Saturday 24 April 2021

What is the US trying to achieve by hoarding Vaccine raw materials to India? Prof M D Nalapat Explains (PGurus)

Is it the Big Pharma of US that is holding up the shipment of raw materials to India, in the fear that its monstrous profits will be eaten by Indian companies? Unlike the I-me-myself attitude of the US as far as vaccines are concerned, India has shipped 67 million vaccines to countries all over the world. Do the right thing President Biden, Prof M D Nalapat says. 

What is US trying to achieve by hoarding Vaccine raw materials to India? Prof M D Nalapat explains - PGurus

Modi's intervention set to control Covid-19 tsunami within weeks ( Sunday Guardian)


Of the 162 oxygen plants sanctioned last year under pressure from the PMO, only 35 are in production as yet. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s intervention in April, nearly 90 will begin to operate by the close of May, with many more on the way. In the same way, the supply of drugs will be ramped up.

On 30 November 2017, a paper on the origins of SARS coronavirus appeared in the journal PLOS Pathogens. Almost all 17 of the “equal” co-authors were from China, an exception being Peter Daszak, a British-born resident of the United States. An associate of China’s famed “Bat Woman”, Shi Zhengli, Daszak had been active in ensuring that large amounts of funding from the US flowed into the Wuhan Institute of Virology. He was supported in this by Dr Anthony Fauci, who has emerged as the lead figure in the fightback against the Covid-19 pandemic. Given Daszak’s longstanding links with the Wuhan institute, it may have been prudent for him to recuse himself from the WHO team sent weeks ago to investigate whether the Wuhan Institute was responsible through negligence in releasing SARS-CoV-2 into the human population. Published papers indicate that the Institute was working for years on precisely such a coronavirus, and the funding arranged by Dr Fauci was intended to promote “gain of function” research into the virus, i.e., make it deadlier and perhaps more transmissible (perhaps in order to develop vaccines against such a strain). Although a US State Department team flagged the Wuhan Institute of Virology as having “defective and sloppy procedures”, it does not appear from the records that this and other such reports alarmed Dr Daszak, or if it  did, such apprehensions were shared with Dr Fauci. It is because of the published papers that came out of the work of the numerous coronavirus-related experiments in the Wuhan lab that suspicions grew that the catastrophe originated from an inadvertent leak from the institute lab experimenting with the virus. The WHO study group (in which Peter Daszak was made a member) all but ruled out such a possibility on the basis of a visit to the lab more than a year after the leak of the virus was suspected to have taken place. No surprise, therefore, that no evidence of such a leak was discovered by the team, whose reliance on data supplied by their Chinese hosts was, in keeping with WHO policy under its current leadership, total.

Discussions with experts resident in the US, who are cognizant of the centrality of India in the ongoing battle to retain the initiative in the Indo-Pacific, make it clear that the country is key towards ensuring the rollback of the Covid-19 pandemic across the world. They spoke on the basis of anonymity, out of worry that some of the facts mentioned may create adverse circumstances for them, were the identities of the sources made public. They have therefore not been named.


On 23 January 2020, President Xi Jinping ordered the complete lockdown of Wuhan in an effort to contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This was perhaps the first time such a measure had been adopted anywhere in the world, and the WHO soon fell in line, recommending a similar total lockdown in all countries where the coronavirus had spread. This was the consequence of flights operating out of the PRC to cities across the world even ten weeks after the virus had entered the general population of Wuhan in particular. President Xi succeeded in ensuring that the effects of the pandemic on China were much lower—at least on record—than in almost all other countries. Paying heed to advice from the WHO, officials in India advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to implement the biggest lockdown in the history of mankind. Nearly 1.3 billion people were anchored to the locations they were in for weeks as a consequence of the withdrawal of transport services. At the same time, again as a consequence of the incessant warnings belatedly issued by the WHO, a mood of panic spread amongst the populace concerning the very disease that had been intensively researched at the Wuhan Institute of Virology but which Peter Daszak and others were emphatic did not “originate” in that facility, leaving open the question of where this alternative source was. Dr Anthony Fauci, who has emerged as the principal strategist in the battle against the pandemic, appears to have broadly agreed with Daszak’s view that the Wuhan lab was innocent of blame.

Dr Fauci has in his toolkit the instruments that he first developed in order to fight the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. Together with others, they spent billions of dollars (much of it from the Gates Foundation) in a search for a vaccine that would be effective against a disease that was a death sentence to all who caught it. Their associate was Seth Berkley, who now heads the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) after having been, for decades, President of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). Although the vaccine-focused strategy failed in the case of AIDS, media reports are that the same methods used by Dr Fauci and colleagues such as Dr Deborah Birx in the AIDS pandemic may be proving effective in the Covid-19 epidemic. A vaccine is similar to a sniper rifle, creating antibodies that hit directly at the virus. Those developed in the US, India, the UK and Russia seem to be effective in at least preventing serious consequences from SARS-CoV-2 even while not eliminating the possibility of infection altogether. India opted to route most of the vaccines supplied externally through the COVAX facility of GAVI, so that the WHO, other multilaterals and the Gates Foundation, rather than India got most of the credit internationally for the supply. It is unlikely that the generous act by the Health Ministry (of routing much of vaccine distribution through COVAX rather than India directly supplying needy countries) will bring any closer the MEA’s quest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.


Thus far, much of the policy adopted by the Health Ministry in India are those that originated in the toolkit of the WHO. It may be helpful for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to look outside the WHO, especially into the possibility of developing a set of medicine “cocktails” that could be useful in saving lives during the pandemic and in facilitating swift recovery by a victim. Apart from AIDS, where therapeutic cocktails produced in India account for over 90% of the medications used to preserve the lives of sufferers, another disease that was brought under control not by vaccines but by preventive and curative therapeutics is malaria, a disease that thus far has defied efforts at developing a vaccine protecting against its spread by more than 30%. Whether it be Dexamethasone, Remdesivir, Ivermectin, Favipiravir or other anti-virals, more robust use by PM Modi of the powers available to government under Indian law could prove a game changer in the global battle to roll back the Covid-19 tide, including in India. Those in the establishment who have fallen prey to the blandishments offered by US-EU Big Pharma need to be identified and prevented from further damaging the Indian interest. Unless effective action is taken against the present “tsunami” (in the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi), expectations of foreign investment into India by 2024 of up to a trillion dollars may dissolve. Already the UK has banned travellers from India from entering the country, while the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has advised US citizens not to travel to India until advised that it is safe to do so. Given the immensity and complexity of conditions in the country, a centralised policy on essential measures is doomed to failure. Among the causes of the present unprecedented and unexpected spike in SARS-CoV-2 caseload is the fact that Prime Minister Modi had to spend considerable amounts of time on the campaign trail and was therefore left with less time to supervise the officials in charge of managing the pandemic. These officials have usually relied on the WHO and experts favoured by that agency for advice, despite the unsatisfactory performance of the WHO throughout the pandemic, beginning in November 2019, when its field units were in a position to know that a new form of SARS had struck the human population in parts of China. They could have then warned the world rather than claim for months afterwards that there was no epidemic and that in any case, the virus was barely infectious, and therefore international travellers from affected regions of the PRC were safe to admit.


Judging by the situation prevailing in many parts of India, accurate predictions of the April-May requirement of drugs, vaccines and oxygen do not seem to have been made. It took the intervention of PM Modi to ensure that bureaucratic bottlenecks in the multiplication of plants for the production of these essentials were removed. Of the 162 oxygen plants sanctioned last year under pressure from the PMO, only 35 are in production as yet. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s intervention in April, nearly 90 will begin to operate by the close of May, with many more on the way. In the same way, the supply of drugs will be ramped up such that by July, the pandemic would ebb to levels that are safe for near-normal operation. By this is meant normal operations while at the same time adhering to the Covid-19 protocols such as washing of hands, social distancing and masking. Should such normalcy be restored, by the close of the year, the flow of additional jobs should pick up substantially, especially if the Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India expend 5% of the national income in targeted demand-creating stimulus measures over three years (2020-2023) and follow Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directive to remove regulatory and administrative roadblocks to output and services across all sectors. Also needed is further reduction and simplification of taxes, if necessary through a mid-term budget. The PM directly and through his able External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, needs to convince President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris that Washington should resume the supply of ingredients essential for ramping up the vaccine and therapeutics programs of companies in India. The US is not safe unless the whole world is safe from SARS-CoV-2, and only India can ensure this through its unique capabilities in the mass production of medicine cocktails and vaccines.


Now that state elections are almost over, the BJP needs to leave Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone to tackle the job for which he has been elected, which is to provide an exceptional administration for the people of the country. The present tsunami was likely the consequence of the distractions caused by the spate of elections, as well as the decision by some regional leaders of the BJP to not intercede with the organisers of the Kumbh Mela to get them to show their devotion by ensuring that Covid-19 protocols be maintained, preferably at home. After Modi publicly intervened, the Kumbh was cut short by the organisers. India needs to be spared such activities for the next few months rather than once again suffer the unbearable economic pain of massive lockdowns. Idle speculation that PM Modi was going to announce another long lockdown at a few hours’ notice on 20 April was an attempt at causing another wave of mass panic. This was quelled by the Prime Minister’s assurance that lockdowns were not contemplated. Just as the crisis of 1990-91 led to the reforms of 1992-95, the crisis of 2020-21 needs to lead to still more major reforms during 2021-24. In this way, the present healthcare crisis can be overcome and the economy expanded so as to create jobs for tens of millions.

Modi’s intervention set to control Covid-19 tsunami within weeks - The Sunday Guardian Live

Catalonia not threat but an opportunity to EU ( Sunday Guardian)


Were Spain as well as Catalonia both EU members, Spanish citizens can live, work and settle in Catalonia and vice-versa. Independence would be minimally disruptive.

The European Union contains in its functioning a few imperfections, among them being the dominance of large countries in the determination of much of policy. This in a group that prides itself on its members being equal. A single country and a single leader, Angela Merkel in Germany, steamrolled the approval by the EU of an investment treaty with China. More than any other major power, that country has been adept in tweaking rules so as to comply in form while going against them in substance. Despite its being the world’s second largest economy, the PRC continues to hold on to the concessions that are made available by wealthier nations to the under-developed world. Nothing in the WTO has prevented Beijing from effectively blocking pharma and much of information technology imports from India, even while it ensured through its agents that the world’s biggest democracy became dependent on the world’s only authoritarian superpower for the feedstock needed to turn out low-cost pharmaceuticals for the world. Any ruling by an international tribunal that does not go the PRC way is simply ignored, as was the 2016 decision by the International Court of Arbitration in favour of Manila in the case of Scarborough Shoals, which Beijing took over from the Philippines with scarcely a sigh from President Obama. In the field of data, while Indian software companies are yet to be given a foothold in sales to the state sector, meta data gets funnelled out of India to feed into the Artificial Intelligence systems that are operational in the PRC. As for that country’s state-owned enterprises, rather than buy directly from Indian software companies the way many foreign companies operating in China do, they source their requirements from European companies that recycle what they bought from India and sell at a markup to the Chinese. Both Australia and Japan will have cause to regret their joining the RCEP, just as the US has understood its own economic losses as a consequence of the welcome into the WTO extended by President Clinton to the PRC. President Joe Biden continues longstanding US policy in pharma, preventing Indian vaccine manufacturers from accessing essential feedstock from the US. Epidemics start anywhere and spread everywhere, and Biden denying poorer countries low cost Covid-19 vaccines from India may cause yet another wave of an epidemic that has damaged the globe more than several wars have in the past, including through loss of life.

The primary benefit of the structure of the EU is that it permits the expression of regional diversity through its policy that the citizen of any EU country is welcome to live and work anywhere in that group. In the UK, a sensible policy after Brexit would be to allow Northern Ireland and Scotland to have open borders with the EU. These two windows into and out of the EU would serve as a safety valve, preventing the clogging up of logistical arteries from the EU to the UK even while retaining for Britain the extra rights that Brexit has brought. In Spain, much of the population of Catalonia would like to free their territory from the control of Madrid. Rather than oppose membership of the EU, the leaders of the Catalan freedom movement should embrace such membership, for the reason that it would then be illogical for Madrid to oppose independence for Barcelona. Were Spain as well as Catalonia both EU members, Spanish citizens can live, work and settle in Catalonia and vice-versa. Independence would be minimally disruptive. In other European countries as well, some provinces seem restless within nominally federal but significantly unitary countries. An example is Bavaria in Germany, which has long been out of step with some of the provinces to its northwest. In Spain, seeking to snuff out a powerful movement for cultural and linguistic autonomy in Catalonia through the use of police methods should not be attempted, especially in Europe. This is a continent that has suffered much as a consequence of internecine conflict during the previous century. Denial of the freedom of Catalans to determine their own future makes a mockery of the very foundation of the EU, which is equal rights (including presumably of self-determination) for all. Election results in Catalonia, despite a substantial portion of the voters being from other parts of Spain, indicate that a majority of the Catalan people favour independence from Spain in view of their distinctive traditions, customs, language and culture. Keeping the lid on such desires through the enforcement of federal law may create the conditions for an Ulster-style uprising that would be against the interest of Spain.

The EU can set an example to the world in its tolerance for the freedom of its peoples to decide on the limits of self-determination whichever the country they belong to. Should an independent Catalonia remain within the EU together with Spain, the two together may progress both economically and societally much more than is the case at present, with Barcelona resenting the control of Madrid over so much of its destiny.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Post US Withdrawal Afghanistan ( Chanakya Forum)


The most sophisticated of surgical instruments remain ineffective when used by those unsuited to handling them. Whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria, US forces have failed to subdue largely irregular forces substantially inferior to them in equipment and often in number. This is partly the consequence of the primary Battlefield Objective of the US armed forces being self-preservation, and partly because of the adoption of tactics unsuited to the neutralisation on the field of such an enemy.

Afghanistan is neither Germany nor the US, the UK or France, and yet it is these countries that have expended considerable effort in training and guiding the Afghan National Army (ANA) in order to make that force commit to battle in the manner that their trainers do. A manner that has led to the revival of the very irregulars that President George W Bush swore to eliminate in 2003. A war is not won by declaring the present foe to be a future friend, for such a transformation comes about only after the comprehensive defeat of that foe in battle, something that has eluded the well-equipped and amply-manned military of NATO in the many wars that they have fought during the 21st century.

In contrast, India (despite having a far lower level of resources to expend on its troops) has succeeded in recovering the initiative against irregular forces armed, funded and trained by GHQ Rawalpindi with assistance from the PLA. Which is why the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan by President Biden in less than five months is less a setback than an opportunity, but only provided the ANA is given

(a) the weapons, intelligence and logistics help needed and

(b) the correct training to take on the Taliban and other elements that are circling around preparatory to converting President Ashraf Ghani into the next Najibullah.

The Afghans do not need Indian troops to take on and defeat the Afghans in the Taliban and their Pakistani minders. They do require some of the expertise of the Indian soldier in the world’s biggest democracy’s battle against extremists nurtured in the crucible of the global terror machine, the Pakistan army, and this needs to be in place by September 11, 2021, the date that Biden has set for completion of the withdrawal of US troops from a country that has been ravaged as much by the errors made by NATO as by extremism.

There is little benefit in a resource unless it be used in the proper manner. India is a coal superpower, yet spends considerable amounts of foreign exchange every year importing the feed stock. Even items as crucial to the very survival of the people as the ingredients that go into the manufacture of pharmaceuticals have been outsourced to China at the cost of facilities in India. Similar is the situation with rare earths and a host of other essential items. Much of the intellectual property that has gone into the design and manufacture of telecom equipment comes from Indian minds, and yet almost all such equipment is sourced from abroad, principally the PRC. Hundreds of tons of sand containing rare earths have been exported each year to the PRC from India, helping to make that country almost the monopoly producer of an item that Canada, Australia and India could make with ease, had it not been commercially a smidgen cheaper to manufacture the same in China. Now that President Xi Jinping is threatening to block rare earth and other exports to countries that refuse to ratify the extravagant claims on land and water made by Beijing, the folly of being dependent on the PRC for so many items that could have been manufactured locally or within the democracies is becoming evident. The more Wahabbi a country, the closer its links to China, which finds in such extremism a factor that can divert the attention of the US, the EU and other countries from itself. In such a context, the shift in emphasis by the Biden administration from Wahabbi Extremism to Authoritarian Expansionism as the principal foe of US interests is justified. The first can be overcome, especially if it were to lose the often not even clandestine support of the other.

This does not mean that extremism should be ignored. It is in the interests of the PRC if the pot of extremist violence is kept on the boil, hence the battle against such a menace is part of the struggle against Authoritarian Expansionism. Because of the 1948 folly of not taking back control of the entirety of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, neither Indian nor pro-India forces have a usable land border with eastern Afghanistan.

 However, because of assistance provided in crossing by GHQ Rawalpindi, anti-Indian groups have such a border. To assume that such a facility will not get used by the GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA alliance to cause trouble for India would be to join those who since the 1920s have acted on the assumption that making concessions to hostile elements would change their behaviour towards India.

It is in the common interest of India and the US that the elected government in Kabul recover territory lost to the Taliban, hence the need for the former to provide training and the latter equipment to the Afghan National Army. Ensuring that the supply of both is plentiful would boost the morale of the Afghan people and stiffen their resistance to the retrogression represented by the Taliban in all their avatars.

Britain and later the USSR needed materiel from the US in order to retrieve the air and land situation from disaster during the 1939-45 war caused by Adolf Hitler. Now that US forces are leaving, ensuring that morale and confidence remain high within both the Afghan military as well as the general population is crucial in rolling back the Taliban tide. This can come only should President Biden commit to the supply of weapons and other materiel to the Afghan forces battling the Taliban. That militia has declared victory over the US. It must be shown across the world that such a claim is the opposite of fact, else the global fightback of the moderate majority of Muslims against Wahabbism will be severely impacted.

Rather than remain aloof, India needs to put in motion a program designed to provide training for the ANA, with countries in Europe and East Asia that are allied to the US meeting the costs of such training. Equipment from the US, training by India and financial assistance from the EU and Japan in particular are essential for the achievement of stability in Afghanistan. Such a package needs be put together, and Indian diplomacy must play the keystone role in such an effort.

The Sino-Pak alliance is standing by to occupy the space left vacant by the US troop withdrawal. That space needs to be filled by the trio mentioned earlier, and which includes the US in the capacity of a provider of logistical and information support to the ANA, which must not be allowed to go the way forces under President Najibullah did in 1992 when they disintegrated in the face of the forces opposing them. It will cost much less time and effort to prevent a repeat of the tragedy of Afghanistan in yet another form by the provision of assistance to the government in Kabul than it would once the furies of the past return as conquerors of a people who no longer want them.

Afghanistan may be regarded as a distant place by sections of the international community, much the same way as Czechoslovakia was in 1938 when Chamberlain and Daladier gave much of it away to Hitler, who very soon grabbed the rest. Both Pakistan as well as its all-weather ally China would benefit from Afghanistan sliding into the hands of the Taliban.

This time around, the civil war will be a lot less unequal than was the previous fightback against the groups that coalesced into the Taliban during the 1990s. The people of Afghanistan remember the period of Taliban rule and barring a few who are longing for a return to the customs of the past, the population of Afghanistan looks towards a future that embraces the modern and the moderate. This is especially true of women, who have long been denied anywhere close to an equal opportunity to develop their skills and secure the lifestyle of their choice, except when they migrate to faraway shores, an opportunity available only to a few. The country must not be abandoned to its fate, although the nature of the involvement needs to change.

The decision by President Biden to withdraw troops within a brief period of time needs to be followed by coordinated action by the democracies to nurture that legacies of freedom and justice in a country that had been stripped of it. The US, the EU, Japan and India must work together and yet separately in Afghanistan, if that country is to be prevented from re-entering a period when it was the nursery of terror that was so virulent that it menaced the most powerful country in the world. And will do so again, unless there is a plan for the day after withdrawal in a way that was absent during the days after the rout of Saddam Hussein and his army in Iraq in 2003. That history must not be repeated by the White House, but for success and not disaster to follow this particular Biden move, India, the EU and Japan must step forward to assist the government in Kabul to overcome the forces seeking to yet again convert Afghanistan into a source of extremist terror.

Post US Withdrawal Afghanistan - Chanakya Forum Chanakya Forum


Sunday 18 April 2021

Flying the skies with the Maharaja ( Sunday Guardian)


During the decade when the UPA was in office, the airline crashed to the ground so far as its financials were concerned.

Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata was that overused word, a visionary. JN Tata had founded Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel in 1903 when he was denied entry into a hotel in that city “because he was Indian”. It was acceptable to the Colonel Blimps to have Indians serve at tables or make the beds, but allowing someone from that ethnicity to enjoy the privilege of staying in a room of whatever hostelry it was that excluded the founder of the House of Tata was “not cricket” to the racist mindset that has fortunately diminished considerably in size in the UK but has yet to disappear. The manner in which life was made impossible for Meghan and Harry, the eagerness with which the Prince was stripped even of his His Royal Highness title, may have been due to curmudgeonly elements within the palace staff or to the usual jealousy between sisters-in-law. If the second, it adds strength to those who argue that Queen Elizabeth and her children and grandchildren do not have a racist bone in their bodies. However, the spectre of being a bit too Churchillian in the wrong way will hover above Buckingham Palace until Meghan and Harry are reinstated in rank to what they were before they left not just their family home but the country itself. 2021 is not 1937, the year in which Edward VIII had to abdicate the throne because he insisted on marrying Wallis Warfield Simpson. Marrying a divorced spouse was not a cardinal sin then, nor should it be now, although this may not be the view of traditionalists linked to the Windsors who believe that any divergence from Standard Operating Procedure in the 1930s would inflict disaster on the British royals. Fortunately for the Crown, Queen Elizabeth has moved with the times, and many expect that she will ensure the return into the fold of HRH Prince Harry and the bride of his choice, Her Highness Meghan. Such a move would strengthen the bonds of sentiment that individuals across the world have for the British monarch, even if some do not share a similar view of the institution of the monarchy. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi effected a cultural revolution in India when she stripped royals of their privy purses and titles (saving Rs 60 crores for the exchequer) in 1969. No Prime Minister in Britain thus far has followed her example of erasing with the stroke of a pen the solemn promise made by Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel to the princes in exchange for the states they ruled, some for centuries. Less than a decade later, after having first imposed the Emergency in 1975 and then made restitution for that by holding free elections in 1977, Indira Gandhi was voted out of office despite having torn up the Covenant entered into between the princes and the Union of India. All in the name of the people of India.

Another Tata who was a visionary was Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata. It would be unfair to blame him for the complexity of his full name, for JRD was not at fault but his illustrious ancestors. Among the assets he created was Air India, which began as Tata Airlines in 1932. In 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that the government he headed was the majority stakeholder, although JRD Tata continued as the Chairman of the Board. The inventive mind of Bobby Kooka ensured that Air India (the Flying Maharajah) became well known across the world. During the decade when the UPA was in office, the airline crashed to the ground so far as its financials were concerned. Even the Frequent Flyer program was handed over to some company of indeterminate ownership. This columnist has had a soft corner for the airline ever since the days when it was the only option available. All that Air India needs is a complete overhaul of its aircraft seats and entertainment systems to once again make it among the finest airlines in the world. A lot of prize slots in several countries were handed out as confetti during the UPA period, but a few good ones somehow escaped this process. As has from the beginning of freedom been commonplace in India, there does not seem to have been any accountability concerning the individuals who crash landed the airline financially. Until he is able to introduce much greater transparency and accountability in the policy and implementation process, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan for India to emerge as an economic superpower may get delayed beyond three terms. Thanks to whichever entity is in control of the Maharajah’s frequent flyer program, this columnist was a few weeks ago abruptly downgraded from the highest to the lowest class in the program. The crime was that he hardly flew at all during the course of the pandemic. Were Air India to have offered reimbursement of the costs of treatment of Covid-19 for customers, the swift downgrade would have made more sense than it did in a situation where flying at all became impossible and is still difficult. Fortunately for his faith in the Maharajah, their earlier class was swiftly restored to all members in recognition of the need for citizens to observe the protocol needed to avoid Covidiot status.

This columnist was among those who flew in the first direct India-US Air India flight (from Mumbai to New York, if memory serves right). Designer on board wear and the usual warm and uniquely Indian onboard Air India service ensured a superb flight. After dinner and a normal night’s sleep given the length of the flight, the aircraft closed in on its destination. There is talk of Air India getting new management. Whoever that is should recreate the excellence that J.R.D. Tata ensured in the years that he was in command of the controls.

Saturday 10 April 2021

India should learn from Rodrigo Duterte's Unrequited Love ( Sunday Guardian)


Around 200 PRC ‘fishing boats’ have entered Philippines waters and despite love calls from Duterte to his counterpart in Beijing, refuse to leave.

President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte may have his faults, but a lack of confidence is not among them. So convinced was he of the persuasive impact of his charm that he was certain that the leadership of the PRC would reciprocate in a generous manner to his obvious preference for China over the US as the primary ally of his country. After giving marching orders to US forces stationed in the Philippines, Duterte waited for the bonanza from China that he expected would flow from that decision. He is still waiting. In the meantime, the territorial waters of the former US ally are being overrun by the PRC. Most recently, around two hundred PRC “fishing boats”, many of considerable size, have entered waters decreed by a UN-designated agency as Manila’s, and despite love calls from Duterte to his counterpart in Beijing, refuse to leave. Every citizen of the PRC has been told by the leadership of their country that the entirety of the South China Sea belongs to them, and hence that they have a right—indeed, a duty—to roam those waters unmolested by any other country. Even PRC diplomats have caught the mood of Chinese exceptionalism, and have returned to the earthy traditions established by Mao Zedong until such habits got stopped by Deng Xiaoping. Schoolbooks that speak of vast tracts of territory belonging to countries such as India rightfully belonging to the PRC have bred a mindset within the public that make more difficult if not impossible the compromises and adjustments in territorial negotiations with other countries. Compromises that are essential to the escalation of tensions that could even lead to war. The frequent public assertions of the PRC leadership that the South China Sea is as Chinese as the Yangtze river have been accompanied by demonstrations of military power by the PLA. Under Xi, an overwhelming number of citizens of the PRC, especially within the military,are convinced of both the legitimacy of China’s numerous claims as well as the PLA’s ability to secure them by force. The marked change in mindset in the aftermath of the coming to power of Xi in 2012 led to incidents such as the deadly confrontation that occurred at Galwan on 15 June 2020. This was when an Indian patrol came up to what the other side had agreed was within the territory allocated to them. The patrol was nevertheless attacked, and its Commanding Officer pushed to his death. This infuriated his men and led to a violent altercation in which a substantial (but hitherto mostly unacknowledged) number of PLA soldiers were killed along with 20 soldiers of the Indian Army. They lost their lives because of the unexpected pugnacity of a PLA unit that ought never to have been where they were on that day.

Despite every meeting of the Special Representatives across thedecades ending without result in terms of settlement of the border issue, this ritual continues. Every telephone conversation between functionaries in Delhi and Beijing is regarded by sections of the media as a “breakthrough”. A recent consequence of the multiple interactions that have taken place has been the withdrawal by India from vital positions that came under the control of the Army in the Pangong Tso sector. This was on the understanding that the PLA would reciprocate in the other sectors that were discussed during talks between the two sides, both military and civilian. Rather than opening talks on “dis-engagement” in a sector where conditions on the field conferred an advantage to India, such talks should preferably have focussed on sectors where the other side had seized an advantage. The withdrawal from other sectors by the PLA has yet to take place, which ought not to be much of a surprise, given the change in tone and tactics by that military in the era of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Successive governments in India have expended a considerable amount of time in seeking better relations with both Pakistan and China. Given the unimpressive yield from such efforts, perhaps a more productive use of time would have been to work harder in other ways. This would be geared towards ensuring that in the event of a single or two-front kinetic conflict, India would not face its attackers alone as in past wars but would reap the benefit of a previously agreed logistics chain bringing the material needed to ensure that on both fronts, the armed forces of India prevail. Also needed is to work towards a situation where any such attacker would face the consequences of escalation dominance from newfound allies of the world’s most populous democracy. Planning with present and prospective partners needs to be meticulous for these requisites to be met, and those who have supported Narendra Modi from the time he was CM of Gujarat remain confident that such a process must be taking place under his (now national) watch. The next conflict will show this. Given the overall situation where China under Xi is concerned, those wagering on “peace in our time” are likely to be proved wrong, that too before the next Lok Sabha polls in 2024. The impression of a melange of confusing and sometimes conflicting policy moves on the crafting of a “worst case” security matrix needs to be replaced with public awareness that the Modi government has been planning in a manner designed for India to prevail in a future contest. More than anything else, such an outcome would give citizens the energy and confidence needed to ensure rapid progress across a variety of fronts. Among the reasons why Narendra Modi is much more popular than Rahul Gandhi is that in interactions with the public, the former implants hope within the people, the latter despair. Success would promote hope, failure despair.

While he was in the opposition, the current President of Seychelles was opposed to a naval base that would be built by India. He needs to reflect on the swarm of Chinese “fishing boats” plying the waters of the Philippines, and on the intrusions and occupation by the PLA of waters that in UN-sanctioned law belong to the other members of ASEAN. The naval base proposed by India would protect the Seychelles and nearby island countries from a Philippine-style invasion of their space. Such a violation would of course be in violation of UN conventions that Wang Yi once again recently swore to abide by. Keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open would benefit each of the littoral countries of those waters, and this explains the warm response from them to PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar’s vigorous diplomacy throughout the Indo-Pacific Rim.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Ambivalence is neither strategic ambiguity nor autonomy ( Sunday Guardian)


Nehru believed that he was neither ambivalent nor ambiguous, but on the side of ‘non-alignment’, whatever that was intended by him to be in practice.

Friendship is tested in times of stress. In the1962 Sino-Indian conflict, offers of assistance came only after the PLA had demolished the illusion of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon that “China would never attack India”. And the offers came with conditions that were not simply humiliating but impossible to accept for any government relying on the mandate of the people for its power. In other words, there was an ambivalence surrounding the support offered against the intrusions of the PLA that was very similar to that displayed by India towards those countries (the US especially) in the past. At the same time, countries belonging to the “Non-Aligned Movement” that had been lavished with such care by Nehru observed a studied attitude of “non-alignment” during the boundary conflict. True, Bhutan stood by India, but it may be argued that Thimpu was in fact aligned—with Delhi—rather than being part of the “non-aligned” movement. Every other country was silent despite requests from Nehru for support against what was being committed by the PLA on the Indo-Tibetan border, the frontier that had been certified by India as the Sino-Indian border from the start of the 1950s. There had been no ambivalence in the matter of India’s approach to the Peoples Republic of China, with Nehru almost beating Stalin in the race to be the first to recognize the regime founded by Mao Zedong in 1949. Throughout the 1950s, not just nibbling at but gulping down of vast tracts of territory on the part of the PRC took place, with the Government of India silent for much of that period. Nehru’s approach was a make-believe one that implied to the public that there were no intrusions nor any loss of territory to China, when the contrary was the case. Why Prime Minister Nehru chose to mislead the people of India is still a matter of debate, given that the Intelligence Bureau documented the expansion of Beijing’s control over territory that was part of India, while (at least in public) going along with Nehru that “war” was out of the question. Given his clean chit to China even in the matter of the incursions of the PLA, the ambivalence in terms of action of the US once the salami slicing of land by the PLA was replaced with securing huge chunks of territory during October-November 1962 could have been anticipated. With the takeover of most of Xinjiang by the PLA during the 1940s itself, it was apparent that Tibet was next. Nothing was done to enable that territory to defend itself, while the eager welcoming by Prime Minister Nehru of the PLA’s occupation of Tibet gave the needed fig leaf for avoidance of blame, at least to the British, who did nothing in the 1930s or the 1940s. These days, there are those across both sides of the Atlantic who favour a similar “hands off” policy with regard to the oft-threatened occupation of Taiwan by the PLA, except that unlike the Tibetans before they were overrun, it is not pacifist monks who are in charge of policy in Taipei. The PLA is likely to get an unpleasant surprise should they attempt a unification by force of Taiwan.

“Non-alignment” was in effect discarded in 1971 with the signing of the 25-year Indo-Soviet treaty. This had been masterminded by D.P. Dhar, who knew that such a treaty was the only way to prevent China from sending its forces across the Himalayas in the by then inevitable event of India moving militarily into Bangladesh to stop the genocide taking place there. Fortunately, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi shed the ambivalence that had characterised so much of India’s foreign policy and accepted Dhar’s advice over objections from others around her. Once again, as in 1962, the entire “non-aligned” bloc ignored the Pakistan army’s rapine and mass murder in Bangladesh and joined with almost all other UN member countries in looking askance not at Pakistan army war crimes but at the Indian Army’s rescue of the people of that land. Although he leaned towards the Soviet side even in the 1956 USSR occupation of Hungary, Nehru was not antagonistic to the Atlantic powers but simply ambivalent. In some of his moves, he even showed some affinity towards the US and its allies, while in other ways, he exhibited sometimes emphatic, sometimes mild, opposition. In later times, the term “strategic ambiguity” came into vogue (as did the phrase “strategic autonomy”, which referred to India’s sovereign right to buy whatever weapons it liked from whichever countries it chose). However, Nehru believed that he was neither ambivalent nor ambiguous, but on the side of “non-alignment”, whatever that was intended by him to be in practice. There have been PLA incursions and more salami slicing, especially since 2006, once the pacifist Manmohan Singh and his soulmate A.K. Antony were Prime Minister and Defence Minister courtesy AICC president Sonia Gandhi. These were substantially ratcheted up in scale in May 2020 and afterwards. During that encounter, there was no ambiguity about where Moscow stood. It was “non-aligned” in a manner that reflected its close relationship with China. In contrast, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper unapologetically took the side of India. There was no ambivalence there, and there ought not to be in India, a great power that is—given smart policy—en route to being a superpower. Neither ambiguity nor ambivalence will get India among the Top Three, only clarity of purpose and action. Such a clear policy matrix alone can ensure that genuine strategic autonomy is secured for India during Modi 2.0, especially against territorial and other forms of aggression (including cyber and sabotage) by hostile powers.