Saturday 28 November 2020

President Biden Will Pick Up the PRC's Gauntlet (Sunday Guardian)



Should Joe Biden revert to the China-friendly policies of the Clinton era, voter backlash against the Democratic Party would be severe.

What is democracy and how does it flower? According to some social scientists and the policymakers who believe in them, it’s all about money. It was their conclusion that once the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) became more prosperous, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would morph into a social democrat party. This is the model favoured by Senior Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont. Since the days of Nixon’s wooing of the CCP and the casting away of much of the attention paid to the Kuomintang (KMT) that from 1949 ruled only Taiwan, successive US administrations opened the gates of technology and commerce to China. This was in the belief that each concession would be another brick in the evolution of the CCP as a party of social democrats. Both when Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping were put in charge of the PRC in 2002 and 2012, hope-filled voices in Europe and the US rose about whether the new party chief would be the “Chinese Gorbachev”. The higher an individual has progressed within the CCP, the more has been his or her awareness of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union General Secretary who presided over the demise of the USSR. Not as someone to emulate, but as an example to avoid. The hollowing out of the CPSU and the consequent decline and fall of the CPSU has been tracked back to the dawn of detente, the Helsinki accords of 1975 that gave a powerful lever to Washington to use against Moscow: human rights. There certainly were egregious violations of such rights, including the manner in which Jewish citizens were for long barred from migrating to Israel, an unforgivable act in a party that was founded on the doctrine enunciated by Karl Marx. But till the Helsinki summit, such considerations when raised by the US and its allies in Europe were brushed on the grounds that such matters were the “internal affair” of Moscow and therefore outside the purview of discussions—much less agreements—with a foreign power. Elements in the Brezhnev bureaucracy came up with the idea of getting the most deadly foes of the USSR (the US and its allies) to help rescue the country from economic turmoil caused by the refusal of the CPSU to let go of control of industry and agriculture to private hands. Expecting an enemy to become a helpmate was a jump too far from reality. In the way a carrot was dangled before a donkey to make sure it trotted forward, the carrot of commercial reward was dangled before the Soviet leadership in exchange for a concession. When that was made by Moscow, only a tiny piece of the promised carrot was handed over. More would require greater concessions in ways that inevitably weakened the respect and fear of the CPSU that had kept the population of the Soviet Union from revolting against their masters. Which is why every statement from Beijing about improvements in the life of the Uyghur population of Xinjiang has been accompanied by an intensification of the drive to coordinate life the province in the direction mapped out by the CCP leadership. Unlike the Soviet Union, which was an economic shambles, the PRC has grown into an economy that has passed the superpower threshold while at the same time doubling down on the governance system that it has followed since its inception.

Unlike in the case of the US and the USSR, where almost all the concessions made went one way, from the USSR to the very country eager to witness its demise, the PRC has been at the receiving end of concessions from Washington that have boosted its technology and the economy. The Atlanticist obsession with Moscow suited Beijing, which was concerned at efforts by some policymakers to shift focus to the Indo-Pacific and therefore to itself. Meanwhile, the country was catching up with the US in technology, and even ahead of it in several ways in an increasingly digital age. When it became impossible to ignore the risks inherent in the rise in capabilities of the Peoples Liberation Army, “disaggregation” became the new formula. This was an effort at separation of the commercial from the security part of the policy matrix. The problem is that much of modern commerce relates to dual-use capabilities that can clearly be deployed in a conflict situation. At the same time, the hollowing out of much of US lines of manufacture and their replacement by imports from the PRC has become politically sensitive. Rust belt voters did not switch to Joe Biden from Donald Trump because he acted too strongly against China, but because they feel that he was not strong enough. What they used to make in the towns they live in continue to be imported from China, although with a higher duty. They wanted more, they wanted their jobs back the way Trump had promised in 2016.

Should incoming President Joseph R. Biden Jr revert to the China-friendly policies of the Clinton era, voter backlash against the Democratic Party would be severe. The party would lose control of the House of Representatives two years hence, crippling Biden in the manner a similar electoral disaster did President Obama. The Sanderistas in his party may go along with a lot of existing policies that are the opposite of socialist, but cozying up to Beijing would be too much of an ask from them. Nor would the Pentagon or the National Security Council embrace such an idea. Several policymakers still hesitate to speak the truth and try and push the reality of Cold War 2.0 between the PRC and the US into the closet, the way some do their sexual orientation. However, the battle to retain US primacy is real, and can no longer be kicked down the road to be faced in the future. President Obama dismayed ASEAN leaders by refusing to act while the PLA Navy took over the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012 and the Central Military Commission of the PRC began a militarisation of the South China Sea with just a symbolic protest by the US administration. Even during the Trump term, apart from the usual transits of naval vessels in the waters claimed by China, no actual challenge took place against the attempted takeover of the seas by Beijing. The tinder is plentiful and the fuse is primed. And there is no way the Biden administration can be anything other than responsive to such a challenge. The Melania and Donald Trump may give way to Jill and Joe Biden in the White House but the gauntlet that has been thrown to Washington by the PRC through its actions will get picked up even after 20 January 2021.

Mounting BRI Debt Could Trip PRC in Currency War With US (Sunday Guardian)



Those prophesying imminent doom for the PRC base much of this forecast on an expected meltdown of the Chinese financial system. They point to debt exceeding 320% of GDP this year. The reality is that the finances of the PRC remain viable as long as the CCP itself is viable, given that the communist state directly or in effect owns the entire territory it administers as the Peoples Republic of China.

New Delhi: The ongoing currency war between China and the United States has become impossible for those rejecting the coming into force of a new Cold War to ignore. The increasingly overt expression in the US of a conflict of fundamental interests between Washington and Beijing comes despite efforts by multiple interests wary of their wealth and incomes getting reduced as a consequence of the steps that need to follow such an acknowledgment. President Donald Trump’s trade war with China (begun in 2017) was the first macro-indication that reality had penetrated a US establishment prone to accepting as gospel its self-created myths and postulates. The Sino-US Trade War was in 2017 merely an acknowledgement of the reality that the two superpowers are engaged in a comprehensive global contest every bit as consequential as that which took place between the USSR and the US from the time the Korean War began in 1950. In such a context, given the force multiplier impact on US global power of the US dollar (USD) being the reserve currency of the world, it was inevitable that strategic planners advising the higher rungs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would turn their sights on displacing the world’s premier currency. General Secretary Xi Jinping cannot be accused of a lack of transparency. From the start of his takeover of the CCP in 2012, the leader of the world’s other superpower has not hidden his resolve to replace Washington with Beijing as the centre of gravity of global commerce and strategy. Displacing the USD has been a priority. Xi’s brainchild, the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) has served as a vehicle for making the PRC by far the largest creditor nation in the world, with outstanding debt claims on the rest of the world having risen from $874 billion in 2004 to $5.4 trillion by 2019, the year before the Covid-19 pandemic and the adoption of WHO-mandated countermeasures had an unprecedented (in peacetime) impact on the economies of the NATO member states, India and Japan. These actual and potential competitors of the PRC are each in a much more precarious condition in terms of their economies vis-a-vis China than was the case a year ago. BRI projects have extended to 109 countries out of the 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly, and are estimated to have generated $715 billion in construction contracts for Chinese companies thus far. While some of the money has gone into sinkholes such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (the impetus for which seems to have been based on sentiment rather than logic), much of the rest has ensured (a) sharp upward movement of the geopolitical influence of the PRC, (b) most likely permanent additions to the Chinese diaspora across Eurasia, and (c) increased reliance on China as the primary driver of local economies, displacing the US and any other country. While the overwhelming share of the investment by the PRC in BRI projects is denominated in RMB at the source of materiel, services and labour used, they have mostly been denominated in USD terms where repayment of loans are concerned. Given the scale of investment and the commercial terms on which financial accommodation has been made, defaults are inevitable, and many have resulted in a transfer of ownership of assets to PRC-controlled entities in key locations across the world.


Those prophesying imminent doom for the PRC base much of this forecast on an expected meltdown of the Chinese financial system. They point to debt exceeding 320% of GDP this year. The reality is that the finances of the PRC remain viable as long as the CCP itself is viable, given that the communist state directly or in effect owns the entire territory it administers as the Peoples Republic of China. There is no difference between government and country in China in the way there is in other countries. The party is the government, which is the country. Hence the emphasis by Xi on continuance of the system of governance instituted by Mao Zedong. This was refined by Deng Xiaoping and further developed by the third foundational head of the country, current CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. Given the entrepreneurial spirits that are present in ethnic Chinese, the private sector will need to play an increasing role in further transforming the PRC economy. Xi understands this. However, the General Secretary of the CCP is in the process of replacing what may be termed “Globaliser Capitalists” among its citizens with what may be termed as a cadre of “Patriotic Capitalists”. Or in other words, replacing the Jiang-era globalist tycoons with a new cadre of nationalist capitalist trailblazers who not merely accept in their operations but believe in the objective of the CCP core. Similarly, the Chinese diaspora across the world is expected to facilitate this transformation of the international order rather than merely be indifferent or worse, assist the US and its allies to overcome the PRC challenge. In Xi Thought, it is the duty of all Chinese (no matter where they live or what they do) to push forward the attempted repositioning of Beijing as the geopolitical nerve centre of the globe. Younger Soviets lost faith in the CPSU and the USSR itself. In contrast, the young in China are becoming less “globalist” and more “nationalist”, and more visibly and volubly in the Xi era, are identifying the CCP-controlled governance system in China as the vehicle that will carry China to the peak of the global pyramid. Not surprisingly, the CCP higher cadres believe that continued dominance by the party is an essential condition for achieving this goal. Backers of the General Secretary are clear that Xi’s continuance in office is necessary for the overriding objective of global primacy to be achieved. Those elsewhere who believe in the possibility of another Gorbachev emerging to take over the CCP, or a morphing of the CCP’s Mao-Deng-Xi Thought into the doctrines inspired by Sidney Webb (which were adopted together with a mix of Soviet economic praxis by Nehru), can dream on and many still do. It remains to be seen how significant the influence of such “dreamers” is within the incoming Biden administration that will soon preside over the world’s leading superpower. More than a few, judging by past (and some present) writings and commentaries.

From the viewpoint of those within the CCP leadership who are forecasting (and working towards) a reset of the US dollar to a much lower level than presently, the present “dollar shortage” in China is not the setback it has been made out to be by conventional thinkers. They claim that in fact, policies are being calibrated so as to ensure that Beijing is in an advantageous position when the anticipated reset of the dollar takes place. In their view, this could happen even during the first term of the 46th President of the US, Joseph R. Biden Jr. Those managing the financial system in the PRC believe that despite recent headwinds, they have expanded the supply of USD available to them through (1) selling assets that are denominated in RMB but for which payment is asked for in dollars, (2) pledging of US assets such as Treasury bonds in exchange for dollar loans, and (3) currency swaps with Eurodollar banks that have the effect of adding to dollar stocks not created by the US Federal Reserve but by foreign banks. Proof of the efficacy of such methods is the stability of the extent of foreign reserves reported by Beijing. This is despite the effect of Covid-19 as well as the ongoing trade war with the US, not to mention the global economic slowdown caused by several countries following to the letter and beyond the growth-killing measures for handling the pandemic that have been mandated by the WHO and “fellow traveller” institutions in the US, Europe and Asia. These have made wholly inaccurate estimates of casualties in previous pandemics, yet their thus far wildly inflated claims of Covid-19 fatalities is still being taken as gospel by governments in framing policies that will set back growth in much of the world for years. To augment its dollar stock, Beijing is taking advantage of the US Federal Reserve Board’s system of Quantitative Easing to infinity (which is completely the opposite of RBI policy for India, which more accurately resembles that of the Federal Reserve in the 1930s). Where the frequently mentioned “dollar shortage” in China is concerned, added to the mix of palliatives is the present Federal Reserve policy of interest rates that are almost zero, together with the Chinese side taking advantage of multiple Eurodollar sources to increase the supply of USD available to them in their activities.

Presently, the BRI mechanism devised by the experts surrounding Xi Jinping have no problem with individual debt defaults, partly caused by (what they expect to be a temporary) rise in the value of the dollar. Once the commercial terms that are enforced for BRI projects in numerous countries gets enforced, PRC-controlled entities move in to take control of collateral-assets that are of value not merely in financial but in strategic terms. The more such assets that get owned by PRC entities in place of dollars, once the USD moves into the Reset Zone and rapidly begins losing value, the “dollar starved” PRC financial system would reap a windfall. The 1971 system of international exchange that institutionalised the dollar as its keystone is already showing strain, and more and more countries are looking to exchange USD for other currencies or assets. The windfall created for China by BRI defaults would be similar to those in India who give loans against pledging of gold by individuals in a market where the price of the precious metal moves in an upward direction. The more defaults take place of such loans, the more (higher and higher value) gold becomes the property of the lender. The only fear is the “Nuclear Option”. This is that a significant group of debtor nations will (under the presumably covert prodding and protection of the US) go in for what may be termed a synchronized quasi-sovereign debt rescheduling of BRI loans. This would involve governments in countries where a coordinated series of defaults take place, passing protective and enabling laws and regulations. These would protect commercial and other entities which join such a serial debt rescheduling under protection of sovereign governments acting informally in concert with Great Power backing. Under such a plan, countries having a high debt load to China would decide to legislate measures that give domestic entities the right to repay BRI loans that are due after an extended grace period of 15 years. Payments would be staggered across 15 more years. This would result in loans that are due prior to such rescheduling getting repaid by 2049, a year that represents a significant milestone for the Peoples Republic of China. The interest rate on the BRI loans repaid would be that mandated by the US Federal Reserve Board for itself, which is close to zero. Authorities in Beijing would have the option of either accepting the new conditions for repayment and continuing with projects in accordance with the changes, or breaking off relations in whole or in part with the countries (or entities) that adopt the 15:15 repayment rule rather than make payments as per the schedule agreed on in existing BRI contracts. Withdrawal would immediately deprive the PRC of the use of the hard assets created under the BRI, while even if Beijing decides to continue with BRI activities, such a plan would keep a country’s assets outside Chinese ownership. The BRI as presently operated has had a beneficial effect on the Chinese economy, including in protecting jobs for millions of citizens of China. A chain lengthening and easing of the BRI loan repayment schedule if followed by a PRC withdrawal from countries going in for the rescheduling option could lead to deflation in the PRC and a consequent weakening of the RMB. This would happen just when the Chinese leadership is calling for an expansion of domestic consumption to make up for likely declines in export revenue caused by the ravages of repeated WHO-mandated lockdowns on key economies.


Global primacy hinges significantly on confidence in the currency of the country seeking it. Synchronized action on debt to China of multiple countries that have accumulated as a consequence of loans given under the BRI carries the potential to severely reduce confidence in the Chinese economy and therefore system of governance. Confidence both internally and externally in the economy and in the CCP governance structure is essential for monetary stability and a strengthening geopolitical footprint. From a policy of often unstated but effective offensives across diverse fronts against geopolitical rivals, the PRC would be thrown into a defensive mode. Continuing emphasis on the Indo-Pacific strategy and increasing coordination between by the US and India is already causing concern in Beijing. This would increase should the incoming US President build on rather than reduce the levels of trust and cooperation that has developed between Delhi and Washington during the final two years of the Obama administration and the four years of the Trump White House. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have done much heavy lifting to take forward the US-India partnership. Whimsical decisions of the 45th US President such as denying a fair pension to former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, dropping Mark Esper or pushing the Kurds under the bus, all this and more gives a perhaps not wholly deserved impression of vindictiveness and instability on the part of the world’s greatest showman since P.T. Barnum. Should Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken succeed in getting major players in the EU as well as the UK on board with the adoption of synchronized debt rescheduling of BRI projects by several countries acting in sequence and in concert, that would be a heavy blow to the PRC. Such a move may reverse the strategic gains made by the BRI, which may turn into a millstone around the neck of the Chinese economy rather than an economic and strategic plus. Thus far, the thinking (and not just in Beijing) is that Joe Biden, who as Vice-President opposed the taking out of Osama Bin Laden, will not be the US President who can carry out a strategy of coordinated rescheduling by select countries of BRI debt through use of the power. Some who know the chosen 46th President of the US differ and say that he will take hard decisions should they be deemed necessary to safeguard the global primacy of the US that was established after the war between the Allies and the Axis in the previous century. Meanwhile, the race for primacy between Washington and Beijing continues, with the many aftershocks generated by the Covid-19 pandemic serving to bring closer rather than push further away Beijing’s timetable for occupying the summit of global leadership in place of Washington.

Saturday 21 November 2020

Biden-Harris on course to prove critics wrong (The Sunday Guardian)


Given the tantrums of the outgoing administration, the challenges Biden will face on entering the White House will be unprecedented.

President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden Jr has spent 34 years preparing for the four years ahead beginning 20 January 2021. Although there may be those who use the mechanical metric of age rather than the chemistry of experience to gauge competence, it is clear from the steps that the former Senior Senator from Delaware has taken since 3 November that his earlier years have been well spent. Given the tantrums of the outgoing administration, the challenges he will immediately face on entering the White House for the first time as the lawful occupant will be unique. President Donald J. Trump has had more than a few successes during his term, and Benjamin Netanyahu behaved with gratitude and courtesy in thanking him for some of them, which included the welcome escape of Israel from the diplomatic quarantine of so many Arab states. In the case of that often ignored democracy, Taiwan, Trump has done more to secure that country from a PLA takeover than any of his predecessors since Jimmy Carter initiated the pro-PRC tilt. The problem with Trump is that he has had a lifelong obsession with the dollar, which the 45th US President clearly values above all else, save perhaps Ivanka, Melania and Barron. This has been in evidence during trade talks with allies, who in this matter get treated as mortal foes. The Trump USTR has made numerous efforts to derail the low-cost pharma industry in India, or try and subject our country to East India Company-modelled policies in data storage and IPR. India has the brainpower needed to create tech titans in the same way as these have developed in China and the US. Modi 2.0 needs to take down the layer upon layer of burdensome regulations and laws that stunt honest enterprises and smother individual initiative. Whatever one does in India, there is a regulation or a law which can get used by unscrupulous competitors to take away viability, property and liberty. Especially in the matter of personal liberty, much work needs to get done during the second term of Prime Minister Modi. Just being in the vicinity of a few grams of drugs that are in common recreational use across the world (and which have been legalised in many countries) has been sufficient cause for the Narcotics Control Bureau to treat several Bollywood notables as dangerous criminals. The effect of such zeal on the part of an agency that has long had outsize powers and discretion on an important component of India’s soft power will be visible in the period ahead. Incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris would serve her boss well were she to oversee substantive reforms of the criminal justice system in the US. The Biden administration needs to do away with the Nixon-Clinton measures that have swollen the jail population of the US to greater levels than that in the People’s Republic of China, the country that is challenging US primacy across Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific.

Joe Biden is known to be a warm and decent human being, which is a welcome qualification in any individual. However, this will not help much in reaching across the Republican-Democrat divide to revive a presently moribund bipartisanship. As Vice-President, this was a task that he had little success in. Six of the eight years of President Barack Obama were spent in enduring the legislative blockade created by a Republican-controlled US Congress. It is unlikely that President Biden will have any greater luck than Veep Biden, which is why the Democratic Party needs to win the two Senate seats in Georgia being contested in January, so that the party takes control of the Senate from that master of obstruction, Mitch McConnell. The Senate Majority Leader has been the saviour of Ankara because of his rescue of President Erdogan from CAATSA sanctions that ought by law to have been applied after Turkey’s S-400 purchase. This unpunished defiance by Erdogan has reduced to caricature the assumption of solidarity within NATO to the level of farce. It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will show more courage than its predecessor in the matter of S-400 sanctions. Trump has further smudged his legacy, but not by trying to reduce US troop commitments to 2,500 each in Iraq and Afghanistan. If those left behind are carefully chosen, and this gets followed up with adequate rather than insufficient transfers of intelligence and essential weapons platforms to the Afghan and Iraqi armed forces, this is all that is needed, not US troops. What has damaged US credibility as a security partner is not the Afghanistan troop reduction but the pell-mell nature of the rush to the door, and the dangerous message that Zalmay Khalilzad’s kowtow to the Taliban contains for terror groups across the world. It is that of a power too scared to fight and which is ready to sacrifice an ally to its worst enemies. This was in evidence elsewhere as well, including the manner in which Trump sought to ingratiate himself with Erdogan by sacrificing the Kurds. An allegation has been made that the Kurds in Syria went the Czechoslovakia way because of President Trump’s eagerness to ensure that present and future Trump properties in Turkey generate money that may be needed by the group to repay loans it has taken in the past. This seems just another of the smears that have so befouled politics in too many democracies. After the fiasco of the Nancy Pelosi-led effort to impeach the 45th US President, President-elect Biden has said that he does not want his term to be defined by criminal processes against his predecessor at the federal level. It was the lengthy and doomed to fail impeachment process that gave oxygen to the multiple conspiracy theories that are occupying much of media and mindscape in the US. The Democratic Party has been punished in polls to the House of Representatives for the impeachment soap opera that was conducted, especially when it was clear from the start that the US Senate would toss out any impeachment resolution. Just as when he fell victim to Covid-19 during the campaign and showed grit in coming back to fight, efforts at impeachment converted Trump into a victim, thereby assisting him in the 2020 polls, which would otherwise have been a landslide for the Democrats.

While North Korea is and will remain a nuclear weapons power, Iran is unlikely to ever be coerced or persuaded to abandon its own program, given the about turn it has experienced from Washington in the matter of the JCPOA. Returning to the Obama outreach to Cuba will within the Biden term deliver benefits for Cubans on both sides of the present divide. This will wipe out the temporary fall in votes caused by misinformation about the Havana initiative. As for the Indo-Pacific, this has replaced the Atlantic as the centre of gravity, and it is unlikely that the Biden administration would follow the example of Canute and seek to roll the waves of change back. Washington, London and Paris may even team up to demand a UNSC vote on India’s admission as a permanent member, albeit without a veto. Judging by the measured tone and actions of the putative Biden administration, there are grounds for optimism.


Friday 13 November 2020

PM and CJI Can End India's Colonial Hangover


The country has a penal code that has a vintage of more than a century and a half.


The Supreme Court of India deserves gratitude from those who believe in the values of freedom and democracy. That “jail is the exception and bail is the rule” has been repeated endless times, yet it appears to many in India that jail is the norm and bail the exception. The emphasis by the Apex Court on liberty in the recent granting of bail to some media personalities will hopefully be emulated by courts across the country. So far as the media is concerned, over the years dozens of journalists have been sent to jail in states across the country. Some have been silenced in a more permanent way. In another field, numerous personnel connected to India’s nuclear and missile industries succumbed to “suicides”, “accidents” and “break-in murders” since the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton declared a public as well as a covert war on both nuclear and missile activity in our country. The killings stopped once reports of the serial deaths of individuals in the nuclear and missile industry appeared in The Sunday Guardian. The time has been overdue to investigate the arrest, intimidation and deaths of numerous Right to Information (RTI) activists across the country who seek to probe wrongdoing by those in authority. RTI was intended to be an instrument of transparency that would tear away the layers of secrecy in which governmental processes operate. Instead, the UPA regime ensured that RTI boards were dominated by those who had spent their entire careers keeping information away from the public. This is among the practices of the past that should not be allowed to continue . A country’s progress is determined by those in key positions. Care needs to be taken to ensure that attendance in the durbars of powerful bureaucrats and politicians cease to be indispensable for getting into positions of authority. On paper, there are “360-degree investigations” of prospective nominees to responsible office. In reality, such consultations usually take place solely within a narrow band of officials and their favourites. The personnel dossiers that get prepared about suggested nominees often reflect the personal and other biases of those preparing them rather than be a factual rendition of an individual’s pluses and minuses.

Lack of transparency in the processes of governance has created an absence of public accountability even after 1947, although during Modi 2.0 more and more processes are being made less opaque. This is because of the Prime Minister’s focus on expanding the scope of Digital India. As a consequence of this, several more administrative processes have become transparent, but more need to follow. The RTI law in its manner of operation needs to be rescued from the morass into which incorrect implementation pushed it during the UPA period. This can happen through increasing the powers of RTI boards and choosing members who have spent their lives chasing transparency rather than making a fetish of secrecy. Several of the officials who dominate RTI boards apparently believe that the common citizen cannot be trusted with any information other than the line tossed in her or his direction by official channels and those outside that are faithful to the line peddled.

Until the Supreme Court stepped in and ensured justice, there had been much commentary about the incarceration of a prominent editor by a state government. His news outlet had been reporting on a presumed suicide that in the view of some could have been a murder. As a consequence of that view, several individuals were sent to prison while others were questioned by police for long periods in the full glare of television cameras. Ultimately no proof of murder was discovered. Among other such statutes, India has a narcotics law that makes the word “draconian” an understatement. This is now being used to create a brouhaha that will have the effect of relocating the Indian film industry to Mauritius. Judging by what is being charged against some of those connected to Bollywood, even the possession of small quantities of “soft” drugs that are in widespread recreational use could result in long jail terms. It would be better to legalise such drugs the way President-elect Joseph R. Biden plans to do in the US, and in the manner several countries around the world have. The Narcotics Control Board has to focus on “hard” drugs and on taking down their distribution and finance channels. Given the range of ways in which a citizen can be deprived of his or her liberty in India, it is no surprise that even so prominent a journalist as the editor who had been incarcerated in Maharashtra remains enmeshed in a criminal case This is a process that could take decades to complete, with attendant human and financial costs. The Supreme Court needs to set a high bar for the taking away of liberty or the confiscation of property of the citizen. Such forfeitures should not continue to take place in India in the manner that used to happen during the colonial period The range of penal laws left behind by the British and preserved by those who came to power after the country won its freedom needs to be reduced to conform to the changes required by the 21st century. Under existing statutes, a wide range of actions by a citizen can be interpreted in a misleading manner by an interested official, even though the same may be entirely innocent of wrongdoing. The country has a penal code that has a vintage of more than a century and a half in an era when technologies get transformed every few months. Over the decades, rather than get reduced, penal provisions have been added on to over the years, especially in economic activity. Officials (and politicians in power) love such authority despite its killing effect on the business environment and on individual freedom. During the UPA period, jail was added as an option for several financial charges despite the fact that the wording of regulations and laws often lend themselves to misinterpretation and erroneous conjecture. North Block during the Vajpayee period removed several such vexatious provisions, and to a considerable extent sought to ensure that officials did not misuse their powers. Despite the reality of corruption increasing with every new anti-corruption measure coming into force, more and more penal measures have been introduced. These need to be rolled back during Modi 2.0. The rate of economic growth in India has been falling for some years, even before the pandemic, and this can get reversed should the risks to liberty and property caused by misinterpretation and erroneous conjecture get reduced. The Prime Minister has spoken of the need for this, hence such a change in this longstanding colonial practice is expected.

The Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court can separately work to ensure that colonial laws and practices be discarded so that the governance system reflects the 21st rather than the 19th century. Many of the existing penalties should be civil and financial rather than criminal and penal. Economies delinking from the PRC are looking to invest in India, but are wary of the continuing hangover of the colonial era. This puts them at the mercy of the minority of officials who because of their venality (facilitated by lack of transparency and accountability) have given administration in India an unsavoury reputation. Properties have been summarily grabbed by governments and freedoms taken away with abandon by Central and state authorities over the decades. It is time this changes.

Moral Policing Wrecked Nitish Kumar's Tally in Bihar (Sunday Guardian)



The dent in the finances of the state because of the liquor ban caused a reduction in government programs and job creation. At the same time, instead of becoming weaker, the liquor lobby has been celebrating the onset of Prohibition.

New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made an advantageous move in 2017 when he joined hands with the BJP after a lapse of four years. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President J.P. Nadda had made it clear before the Assembly elections that whatever the balance of seats between the JDU and the BJP, Nitish Kumar would continue as the Chief Minister if the alliance secured a majority. This promise has been kept in spite of the poor performance of the JDU, the government led by which was rescued by the continuing mass appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That it was the charisma and credibility of the PM that powered the JDU-BJP alliance to victory in Bihar is obvious. It helped that J.P. Nadda has shown himself to be a capable chief of the party that is a close rival of the Chinese Communist Party in being the largest political organisation in the world. Certainly the BJP is by far the largest party in any democracy, a position it reached during the tenure in office of former BJP President Amit Shah. The decision in 2013 of the central leadership of the BJP to choose Modi as the standard bearer for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was responsible for the party securing a majority in the 2014 polls after a gap of three decades when no party had that distinction. Not even the party that has ruled India for the longest period, the Indian National Congress, which since 1999 has been led by Sonia Gandhi. That feat by the BJP was repeated in 2019, indicating that a plurality of voters still had faith that Modi is the leader who can ensure a better future for them. It is that faith which has ensured yet another term for Nitish Kumar, who is thereby edging closer to Jyoti Basu’s record, he having been the Chief Minister of Bengal for 23 years. Unfortunately for Bihar, the tenure of Nitish Kumar has given evidence of a strong strain of moral policing. In the past, supporters of then CM of Kerala, A.K. Antony had created a halo of rectitude around the non-smoking, non-drinking vegetarian, who gave up his bachelorhood much later in life than is usual. However, even the politician who was nicknamed “Saint Antony” by his friends did not seek to go forward as CM with moral policing in the manner that Nitish did.


Since 5 April 2016 any individual in Bihar caught with a bottle or even a glass of alcohol faced imprisonment for a minimum of 10 years, and even a life sentence. While such punishment is and should be the norm for horrendous crimes such as those carried out by child predators and serial murderers, Bihar should enter the Guinness Book of Records by the way the state has mandated a similar penalty simply for the consumption of liquor. Perhaps because he was not at the time an ally of the BJP, but of the RJD, there was scarcely a protest from the human rights lobby at the disconnect between crime and punishment that was the brainchild of the CM of Bihar. Hundreds and later thousands of tipplers began to crowd prisons in Bihar as a consequence of the Prohibition Law. The furore caused by this among the people resulted in a small relaxation of the policy in 2018, but not before immense harm had been done to the social and economic fabric of a state that is situated in the fertile Gangetic plain and yet is among the poorest in the Union of India. The relaxation in the liquor law came a year after the JDU entered into the alliance with the BJP in 2017 that has ensured security of tenure for the Bihar CM ever since. The CM has thus far refused to reverse the Bihar liquor law. In his view, the ban will (a) reduce domestic violence, not an unusual event in a still largely patriarchal society, (b) finish off the political and financial clout of the liquor lobby in the state, and (c) raise the poor of his state out of poverty by saving the money they would otherwise spend on alcohol. All three assumptions are wrong. Unfortunately, when the moral police instincts of the Bihar CM were given full rein in the 2016 liquor law, those around him did what they normally did when faced with such a situation, which was to applaud the CM for his action rather than sound a note of caution. When a politician gathers around him only such people as nod their heads at whatever he or she says, that individual will soon get into trouble. The ability to listen to opposing views and to ensure that a multiplicity of opinions is presented before a decision gets taken is crucial to good governance.


In several households, liquor has long been a not uncommon element of daily consumption, including among the poor. In Bihar, the underprivileged there work for more than ten hours each day, and return to their shanties with aching and tired limbs. In that state, the minimum wage and maximum permitted hours of work are ignored by several who employ casual labour, although presumably this information was not brought to the attention of the Chief Minister’s Office. A tot of liquor costing about Rs 30-40 was consumed by such labourers every day on their return home, to dull the aches and to escape from the miseries of everyday existence at least for a while. For truck drivers, a dose of liquor is useful in ensuring sleep after a gruelling day spent on choked roads, rowdy traffic. This is especially the case if the truck being driven is itself in poor condition, again not uncommon in several parts of the country, but very prevalent in Bihar. The Chief Minister of Bihar may not have ever consumed a drop of liquor in his life, but that is not reason enough to seek to impose his preferences on the rest of the population in such a drastic fashion. Several who were poor could not do without their daily dose of pain balm they took to enable a temporary escape from reality. They now had to spend Rs 210-240 or more daily rather than the earlier amount of Rs 30-40. That too for liquor that may be spurious, as it is supplied by bootleggers and smugglers rather than by approved outlets as earlier. This extra spending on alcohol has left much less money for household needs such as food, schooling and clothing. Because of the additional cost plus the fact that Nitish had proclaimed in speech after speech that it was because of pressure from women that he had passed such a law, beatings in the home have increased rather than been reduced by the measure. Despite such facts, more than a few analysts and commentators remarked on the women’s vote that Nitish was seen by them as receiving in the early stages of counting, when the JDU was doing well. Such analyses showed their disconnect from the ground situation. Judging by the results, the CM lost much of that vote but was lucky that women in Bihar still have immense confidence in Prime Minister Modi. This enabled the JDU to remain a force in the state Assembly, albeit behind the RJD and the BJP.


The dent in the finances of the state because of the liquor ban caused a reduction in government programs and job creation. At the same time, instead of becoming weaker, the liquor lobby has been celebrating the onset of Prohibition. They are making extortionate profits from the shortage of alcohol. Prices have risen by more than four times, only this time the extra amount is in black and outside the ambit of Central and State taxes. As a consequence, Central revenues also suffered because of the CM’s moral policing. Certainly alcohol is best avoided, but the way to achieve abstinence is for Nitish Kumar to dress in the simple manner of the Mahatma and go about on foot from village to village preaching the virtues of temperance. Setting the police loose on those who do not share his moral principles and preferences in liquid refreshment is another example of the manner in which laws and regulations in India have been used to try and change even such forms of social behaviour as are non-threatening to others. Had the Chief Minister stiffened the penalties for violence under the influence of alcohol and the creation of a public fracas by the inebriated, the response to the liquor ban would not have been so profound. The best way to reduce the influence of the liquor lobby is to go the Tamil Nadu way and ensure that authorised sales are made at reasonable prices to the poor. Unlike in the case of Bihar, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu does not regard it as part of the duty of the state government to prescribe or proscribe lifestyles, dress or diet.

Another loss to Bihar was the fall in tourism. Fewer footfalls took place in a state where even consuming a bottle of beer could lead to a long and uncomfortable stay at state expense. Marriages began to move out of the state, given that alcohol is often part of the celebrations. In Gujarat, another “dry” state, several marriage invitations include receptions in nearby Daman for reasons that are obvious. Another setback was the closure of several sugar factories in Bihar. With the closure of every factory came the loss of about 3,000-4,000 jobs, not to mention the tens of thousands of farmers who have suffered from the aftershocks of each factory and liquor processing centre that closed down. Moral policing has cost the state of Bihar jobs, and hit family finances as well as state finances. It is to be seen if the Chief Minister has learnt any lesson from the poor showing of his party in the just concluded Assembly elections, or whether he will continue with using the bludgeon of law and the police to enforce his own moral codes on a population that would like to be left alone to deal with such matters by themselves. Politicians and officials across the country and in the Central government need to understand the wisdom and the essentiality of Prime Minister Modi’s call for Minimum Government so as to ensure Maximum Governance.

Saturday 7 November 2020

Minimum Government Essential for Remaking India (Sunday Guardian)


Surprisingly, the first Economic Survey of the Modi government magnanimously gave high marks to its predecessor.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, with assistance from Satyen Pitroda, ensured that the days of waiting for hours and even days to put a long-distance call through ended. The flaw was that new private players were kept out of the telecom industry, while only those with connections to the ruling establishment were allowed in most sectors. Mani Shankar Aiyar sought to nudge the Congress government into decentralising its financial and administrative authority to the state and local level. This led to signs of panic from both the Central bureaucracy and the owners of large hotels in Delhi. Most of the customers of such hotels were businesspersons and others who visited the capital to persuade politicians in power and the bureaucrats clustered around them to sanction the many permissions needed to undertake most activities in India. It was Narasimha Rao who launched Reform 1.0 by the simple process of throwing into the dustbin several of the regulations that had been put in place over decades of growth that by the standards of East and even Southeast Asia was paltry. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee launched Reform 1.5 by making the working of government less burdensome for enterprises and gifted the UPA an economy improving in health. The numerous policies of the UPA over its decade in office had the effect of damping down the economic potential of India. Surprisingly, the first Economic Survey of the Narendra Modi government magnanimously gave high marks to its predecessor in contrast to the many statements made by the BJP during the tenure of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This was presumably because of the fact that it was drafted by the same officials who had held high positions during the UPA period. In a gesture that was Gandhian in its forbearance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given an honoured place in the new government to those officials who had served in high positions during the previous decade, just as he gave pride of place to those who had been prominent in the government headed by Vajpayee. When he was sworn in as the 44rth President of the US in 2009, Barack Obama similarly filled his team with those who had been in the Clinton administration rather than focus on bringing the change in personnel that was anticipated. Presumably, Obama felt that the mere fact of being the first African-American President of the US was change enoigh, and went ahead with a Clinton Lite administration. It was only during the concluding phase of his eight years in office that Obama broke loose from the Clinton shadow, and went ahead with initiatives in Cuba, Iran and India that broke substantial ground where relations with the three were concerned. After moving to the White House in 2017, President Donald J. Trump reversed his predecessor’s breakthrough “sunshine” policies towards Teheran and Havana, but doubled down on the convivial relationship between Washington and Delhi that had been started during the post-Clinton period in the Obama administration.

While President Trump was certainly crucial in the evolving Indo-US partnership, the credit should also go to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The  Bush administration had taken the unwise step of denying a visa to the then Gujarat Chief Minister, an error continued by the Obama administration till the people of India gave a parliamentary majority to the BJP in 2014. On his part, Modi did not allow this and other hostile policies towards him to affect his focus on bettering ties with the US. Unexpectedly for those unaware of the policy focus of Modi and Obama, the two bonded immediately. It helped that the National Security Advisor to President Obama was Susan Rice and that Ashton Carter was the Secretary of Defense. Both understood the centrality of an Indo-US partnership in the Indo-Pacific era, although it has yet to be seen if a President Biden would include Rice and Carter in his administration. The fact that he chose Kamala Harris as his running mate has been an encouraging sign that Joe Biden has moved beyond the obsessively Atlanticist shadow of the Clintons. He has an asset in his spouse Jill. According to those who know her, it was fortunate for newly elected Senator Biden that he met Jill, whose exceptional qualities resemble those of Biden’s eldest son Beau. It was a tragedy not only for the family Beau Biden left behind by his passing but also for his country that Beau had his life cut short by a fell disease. Biden’s second son has been controversial, and the generous payments made to him by entities controlled by the Chinese Communist Party have been used by the Republican Party as evidence of Joe Biden being in Beijing’s pocket thanks to his surviving son. However, what is more likely is that Hunter may simply have been following the “American as Apple Pie” policy of pocketing dollars, wherever they may come from. There is therefore almost no chance of Hunter Biden having any affinity to China. He appears to be a go-getter who would have accepted big payments from almost any country without any attachment except to the money. Even were Hunter Biden to be in thrall to the PRC, it is impossible to believe that a President Biden would, as a consequence, soften his policies towards China during Cold War 2.0. In this context, it must be remembered that it has been President Trump who has imposed harsher measures on Russia than even Jimmy Carter. Compared to President Trump, President Bush was a “panda hugger” during almost the entirety of his eight years in the White House. This when the Democratic Party has endlessly repeated Hillary Clinton’s 2016 charge that Trump was a Russian puppet. Judging by the sanctions on Moscow during the past three years, if this is how a puppet behaves, Washington needs more of them.

Although there have been incidents in the past, such as senior officials refusing to meet individuals who are prominent in the Democratic Party such as Pramila Jayapal, it is a certainty that the interests binding Washington and Delhi will combine with the diplomatic skills of Narendra Modi and the genial personality of Joe Biden to ensure that the relationship between the leaders of the world’s two giant democracies will be as close as those between Modi and Obama, and that visits by each to the other country will take place soon. Apart from the fact that it is certain that the soon-to-be Vice-President of the US is certain to visit Chennai after the obligatory stopover in Delhi. Reforms have accelerated during Modi 2.0, and changes are needed, such as allowing security and defence partners to have their companies set up 100% owned entities in India. And that for Covid-19, a President Biden saves millions of lives the way President Bush did for the HIV pandemic by sourcing from India 90% of essential therapeutics for preventing HIV from being the killer it had been. Another partnership between the US and India would ensure that drug cocktails of very low cost could be disseminated across the world to sharply bring down death rates from the novel coronavirus from the present levels. Should Biden make India the priority that Obama and Trump have, he would ensure a partnership that could decide the result of Cold War 2.0.

India-US bonhomie will Continue under Biden-Harris (Sunday Guardian)


It is likely that establishing a close bond between the incoming President of the US and the Prime Minister of India will be a priority for both Joe Biden and Narendra Modi.

 New Delhi: The “Namaste Trump” mela in Ahmedabad this year and earlier, the 2019 “Howdy Modi” hoopla in Houston, have been lampooned by many as sideshows. Such a view ignores the symbolism of both across the world. India has an economy far smaller than that of the United States (almost by ten times), and yet as the two leaders marched arm in arm across the stadium on both occasions, it was perceived by tens of millions of viewers that the Trump administration had finally accepted India as an equal, just as President Richard Nixon did with the People’s Republic of China in the 1970s. Nixon’s deft diplomacy created the defining alliance of the US during Cold War 1.0. This was not with the other members of NATO but with Beijing, and there grew an often understated, often covert, link between that capital and Washington. Similarly, the most consequential partnership between Washington and any other capital during Cold War 2.0 will be—as was acknowledged by then National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster in 2018—with Delhi. There has been much quibbling over whether what is taking place between the PRC and the US is indeed a “Cold War”. Those reluctant to admit that their serial predictions of the PRC turning democratic with economic success have doubled down on the strategy of engaging rather than confronting China. Such elements have long been part of the Biden policy ecosystem, hence the optimism in Beijing that spring is approaching after a Trumpian winter. The sizeable “Engage, don’t confront PRC” lobby in Washington has pointed out correctly that both sides seek to avoid a direct conflict but are silent about the fact that wars are not always started by design. A “Cold War” is not the opposite of a “hot” or kinetic war, but describes a situation wherein one superpower is seeking to wrest global leadership from the other by whatever means is available, and the other is seeking to repress its capabilities for doing so. Such a contest may be “hot” in some locations while remaining “cold” in others.

There has been a perception among policymakers, especially in Asia, that a Biden administration would return to the G-2 model favoured by Beijing (until it establishes a clear lead over the US). US tech companies, unhappy at having to decouple from their PRC partners and suppliers, have lavished money on the Democratic Party presidential campaign in the expectation that the decoupling from PRC-controlled supply chains that began in the final year of the Obama administration and was continued with more vigour under Donald J. Trump, will get reversed. They are likely to be disappointed, as PRC progress in Artificial Intelligence and in space and missile technology has begun to pose an existential threat to US military assets. As President of the US, Joe Biden will have access to data that show how the PRC has, for at least a decade, been working to separate its own tech supply chains from the US, and how it being the dominant component of so many US supply chains is assisting such a process. Neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris can be accused with accuracy of being “soft” on the PRC, unlike what has been alleged against them by the Republicans. Judging by some of the new entrants in the advisory councils of both, it is clear that both have transitioned from the Altanticist obsession of the Clintons to the Indo-Pacific pivot initiated by President Barack Obama, with the assistance of two outstanding intellects, Susan Rice and Ashton Carter. However, President Obama was cautious to a fault in many ways, and standing up to China was included in that list. ASEAN countries factored in with dismay the non-response of the Obama administration when the Scarborough Shoals were taken over by the PRC from the Philippines in 2012 despite an agreement with Manila not to do so. The Pentagon’s policy has been the undertaking of symbolic passages by naval vessels through the South China Sea. Instead, what is needed (in conjunction with other powers) is to recover primacy over that crucial waterway through reversing the steady militarization of the South China Sea that has taken place under General Secretary Xi Jinping. This transformational leader has from the start of his rule in 2012 placed the PLA at the hub of diplomacy and strategy. The geographical activism that has taken place under Xi since 2012 resembles the manner in which there was accretion of territory by Chairman Mao, only this time mostly on water rather than land. What may be termed as neo-socialist (or neosoc) PRC analysts (who are as fixated on the expansion of Beijing’s power as the neo-conservatives or neocons were in the US were about boosting that of Washington) are gaining influence within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is this group that is pushing for an aggressive PRC policy towards India. Their line has been adopted by the Central Military Commission (CMC) in the expectation that the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on India has given an opportunity for the PLA to knock out any chances of Delhi emerging as a credible challenger to the PRC. Once humiliating blows were landed, India would (in their view) lose its attraction as a potential ally to the US, and would itself begin a process of internal turmoil and eventual meltdown. This would in line with the objectives of GHQ Rawalpindi, a PLA ally. Simultaneously, the influence of Russia besides the PRC’s own lobby within India would prevent the Narendra Modi government from going ahead with an Indo-US partnership, on the specious ground that by doing so, the “independence” and “strategic autonomy” of India would be compromised. Both are indeed being sought to be compromised, not by those in favour of a defence and security alignment with the US, but because of the activities of the PLA and GHQ Rawalpindi. Both are working in tandem where India is concerned. PRC “neosoc” (neo-socialist) analysts expect the Biden administration to seek a return to the G-2 model in Asia. Should they be correct, US credibility as a security partner for Southeast Asia would fall to depths not seen since the 1930s.


The nationalistic (or in their words, patriotic) neosoc analysts in China believe that the Biden administration will move away from the Indo-Pacific strategy fashioned during the Trump presidency. This would be at the precise time when the Quad needs to expand its potentiality through the association of Vietnam and Indonesia. The latter country contains the only waterway through which nuclear submarines can transit from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, besides having the largest Muslim population in the world, followed by Pakistan and India. There was a similar burst of optimism in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) think-tanks when Donald Trump was sworn in on 20 January 2017. The 45th President of the US was after all a businessman, and the CCP has been expert in the handling of business entities, which is why to this day, Big Tech in the US remains hostile to the Pompeo-Esper hard line on China. They would prefer that Huawei and other PRC entities continue to service their needs, even if in the process US tech giants are themselves are at risk of getting overtaken in global markets by business champions nurtured by the CCP. The declaration of President Trump’s 2017 trade war with China was regarded by them as simply a negotiating tactic to get more concessions. It was only after several months that the “neosocs” understood that at least under Trump the era of the US facilitating the expansion of PRC businesses and markets was over. Given the fact that not only Republicans but Democrats share apprehensions about the direction the PRC is taking, it is unlikely that even the many Atlanticists in a Biden administration would be able to resist the growing number of voices within the Pentagon, the National Security Council and even the State Department that regard the Indo-Pacific rather than the Atlantic as the centre of gravity in global geopolitics. Such a pivot implies that it is the PRC that is the principal foe, and no longer Russia, which under Vladimir Putin has now moved into the role of being an indispensable (and therefore quasi-equal) partner of the PRC. The Sino-Russian alliance is a formidable construct that has the potential to establish a unipolar Asia before moving on to the creation of a unipolar world. At the same time, as Beijing establishes itself as the dominant power in Asia, Moscow would once again expand its footprint in Europe, especially in those European states that were once part of COMECON. Should an Indo-US security and defence partnership become operational, this would pose a significant obstacle to such plans, which is why both Moscow and Beijing (not to mention Islamabad) are opposed to the idea of a US-India partnership. The signing of the final foundation agreement (BECA) between the US and India has shown that the influence of Moscow on decisions in Delhi is finally declining. It is a sign of the influence of Moscow within the Ministry of Defence that when the PLA intruded yet again (and in a strength not seen since 1962) into Indian territory in May, rather than purchase US weapons platforms, once again bulk orders were placed with Moscow. These were of items with which the PLA is very familiar. It was when US equipment made a substantial difference to the fighting capabilities of the Army and the Air Force in their recent confronting of the PLA challenge that the importance of turning to a rival rather than to an ally of China for crucial military supplies became more apparent within the Lutyens Zone. Despite not having met or even talked to Candidate Trump until he became President Trump, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick off the mark in establishing as close a relationship with the 45th President of the US as he was with Barack Obama. It is likely that establishing a close bond between the incoming President of the US and the Prime Minister of India will be a priority for both Biden as well as Modi. Such closeness will be opposed in India by those political parties who remain as wedded to the USSR-US Cold war 1.0 strategies as hardcore Atlanticists in the US cling on to illusions that the realities that took shape after the 1939-45 war have not been overtaken by the emergence of the Indo-Pacific century, or that it is no longer Moscow but Beijing that is the primary challenge to Washington.

The Democratic Party has been unlucky in the loss while in office of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Both understood the importance of the change that was accelerating in Asia and Africa. Had Roosevelt been in office for the whole of his final term, many of the wars and miscalculations that followed would have been avoided. Had Kennedy lived to win a second term, the India-US relationship would have blossomed into a partnership. President Clinton had no time for India except in the matter of demolishing its nuclear and missile deterrent against the PRC, which he indulged in terms of policy even while objecting to some of its actions in words. Even in his last-minute visit to India, President Clinton made sure to visit Pakistan as well, thereby underlining the hyphenation of the two countries that was a staple of US foreign policy from the time of President Eisenhower. It took President George W. Bush to accept the reality of India as a responsible nuclear weapons state, and also to open the door to the world’s largest democracy becoming the manufactory of 90% of the life-preserving drugs that ensured that HIV (AIDS) ceased to be a death sentence for the poor across the globe. The incoming US President needs to similarly turn to India if he is to ensure that the poor in his country get affordable access to the medications needed to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. This would be still more relevant in a situation where a vaccine remains distant. The Clinton, Obama and Trump administrations took the side of Big Pharma against their own poor and their own budgets, working overtime to shut the door on cheaper generics from India. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would be welcomed by Big Pharma as a well-paid lobbyist, so relentless has been his effort to get India to change its laws and practices so as to weaken its generics industry and to ensure that patents for Big Pharma drugs get indefinitely extended through legerdemain rather than any genuine change in the effectiveness of the high-priced medication whose patent is getting extended. Someday, the human rights lobby will become active in the matter of the tens of millions of poor who have died or suffered agony because access to low-cost and equally effective medications from India was blocked by their lobbying.


The US, India, Japan and Australia have formed the Indo-Pacific Quadrilateral Alliance, and this is a legacy that the 46th President of the US is likely to not just continue with, but strengthen. Contrary to the dissemination of perceptions that he is an apologist for the PRC, Joe Biden is known to be focused on the US interest. In such a context, the chances are high that the signing of the defence and security Foundation Agreements (one under Barack Obama and two under Donald Trump, all cleared during the period in office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi) will clear the way for major defence manufacturers in the US to set up segments of their production facilities in India, so that they can more effectively compete in costs with the competition that will soon come their way from the Sino-Russian alliance. Care needs to be taken by the Government of India to ensure that 100% ownership be permitted in defence rather than 75%. There is no reason why India should not permit full ownership for entities in partner countries in the defence production sector, especially in a situation where nearly 80% of core defence equipment is sourced from outside the country. Care needs to be taken to ensure that only companies that are based in friendly countries are allowed to enter into production, while those from countries with which there are tensions which could escalate, need to be kept out, as also those from countries that have a close military and security relationship with foes of India. A similar welcome can be extended to US tech companies so that they source production not in the PRC but in the other country with a billion-plus population, India. The obsession of then Vice-President Dick Cheney with the domestic sourcing of items needed in the wars he helped begin together with President George W. Bush pushed up costs and was among the reasons why the economy of the country tanked during the final year (2008) of the 43rd President of the US. Value addition by the US to a proportion of components made elsewhere makes more sense than seeking to source the entire downstream production of items in the US in the manner that President Trump frequently announces as his goal. A possible winner would be the setting up of a Techno Triangle involving the US, India and Taiwan. This could evolve into a significant partnership in a context in which tech companies from both the US as well as Taiwan have begun a process of decoupling from the PRC. Tweaks in policy, such as permitting higher-level visits between Taipei and Delhi, would facilitate the process of relocation of Taiwanese manufacturing and other supply chains from the PRC to India. Just as there were advantages to locating production facilities in the PRC during 1981-96, there are significant advantages to locating in India. This would especially be the case once Prime Minister Modi goes ahead with simplifying and compressing administrative procedures and making them more transparent. Much has been achieved in this direction during the Covid-19 pandemic, but several more reforms need to follow to ensure that India becomes a global manufacturing hub in the manner that the PRC became during the years when Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping was leading that country.


Incoming Vice-President of the United States, Kamala Devi Harris, was brought up by her mother, who had deep roots in India. She is no Bobby Jindal, seeking to cover up both ethnicity and identity. Her Vice-Presidential visit to Tamil Nadu via Delhi will be an event that will generate a festive atmosphere in that state. Both she as well as her husband Doug and her “manas putri” Ella and “manas putra” Cole would love such a visit to the country that Kamala’s mother called home. There have been posters in Tamil Nadu celebrating the California politician’s ascent in politics and prayers in multiple locations were held for her success in the 3 November polls, which seem to have been answered. Coming from a state where Indian-Americans are ubiquitous, it is surprising to come across numerous social media posts asserting the proposition that the first term Senator did not identify with the country from where her mother hailed from. Kamala Harris also has roots in Jamaica, a country that has some of the friendliest people on the planet, but overall she is—like other citizens in her country of multiple ethnicities—quintessentially from the country where she was born in and which she has from her childhood considered as home. A country that has elected her as the fist woman Vice-President of the US, and the first non-white to hold that post. A country that is finally moving towards a partnership with India, a bonding that ought to have taken place decades ago but somehow eluded policymakers on both sides, although the people of both countries have formed a dense network of relationships, including in business, health and education. Just as Mike Pence has been an effective second-in-command to President Trump, so will be Vice-President Kamala Harris to President Joe Biden. Even after they step down, Donald Trump and Mike Pence will be welcome in India anytime. Pence, in particular, has distinguished himself through a clear view on global geopolitics that understands the stark reality of the situation that is confronting the US in the shape of Cold War 2.0.

Just as President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, the need has arrived for President Biden and Prime Minister Modi to sign the Indo-Pacific Charter. This would enshrine the centrality of preventing aggression by predatory powers in the Indo-Pacific, and serve as a framework for cooperation on the basis of agreed principles. It would energize and give heart to ASEAN and further stabilize South Asia minus a particular country that its military has tethered to the PLA. Donald Trump has been a success where India-US ties are concerned. President Barack Obama established a legacy of trust together with PM Modi. This has been carried forward in a robust manner by his successor Donald Trump, unlike almost all the other signature policies of the 44rth President of the US. Rather than result in a rollback, the odds are that the period in office of the incoming President and Vice-President of the US will ensure an even closer partnership between the two biggest democracies. Such a pairing is essential in an era when the values both believe in are under threat.

Sunday 1 November 2020

Hindu Assertion is an Effect of Govt Bias | Prof. M.D. Nalapat ( Sangam Talks)

Since the 1980s, there has been a growing consolidation of what may be described as “Hindu-ness” in India. This should not be a surprise because ever since 1947, the major political parties seemed to have forgotten the majority community an kept their incessant focus on the minorities, principally the Muslims. The successive governments in independent India have partitioned the society into majority and minority. Essentially, it is a double partition: At first the country was partitioned territorially, and subsequently, people of different faiths were partitioned in terms of policies. Now the situation is such that any kind of effort to equalize the field between the majority and the minority communities is seen as cultural, physical or religious persecution of the Muslims. genocide, physical, cultural, or religious. However, unless there is an equalization, we cannot call it secularism. Thus, the growing sense of nationalism in the country is not Hindu assertion, but simply the recognition of a majority as majority. 

Professor Nalapat addresses the Muslim community clarifying that the community is perfectly safe in India. Notwithstanding the narrative that certain vested interests have created, not joining the Jinnah-Churchill bandwagon of partition, he states that the Muslim community thus needs to restore its faith in an undivided subcontinent. 

One of the big gestures of reconciliation, says he, would be to hand over the greatest sites of the Hindu faith, Ayodhya, Mathura, and Varanasi, to the majority community. For when the places of birth of Ram and Krishna, and the original site of the Kashi Viswanath temple are restored to their former glory, it would go a long way to strengthen the secular fabric of the society.