in the manner of always having its way over India. This country in terms of geopolitical potential is as important during Cold War 2.0 to the US as Russia is to the PRC. Those in Washington who are still anchored to Atlanticist perceptions of “the former British colony” fail to understand this. An example of lack of sensitivity is the manner in which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris lectured India on Kashmir in the exact manner that was a staple of the Clinton presidency. However, after that lapse from understanding actual ground conditions in India, both have been silent on the subject despite the efforts of campaign staff close to the Pakistan embassy who are working to damage the US-India relationship for the benefit of Pakistan and China.
TEAM BIDEN IN DENIAL MODE
Xi Jinping has not been reticent about his goals nor secretive about many of his methods, which is why it is somewhat of a surprise that the Atlanticist lobby clustered around Joe Biden still does not seem to understand not only that Cold War 2.0 is a reality, but that it has been ongoing for decades. Or that India as a partner is essential to US success in overcoming the existential threat to US interests posed by the PRC. It is astonishing that there still remains doubt about this, given for example that the CCP’s Document Number Nine explicitly regards the ideology of freedom and democracy as the primary threat to the CCP. A hopeful sign is that lately the Biden campaign has brought into key slots individuals such as Ely Ratner, whose views are more anchored to the reality of the Indo-Pacific century than the long-standing opinions of the individual seen as a future Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. This confidant of Joe Biden seems fixated on the (no longer existing) centrality of Europe and the US to the world as John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State, whose Euro-centric policies launched the US into the Vietnam War. It needs to be said that some of his recent statements indicate that Blinken appears to be edging closer to the coffee, if not yet managing to smell it. This is in contrast to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mike Esper and National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, all three of whom understand that the US is already in a war with China that may at any time turn kinetic. The risk of this would be particularly high in the absence of alliance structures created to ensure that such an eventuality does not take place.
CCP GETS A REALITY CHECK
As stated by Chairman Mao, war is the continuation of politics by other means. When the party that runs China talks as it often does of Total War, what is meant is a conflict in which cyber, commerce, asymmetric methods, infowar and neutralisation of elites in target countries forms part of the “battles” needed to ensure that the CCP’s objectives are met by the other country. The preferred method is to avoid a significant kinetic conflict and instead chip away at territory and interests over an extended period of time. This is what was happening in India, including on the Line of Actual Control. When its troops moved into Indian territory in May, the Central Military Commission did not anticipate the strength of the resistance that the paramilitary and later Army forces put up once PLA intentions became clear. Nor was the swift and deadly response of the Indian Army expected when the Galwan incident was initiated. Now that he has studied the mindset and tactics of the Chinese, Prime Minister Narendra Modi resisted pressure from arms’ lobbies influential in India and finally gave sanction to the signing of BECA, the Basic Exchanger & Cooperation Agreement with the US. This completes the trio of foundation agreements together with LEMOA and COMCASA. An earlier enabling agreement on the protection of the exchange of military information was signed in 2002, while LEMOA was signed in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018 during Modi 1.0. The UPA did not sign any of these pacts, which are essential in dealing with the designs of the PLA on Indian territory, something that that party has good reason to be familiar with and it is to be seen if it will seek to please the CPI and the CPM by condemning the signing of BECA. Arms manufacturers from select countries have long been wary that the signing of the foundation agreements could give US companies a head start in the substantial weapons trade that India carries out. By signing BECA, PM Modi has shown that while he remains friendly with Russia, he is aware of the geopolitical shifts that have resulted in the formation of the Sino-Russian alliance and its implications for India. The speeches of the Prime Minister after the Chinese intrusion into additional Indian territory this May show that Modi is fully cognizant of the reality of Cold War 2.0 and which side New Delhi needs to be on. That confusion about the change that Cold War 2.0 has caused is not limited to the Opposition but includes elements of the government as well is apparent from statements from within the system recommending that Russia be asked to join the Indo-Pacific alliance. This when Moscow stands with Beijing in opposing the Indo-Pacific construct. What is needed next is for the Quadrilateral Alliance to be operationalised in a manner that would be useful in deterring the other alliance from entering into a kinetic conflict in the Himalayan massif, the South China Sea or the Taiwan straits. Substantially developing the existing operational military and remote sensing bases in the Andaman Islands is an essential component of a strategy designed to ensure that primacy over the Indo-Pacific remains in the hands of the Quad rather than the rival Sino-Russian alliance.
BATTLE OF IDEOLOGIES
General Secretary Xi Jinping has sought to create a “will to primacy” among the people of China such as would ensure complete obedience to his vision and his methods. Hundreds of millions of Chinese believe that Covid-19 has been created by the US and brought into China. They believe that India is a shambles filled with chaos. That Japan is inherently evil, and is obsessively focused on helping the US to halt progress towards the China Dream. That the countries of Europe are no longer the technological powers they were just a few decades back and that their products can be replaced. Xi is emphatic in his messages to the population that the future belongs to China, if only the Chinese people act in a manner designed to bring forward the day when the epicentre of global power shifts from Washington to Beijing. In other words, follow the path recommended for them by the CCP. The narrative is that such an overtaking of the present top power in the world is steadily happening, and hence the blowback from those in the US and elsewhere who are hostile to the concept of justice for the Chinese people. The claim is that the US and India are in deep crisis, with unrest growing, and that this is because of the political system they have and the freedoms they allow. This narrative is constantly being disseminated across every possible platform, and it is being believed by hundreds of millions of Chinese. At the same time as the world is undergoing the pain of dealing with Covid-19, China itself is opening up domestically and expanding its economy. India and the US are essential partners in ensuring primacy over not only the Indo-Pacific but superiority in global logistics and technology chains of the future. The meeting on 27 October between Rajnath Singh, S. Jaishankar, Mark Esper and Mike Pompeo must be only the start of the long and difficult battle to secure a future where ideology and values common to the US and India do not get eclipsed by the rival philosophy developed and put into practice by the Chinese Communist Party.
Saturday, 17 October 2020
Appointing Judge Lagoa would have helped Trump secure Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, in view of the impact on the Latino community.
Should Donald Trump leave the White House on 20 January 2021, the primary reason would be an obsessive focus to what he sees as his base. Judge Amy Coney Barrett reflects the characteristics of this group more than Judge Barbara Lagoa does, which is probably why the Indiana jurist was chosen over the equally impressive Hispanic from Florida. The US President did not even deign to meet Judge Lagoa, and this came after floating reports that she was on his short list of candidates. It seems obvious in retrospect that there was just a single name on that list, and this was Amy Coney Barrett, a judge whose judicial philosophy is the polar opposite of the justice she is expected to replace, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Although reticent to repeat before the Senate Judiciary Committee her views on abortion, healthcare and voting rights that had been articulated by Barrett several times in the past, “following the tracks” of her past record (as Senator Amy Klobuchar put it) made clear what her verdict would be in such matters, once she was sworn in. Her performance before the Senate committee was steely in the determination to remain fixated that the views she held were the only ones worth having. It was amusing to hear from Republican Senators words of praise for Justice Ginsburg now that she was no longer a threat to the conservative aims of the Federalist Society. There will be millions who are worried that access to affordable healthcare will be the casualty once Judge Barrett of the 7th Circuit becomes Associate Justice Barrett of the US Supreme Court. There will be more millions of women who would be anxious about the fact that the era when abortion was close to impossible may return courtesy the Supreme Court. Labour unions would discover that the gutting of the right to unionise that began with the Trump presidency would be carried further by the very court promised by Trump to his key backers in 2016. This is a court so skewed towards the Republicans that any pretence of equal justice would go out of the window.
Social bias of a different kind (not based on income but race) was legitimised when Chief Justice Robert Taney and six other Supreme Court justices ruled that black people were not entitled to the protections mandated in the Constitution. This was in 1857 in the case of a slave, Dred Scott, who was returned into captivity in a decision the odour of which lingers over the court to this day. Looking at the progress that President Trump is making in fashioning a court that looks backward for inspiration rather than ahead, it is clear that four more years of President Trump would result in a court that would generate verdicts that deny the existence of the 21st century. Given the cautious nature of Joe Biden, it is not clear if he would favour expanding the Supreme Court bench from 9 to 15, the step needed to restore the court to the liberal path that it first began to tread under Chief Justices such as Earl Warren. The present US Supreme Court Chief Justice was part of the legal team that succeeded in ensuring that the Court awarded the 2000 election to George W. Bush. Coincidentally, it was President Bush who appointed John G. Roberts, Jr. to the court. With the entry of Amy Barrett, three of the nine justices would have served on the Bush legal team during the SC hearing that flipped the election against Al Gore.
A court as skewed in favour of 1950s logic (masquerading as 1788 holy writ) as the US Supreme Court will be once Amy Coney Barrett enters would be a disaster for tens of millions underprivileged in the US. Unless wisdom prevails over prejudice among the Trump judges or the Democratic Party wins the US Senate as well as the White House. This would enable the court to be expanded, and should President Biden demur, he would have a revolt within the party on his hands. Whatever be his personal views, it is likely that Biden would have to agree to such an expansion, especially if marriage, abortion and healthcare rights get sharply curtailed by the conservative majority in the court. Much has been made of the manner in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt backtracked on his 5 February 1937 threat to increase the number of Justices to a total of 15. What is left unsaid is that the very judges who opposed everything that the US President did fell in line once the threat of expansion was made, so that Roosevelt had no reason to go ahead with his plan. It is unlikely that Associate Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett would similarly change their views. The three are strong-minded individuals who would rather be right (in more senses than one) than change their opinions because of shifting political winds. Increasing the strength of the court to 15 would be an effective way to ensure that the US Supreme Court does not do precisely what those appointed by Trump say they will avoid, which is to make policy. There would be no need for the present Court to make policy as long as the White House remains Trumpian, but the situation would change were Biden to prevail over last minute reports about Hunter Biden that are being tossed around by the Trump campaign and its friends in the media, who are admittedly less in number than friends of Biden within a US media angered at President Trump’s sallies against any newspaper less than flattering about his performance.
Given that Biden has the advantage in the 3 November contest and the Republican base would anyway vote for Trump rather than switch to Biden, it would have been politically beneficial to appoint Judge Lagoa rather than Barrett. She would join Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an appointee of President Obama as the second Hispanic on the court. Trump’s brains trust obviously considered this too much of an innovation. As the election verdict may show, this may have been a mistake. Appointing Judge Lagoa (who has a sterling record, as does Justice Sotomayor) would have helped Trump secure Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, in view of the impact on the Latino community. This segment is not happy with the concentrated attention of the Democratic Party on African Americans, but are not enthusiastic about Trump. Passing over a Hispanic jurist in the manner just seen, may cost enough votes to make the difference between victory and defeat for President Trump, who needs every state and every vote he can get. The choice of a Hispanic would also have blunted the perception among many independent voters that Trump is racist, an image that is not an advantage across most of the US
Amy Coney Barrett may enter the US Supreme Court as an Associate Justice, but this will cost Donald Trump electoral votes lost as a consequence of her clearly expressed verdicts and views on the law and its application. Judge Lagoa would have been a safer choice for Donald Trump, if he is to do a 1948 and ensure re-election.
Saturday, 10 October 2020
Prof M D Nalapat on NGO influence in US, India, & Saudi Arabia and why Amnesty should not have quit (PGurus)
Some from the Al Saud royal family are unhappy with Mohammed Bin Salman for his progressive policies and hoping that Biden would win in the US and that they can unseat MBS. The needless criticism of CAA by Democrats, including some who were born in India shows the hand of an NGO intent on embarrassing India. If Amnesty’s records were clean, why did they not make it public and take their case in the courts of India? Why exit? A must watch!
Among the favourite movies of President Trump is “The Greatest Showman”, a story about P.T. Barnum, who transformed the circus into a staple of everyday entertainment. After his performance following the return to the White House from Walter Reed hospital, it is Trump who deserves that title. Leaving the safety of what is arguably the best hospital in the US for the White House, equipped though that residence may be for emergencies, was an act of reckless courage that may resonate with voters otherwise turned off by the 45th President of the US. By contrast, Joe Biden is staid almost to a fault, and is clearly an individual who believes in avoiding risk by hewing to the mainstream position, whatever this may be. While Senator J. William Fulbright was the originator of significant strands of US policy while heading the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden was the dependable facilitator of policies discussed and processed through the governance mechanism that has the White House at the apex. If he was opposed to any of the policies that were rubber stamped by the Foreign Relations Committee, evidence of that is missing. While Trump terrifies his staff and changes their policy suggestions on a whim, Biden relies on his team to give him the script to follow. For years, that tutorial was mildly hostile to India, a country once seen as too close to Moscow for the comfort of Atlanticists. In contrast, throughout his tenure in the US Senate, Biden was a backer of measures that helped China, several of which were carried out during the presidential terms of Bill Clinton. He also stayed close to the then State-Pentagon line of cosying up to the generals in Pakistan. Aware that he would be the Democratic frontrunner in the 2019 nomination process within that party, given the support he enjoys of both the Clintons as well as the Obamas, those around Donald Trump have sought to portray the Democratic challenger as a closet socialist, almost a communist. While this may be true of some of his staffers, it is an entirely fanciful description of Joe Biden, who is as much a part of the Washington establishment as Hillary and Bill Clinton. Had she wanted her party’s 2020 nomination, Hillary Clinton would have got it. The fact that Biden is the nominee indicates that the Clintons came to the conclusion that Trump would be likely to repeat his 2016 win over her, given the negativity (some of which is admittedly gender based) attached to her. Just as the Lyndon Johnson administration was studded with those who pined for a Kennedy in the White House, Biden’s team has more than a few in the upper rungs who would have preferred to see Hillary occupy the White House, but who accept Biden as a “safe” pair of hands. In the language of the bureaucracy, “safe” means a politician who will go by the advice he receives from staff rather than undertake the “unsound” politician who forms his own views about any consequential matter.
If elected, Kamala Harris would be the first woman to be the Vice-President of the US and a heartbeat away from herself being the occupant of the White House, as the saying goes. That such a prospect may scare away some voters seems to be behind the apparent decision of Biden’s staff about Harris. The Biden campaign seems to regard a nearly invisible Vice-Presidential nominee as being most advantageous to the chances of victory of the Biden-Harris ticket. In their view, now that the black and brown vote is in the bag, it is the white vote that needs to be courted, and in such a task, the calculation seems to be that the more of Joe Biden and the less of Kamala Harris there is on the campaign trail, the better. This perception may not be accurate, given that many white voters in the US are attuned to 21st century norms and values, and are far removed from the Weltanschauung of the 1950s of Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who has been working ferociously to ensure that the day when non-whites form the majority of the US population never comes. Fred Trump would have approved, but as for his son Donald Trump, it is difficult to judge what exactly the 45th President’s views are on such matters. Certainly Trump has adopted much of Miller’s policy, but this seems to be in the belief that by doing so, he would be assured of a second term in the White House, the objective that has consumed his mind and propelled his activities almost from the time he was sworn in on 20 January 2017. Trump would have been better served had he adopted more measures such as the belated effort to reform the hideous US penal system, a legacy of Richard Nixon and subsequently Bill Clinton. It is now too late to push the genie of a non-white majority back into the box, and the manner the Trump administration has sought to do so has caused dismay and disgust not just across the world but in the US as well, and not just among those not of European extraction. In suburbs across US cities that the Trump train believes reflects the 1950s, those whose ethnicity is Asian, Latino or African American share neighbourhoods cordially with those whose ancestors came from Europe, and inter-marriage has become so commonplace that it is no longer even noticed. Give credit to Joe Biden (or more probably to Jill Biden), he seems to have adjusted to the 21st century much better than President Trump. The attitudes drilled into the US President by his father Fred’s ideological twin Stephen Miller belong to the 1950s and are not only an anachronism but a handicap in the present. Theirs is a vision meant for those who blame their own lack of success on those of a different colour. Given their obsession with winning any which way, it is ironical that the Trump campaign believes that it can be propelled forward mainly by those who can only be described as losers.
Elections in the US have become less about policy and more about spectacle. A candidate retaining his feisty instincts despite being invaded and occupied by the virus that took shape in Wuhan in the final weeks of last year is a storyline that Hollywood as well as Bollywood will surely take advantage of in times ahead. Those shepherding Joe Biden believe that the more he shows himself to be bland and normal (in other words, the polar opposite of Trump), the more certain his chances of victory. While opinion polls indicate that they may be right, the colourful and chaotic interplay of emotions and images over the next few weeks is what President Trump hopes will turn things around. He is aiming for an upset similar to 1948, when Harry Truman prevailed over Thomas Dewey despite having been written off months before and indeed until the election was declared in his favour.
The manner in which President Trump appears to be recovering from his bout with the novel coronavirus indicates that the treatment route should not be neglected by policymakers any longer. For India to become the global factory for Covid-19 drugs requires action by PM Modi.
New Delhi: Almost the same cast of characters who at great expense of money and time failed in the past to develop a vaccine for HIV/AIDS is now in the front line of the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. HIV/AIDS is a fast-mutating virus that defied efforts to create a vaccine that could generate antibodies to its ravages, and the novel coronavirus mutates at an even faster pace than its predecessor. Bill Clinton claims that the foundation named after him has done incalculable service in fighting the menace of AIDS. What he forgets to mention is that the disease has been brought under control by pharmaceuticals that are 90% manufactured in India. And that as President of the United States, Clinton did everything in his power to prevent Indian pharma companies from producing low cost alternatives to the drugs being churned out by Big Pharma donors to the Clinton campaign. Just as in the HIV pandemic, India can be the source of low-cost cocktails of drugs that can ensure that the fatality rate of Covid-19 patients falls from the present rate of around 1% to still lower levels. In contrast, 100% of those with AIDS died of the disease until medicines were discovered that slowed its impact. Much of the havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has been because of initial confusion in treatment protocols, as well as in the draconian measures taken in efforts (usually futile) to stop the spread of the disease ever since WHO finally sounded the alarm in March 2020. After hitchhiking from Wuhan from the last quarter of 2019 in airline passenger flight after flight to cities across the world, Covid-19 has had a catastrophic effect on countries across the world. Several hundred million jobs have been erased, incomes have fallen and psychological states of mind of tens of millions have come to resemble those periods when the world was at war. Although Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping took the unprecedented step of shutting off Wuhan from the rest of the country in January, few countries understood the magnitude of the danger that was facing them and hence delayed by weeks in barring the entry of travellers from China into their shores. The WHO kept incorrectly repeating that (a) Covid-19 could not be transmitted from human to human and subsequently that (b) international air travel out of and into China was safe, nearly two months after researchers had found that both these propositions were false.
FOCUS ON TREATMENT, NOT JUST VACCINE
When the Gates Foundation and the US Government poured billions of dollars into trying without success to develop a vaccine for HIV, a few virologists had warned that this was a futile effort, given the manner in which the HIV/AIDS virus mutated. A vaccine effective against a particular strain would prove ineffective against a mutation of that strain. As it happened, no AIDS vaccine was discovered. HIV was tamed by the advent of drugs that prolonged life, thereby making the disease no longer a death sentence. During the failed effort at finding out a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, Deborah Birx (another acolyte of Dr Fauci and also a Trump appointee) conducted several vaccine experiments in poor countries. The impact on those experimented with is unknown, but experimental vaccines were injected into thousands of individuals as part of the effort to develop an AIDS vaccine. Had Bill Gates and Dr Fauci focused their undeniable and in many ways admirable energies on the treatment route rather than concentrating only on finding an effective vaccine, many lives could have been saved, as indeed has taken place after HIV medication began to be made in profusion by India. A similar effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi involving the licensing of production of selected drugs can lead to mass production within India of drugs with a track record of success in battling the novel coronavirus. While the search for the “bird in the bush” (i.e. the vaccine) goes on, the “bird in the hand” (i.e. supply of medication) needs to be nurtured. Such HIV-style activism in India may annoy Big Pharma in the US or parts of the EU, even as it creates tension in Beijing and Moscow, which are focusing on the vaccine route as the solution to the pandemic. The manner in which President Donald J. Trump appears to be recovering from his bout with the novel coronavirus indicates that the treatment route should not be neglected by policymakers any longer, and must be given especially high priority in India. If President Trump comes out of the shadow of the virus in the manner that seems to be taking place, it means that Covid-19 may soon go the way of AIDS by being tamed through treatment protocols much before a vaccine effective against such a fast-mutating disease can be perfected.
ENSURE COVID-19 MEDICATION
Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to convert India into the global factory for manufacturing medicines fighting the novel coronavirus. For this to happen, the Government of India needs to defy policymakers such as US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (who would prefer to have hundreds of thousands of patients die of disease than permit India to manufacture drugs curing them at affordable cost). The Health Minister needs to switch focus from inexplicably trying to change the leadership of the Sri Chitra Institute in Trivandrum. He should instead get licensed domestic manufacturers to make low-cost Covid-19 medication for the world. This would be a lifesaving step that would have an effect far in excess of the efforts of Presidents Putin and Xi to globally market the vaccines they have developed. As most of those who have been infected with Covid-19 are unaware of the disease unless tested later for antibodies, claims of the efficacy of a vaccine against a virus that mutates even faster than HIV are difficult to either affirm or refute. What is possible to prove is the efficacy of medicines and treatment protocols that have already begun to save lives during the pandemic. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has developed REGN-10987 and REGN-10933 that overcome SARS Cov-2. President Trump was given REGN-COV2 and other medications designed to eliminate the disease. These have been declared as “less than safe” by some vaccine hunters, but it defies logic that medication that carry risks as substantial as those claimed by the “Vaccine Only” lobby would have been administered to the US President in a hospital run by the military. Once the Prime Minister ensures that Remdesivir, Favipiravir and other drugs found to be effective in bringing down the mortality of Covid-19 patients are mandated for production, these could be produced in bulk in India for supply to the poorest countries in the world. Improved treatment protocols and the requisite cocktails of medication would ensure that Covid-19 cease to be the scourge of everyday life that it has become thanks not only to its potential for harm but the fear and panic that the mere mention of the disease causes in people. Once the pharmaceutical and medical professions get liberated from corrupt officials and the big money interests who walk hand in hand with them, India would be able to rescue society and the economy across the world from the present hell into which it has been consigned by the pandemic. India becoming the global factory for Covid-19 drugs requires action by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for activation.
BIG PHARMA COSTS LIVES
While Covid-19 can be a killer, the overall death rate during the pandemic is 1%, which is why Trump is correct in saying that (fear of) Covid-19 should not dominate our lives. Unlike HIV/AIDS, which kills every individual it infects, Covid-19 is fatal in a far lower proportion. For reasons that remain unclear, mass hysteria was whipped up by the WHO, followed by different governments over the pandemic from March 2020 onwards, presumably to justify the extreme lockdowns that were imposed on the recommendation of WHO. India, whose population co-exists with the prevalence of a battery of diseases, should not allow the novel coronavirus to upend society and the economy in the manner that it has. The bold manner in which President Trump has reacted to getting infected may be ridiculed by his opponents, but is in fact the correct attitude to adopt in a situation where fear of the disease is wreaking far more economic and psychological damage than the actual incidence of the disease in populations. The WHO estimates that 10% of the world’s population has been infected, and considering that the number of SARS Cov-2 deaths is about a million so far, there was no reason for the frenzy and panic in several countries that followed the overnight change in tone by the WHO from insouciance to alarm and its repeated calls to lock down countries completely. Given the density of habitation in India, neither working from home nor a complete lockdown is possible in this country, something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood in the course of the pandemic and as a consequence ordered the “unlockdown” phase.
While President Bill Clinton sought to gut the Indian pharmaceutical industry on behalf of Big Pharma, it was President George W. Bush who actually saved millions of lives by launching the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003. Nearly $90 billion was spent to save lives across the world, and much of the medication got supplied by companies in India. President George W. Bush ensured that the FDA approved products from manufacturing plants in India. In contrast, under President Barack Obama, the FDA sought to shut down several Indian drug manufacturing plants and joined China and parts of the EU in giving Indian pharma a bad name. Should Donald Trump recover from the disease and secure a second term, he needs to team up with Narendra Modi in making India and the US work together to ensure that medication gets made and distributed across the world, so that much of the dislocation caused by Covid-19 disappears. Should the next occupant of the White House be Joe Biden, the 46th President of the US needs to step out of the Clinton-Obama shadow and ignore the siren calls of Big Pharma. The White House should follow the example of George W. Bush who teamed up with India to save the world from a scourge that was once a death sentence but which has now become manageable over decades of lifespan. The hysterical reaction to Covid-19 by a plethora of agencies and governments has resulted not only in economic disaster but in fear and stigmatization of the disease. This is greater than that faced by sufferers of leprosy. Societies were not locked down and economies shut down by governments in any past pandemic in the manner in which they have been in so many countries since WHO sounded the alarm bells over Covid-19. Unfortunately, this was weeks after it ought to have warned the globe about the severity of the disease. Its cure for the disease (complete and indefinite lockdown) had effects on livelihoods that was worse than the impact of the disease. Just as happened in the case of HIV/AIDS, it is time for Delhi and Washington to link hands to rescue the world from the ditch into Covid-19 has pushed it.
Sunday, 4 October 2020
So deep is the belief that Hindus do not deserve to get their three holy sites restored to them that opinion continues to grow that regards such a desire as evil.
Why is it that only those against the desire of Hindus to get back the three holy sites that had been despoiled in the past get called upon to write or declaim on television? The overwhelming majority of Muslims and other minorities will support such a move for justice to a billion citizens of India. Given the length of time that has elapsed between the 6 December 1992 event and the present verdict exonerating all those charged with the destruction of the Babri Masjid, it is possible that lack of surviving evidence linking those charged with the destruction of the structure was the reason why the balance of advantage was given to every accused. To claim as some do that photographs of happy faces were sufficient proof of wrongdoing seems an inference too far. The worldwide reaction to the event has been as though the entire edifice of justice towards a particular faith was torn down with the Babri Masjid. The reality is that India’s 200 million Muslims are an example to the world for their moderation. Barring the locations where Wahhabism was permitted to run riot. From 1989 onwards, almost every month temples were being vandalised in the northernmost tip of India, without any media or other blowback, whether within the country or outside. Such lack of reaction is no surprise, as the period following the horrific assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was seemingly marked by an effort to efface through the governance mechanism any of the rights associated with belonging to a majority community anywhere in the world. In effect, the majority community in India was treated by policymakers in the manner minorities have been across several parts of the world. The majority community has been subject to discriminatory laws that have continued to be enacted. There was a period in India when civil servants who visited temples every week or who wore a mark on their foreheads were considered to be “Hindu fanatics”. In case of many, such a classification had significant effects on their careers in a manner not seen in the case of those of other faiths who regularly went to their places of worship. The adherence to some of the rituals of the faith of the majority were de-legitimised and portrayed as evidence of fanaticism, whereas political parties and groups that explicitly championed only what they perceived to be the interests of a “minority” faith were accepted as secular. The justice—indeed, the right—to places of worship that are at the core of a given faith is difficult to dispute. Yet the fact was that in a country that was explicitly divided on the basis of faith by those in a community who fell into the colonial trap of “Divide and Leave” no action was taken to restore to longstanding tradition just the three sites that are considered to be at the heart of the Hindu faith. After decades, one of the three sites is on track to being returned to ancient traditions. Yet across the world, not to mention within the very country partitioned on the basis of religion and which is the home of a billion Hindus, this is seen as an act of gross injustice to a faith that has the privilege of its own holy sites being nurtured and protected in the manner that Mecca and Medina are. Or Jerusalem is for Jews or Bethlehem or the Vatican for Christians. So deep is the belief that Hindus do not deserve to get their three traditional holy sites restored to them that opinion continues to grow that regards such a desire as wholly unacceptable and indeed evil. Partition was seen by the British colonials as being the method of preventing bloodshed. Instead, it caused a massacre. Coming to the present, the return to ancient traditions of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi will ensure rather than damage harmony between faiths.
Better effort by those prosecuting the Babri Masjid case may have resulted in at least some individuals being found culpable and made to pay the penalty for their actions nearly three decades back. However, this does not take away the lack of justice in the “intolerant tolerant” regarding as wrong and evil the return of the Ram Mandir to the traditions that were rudely interrupted by the destruction wreaked by excesses that finally caused the collapse of Mughal rule. Not just at Ayodhya but at Mathura and Kashi as well, the existing structures were razed and replaced with structures that are still extant. Aurangzeb was one with present critics of the Ram Mandir that Hindus had no right to their holy sites. What is extraordinary is that so many commentators across the world agree with him. Whether during the period of Mughal rule or during the period of the British empire, it would be fanciful to argue that Muslims or Christians were disadvantaged and discriminated against by the Hindus. As for the period before that, there were hardly any Muslims or Christians in the subcontinent at the time, and no record exists of persecution against them. This being the case, the anger within sections of the commentariat at the suggestion that Hindus be given the right to the restoration of their three holy sites shows the persistence of a past syndrome that considered this community to be unworthy of equal treatment, the very treatment that is the foundation of secularism. Whether it be in cities in India or outside, the innate justice of such a claim by a community that has seen its land vivisected seems to be a concept alien to the thought processes of several policymakers, scholars and commentators who exhibit Zero Tolerance to this fundamental right of Hindus to their three holy sites.
Words such as “genocide” or “extermination” are frequently heard in conferences across the world that purport to describe the situation in India. But where are the mass graves and the sites where such mass killings have taken place? Certainly there have been isolated instances of the killing of individuals by majority community bigots angered by the diet or lifestyles of their minority victims. Each such action needs to be condemned and punished. Zero Tolerance for bigotry and injustice should extend to situations such as what took place at Hathras, where the police seemed to have been less interested in punishing the perpetrators than in usurping the rights of the family of the victim in the matter of last rites. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated, such an outrage needs to be severely punished. However, the conflation of isolated acts of vengeance and cruelty into a narrative of pan-Indian genocide does no credit to those retailing such falsehood. India needs to stand together with other democracies in protecting each other against the threats they severally and jointly face, and only enemies of democracy will welcome a drumbeat that demonizes Hindus and their right to what Christians and Muslims have.
Saturday, 3 October 2020
The version retailed by a few White House watchers is that Hope Hicks recently became ‘good friends’ with a man who made no secret of his disdain for her boss, and who ensured a lengthy meeting between himself and her in a private setting as soon as was discovered that he was an asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19.
NEW DELHI: Chanakya elaborated on the concept of the “Vish Kanya” (Poison Girl), a girl weaned on poison who killed with a kiss those who succumbed to her charms. There could also have been a “Vish Purush” (Poison Man), who kills a target through the poison he carried with him or within him. It was no female “Vish Kanya”, but males (“Vish Purush”) who attempted to take away the lives of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Alexei Navalny in the UK and Russia through the nerve agent Novichok. In contrast, the fugitive half-brother of DPRK Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un was felled inside Kuala Lumpur airport by a pair of women armed with a poisonous substance disguised as cosmetic cream. Now that the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has been reported as having fallen prey to the novel coronavirus courtesy his assistant Hope Hicks, conspiracy theories are raining down with the intensity of a monsoon downpour. The version retailed by a few White House watchers is that Hope Hicks recently became “good friends” with a man who made no secret of his disdain for her boss, and who ensured a lengthy meeting between himself and her in a private setting as soon as he discovered that he was an asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19. This unverified theory concerns the manner in which White House staffer and Presidential favourite Hope Hicks acquired the novel coronavirus, which subsequently got transferred to the individual working in close proximity to her, the US President. Did the socially gregarious Hicks acquire a “close friend” who was open to her about his view that Trump is a disaster for the country he leads, and did she have a longish meeting with him days before symptoms of Covid-19 manifested itself? Even Sherlock Holmes would be hard put to prove malign intent in the unlikely event of the propositions mentioned by the “Vish Purush” theorists being true. In any event, what is clear is that Hope Hicks needed to be monitored 24/7, for she is socially gregarious, and could well have picked up more than conversation from some of such meetings, which could subsequently have been passed on to the First Citizen . Questions arise about why her socially liberal ways were not pointed out to the President as a possible security risk. The reply is that Trump was fully aware of the lifestyle of Hope Hicks and gave no signs of disapproval. Why was he not warned about the possible consequences, including to himself? Because President Trump reacts violently and unfavourably to any criticism or warnings about those he considers to practically be family, as Hicks has been for a while. Staffers would therefore hesitate to warn in and leave the matter in the hands of the 45th President himself, as they did many other matters where a second opinion (to Trump’s) may have been needed. Why Hicks accompanied President Trump to Ohio when she was starting to feel unwell, and why she herself was not being more carefully monitored for her contacts and her symptoms remain questions that need transparent answers. Those in the intimate retinue of leaders of a consequential country—in this case the most consequential—cannot expect the privilege of an unsupervised private life. If they insist on such a lifestyle, they should retire from the high voltage service that is bound up in being close to those working in close proximity with the US President. Allowing an individual known to have an active social life to be within the confines of a helicopter with the President was itself a breach of security explainable only by the pervasive atmosphere of fear that President Trump engenders among so many staffers, fear that prevents them from insisting that necessary security protocols be adhered to rather than ignored. Fear is no substitute for respect. The first breeds bad solutions while the latter promotes the opposite.
The explanation offered within some in his team is that President Trump looks askance at any effort by minions (which is what he regards White House staff as being) to limit the access his family and close associates such as Hope Hicks have to him, and hence he is in several instances his own Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor. Any individual who disputed this would soon find himself or herself out of the White House. If Trump wanted his favourite, “Hopey”, on Marine One on the day of the debate with Biden, there was no way she was going to be kept out, unless she herself acted with prudence and declined the invite in view of her unsupervised personal life and symptoms of poor health. Because of the atmosphere within the Trump White House, there was a palpable inability of medical security staff to create a complete bubble around the President, including by keeping out those favoured by him who were mingling with individuals not certain to be free of Covid-19. This gap in the bubble protecting Trump from the novel coronavirus has caused the hospitalisation of the President and very likely his chance at winning a second term. An individual who cannot protect himself despite access to the best security matrix available on the planet may find it difficult to convince voters that he can protect them. Should the novel coronavirus wreak havoc with President Trump, he may need to hand over the baton in the 3 November contest to Vice President Mike Pence. Given the circumstances, the obviously confident and able Vice President would as rival start with the disadvantage of the circumstances that propelled him to be the Republican Party standard bearer. It is very much Advantage Biden, although this may still change, given that what is driving the contest in Biden’s direction is less his qualities than the drawbacks of his opponent. If Biden cuts loose from the constricting circle of advisors around him and shows that he is as much of a pugilist as Trump or Pence, he would coast to an easy win over either Trump or Pence. Biden needs to show that he is as much of a fighter for the causes he believes in as Kamala Harris, who seems to have been tucked away into a corner since her nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate and almost forgotten by the Biden campaign. The Biden-Harris ticket is attractive. So far as the individual who aspires to be the 46th President of the US is concerned, Joe Biden is known for his integrity and his simplicity of demeanour, so unlike other VIPs. The former Vice President’s devotion to family values is visible, and is a contrast to some others in politics. It helps that in Jill Biden the Democratic nominee has a brilliant and dedicated helpmate, who can serve as both a goad to a more assertive Biden and a conscience blocking those within the campaign who seek to cut ethical corners.
HUNTER BIDEN AS TRUMP CARD
The Trump campaign was expecting a very different October surprise, this involving Hunter Biden. Reports abound (which may of course be untrue) of videos in the possession of security establishments in both the traditional as well as the newly identified “threat” countries to the US. These purport to show Hunter Biden in a relaxed mood during visits to an East European and an East Asian country, enjoying quality time with pleasant company. In case such images exist and should they get released during a Biden presidency, it would not be a catastrophe, but a welcome sign that fears of the possible 46th President of the US being soft on the primary 21st century threat to the US are untrue. It is certainly a fact that key elements in Biden’s Atlanticist team of foreign policy advisors hew closely to what they have been tutored to think by policy makers in countries in the European Union that they regard as their intellectual mentors, and have in essence kept away from the Obama pivot towards the Indo-Pacific in favour of the Clinton obsession with focusing singularly on the Atlantic alliance, a bias visible during the Clinton presidency as well as during the Hillary-heavy first term of Barack Obama. Were Joe Biden to show that he can be as tough in the defence of US interests and primacy as in many respects Trump has been, his victory on 3 November would be certain. The meek may some day inherit the earth, but are unlikely to win the hearts and minds of voters. What won the election for John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon in 1960 was the fiction of a “missile gap” with the USSR under Eisenhower and Nixon, and what cost Jimmy Carter the 1980 contest with Ronald Reagan was the dispiriting image of US hostages remaining prisoners in Teheran despite a year and more of incarceration. Throughout the US, hostility towards China has grown to a level that was impossible to conceive of just a year ago, and it is this wave that Donald Trump has been hoping will lead him to a second term, especially given the adherence of key Biden counsellors to the European line, which is that Russia is the enemy and China the opportunity. In reality, the two are locked into an alliance in which Moscow is only nominally co-equal.
PRIVATE LIFE VERSUS PUBLIC OFFICE
Contrary to the theory being floated of deliberate intent, it may well be that whoever transmitted the novel coronavirus to Hope Hicks did so without realising that it was in residence in his body. That it was not the intention of the hitherto unknown “good friend” of Hope Hicks to incapacitate the President through her. So far as the period before the election is concerned, much depends on how soon Donald Trump expels the novel coronavirus from his system. If he were to succeed in this with his energy and spirit intact and still have a little over ten days left for campaigning, there would still be hope of his prevailing over Joe Biden, despite what the polls presently say. What is clear from this episode (as indeed from the Hunter Biden saga) is that an unsupervised private life by any individual in close working or personal proximity is a significant risk to the leader of any consequential country. Once such an “insider” position is secured, there can no longer be the freedom of a personal life that represents the risk of either contagion or blackmail. During the 1950s, Senator John F. Kennedy had a relationship with a woman who was also close to Mafia boss Sam Giancana, as reportedly was Kennedy himself. The risks this represented to his brother’s presidency motivated Robert Kennedy to launch a crusade against the Mafia that may have cost him not just a stint at the White House but his life in 1968. President Trump, should he bounce back and do the impossible by winning a second term, will need to be protected from his worst instincts in a manner that has clearly not been the case in a White House where every staffer knows that each day could be his or her last in the job. Richard Nixon was forced out in disgrace because those around him failed in protecting the 37th President of the US. Those around President Trump may have cost their boss his job and worse by a similar act of negligence caused by their fear of annoying a boss who hates to be told that he is wrong, no matter by whom and about what. Echo chambers cause the decay of sound policies and practices, as Donald J. Trump may finally have come to realise in his battle for health within the military hospital where his treatment is being supervised.