Saturday 31 December 2022

India, a land of missed opportunities (The Sunday Guardian)


Much of the history that has been taught in schools since 1947 is myth. What is needed is to replace that with truth, and that a start is being made in this direction during 2023 is welcome.

It would have been easy for President Abraham Lincoln in 1861 to have permitted the slaveholding states in the US to secede. The Democratic Party at the time as well as several in his own Republican Party were inclined towards partition. Lincoln went to war instead to keep his country united. A contrast to India, where in 1947 in India, this time not on the grounds of Black and White but on the issue of Hindu and Muslim, the country was divided. Mahatma Gandhi had been right to oppose Partition, which he said would take place only “over my dead body”. For reasons that the lack of access to documents of that period that remain unseen by researchers in the UK and India make inevitable, we do not know why the Mahatma finally accepted the view of the top office-bearers of the Congress Party by the close of 1946 that a vivisection of India was not merely inevitable but desirable. The example set by Abraham Lincoln in what is now still the world’s most influential country was tossed aside in favour of agreeing to Partition. This even when such a division involved the separation of the two parts of Pakistan by 2200 kilometres of India. The emotional separation between West and East was even greater, which is why the two segments got separated from each other after the genocide of the Bengalis in East Pakistan led to military intervention by India. Interestingly, the genocide by the Pakistan military was not merely ignored but facilitated even by countries that repeatedly proclaim their adherence to the prevention of such horrors through the “right of rescue” doctrine. Throughout the 1940s, aware that independence for India was becoming inevitable as a consequence of growing disaffection within the ranks of the Indian military, the British colonial authorities systematically began to separate Burma, Ceylon and other territorial entities from India. All this took place without any visible protest from the leaders of the freedom movement in India, the same leaders who finally agreed to a third of the residual territory being made a separate country on the basis of the surreal claim that Hindus and Muslims represented two entirely separate nations. After 1947, authorities in Pakistan began to act in a manner consistent with this flawed assumption, systematically reducing the proportion of minorities in that country, much as took place in Afghanistan since the 1980s and is taking place in Bangladesh since the 1990s. Almost zero protest at such a bonfire of the rights of minorities in these countries was made by authorities in India. Clearly, the doctrine was embedded in the belief that to make sacrifices at the cost of the national interest of one’s own country was preferable to asserting such rights and being prepared to fight for them.
Forget those parts of what in the 1930s was acknowledged as the Indian subcontinent but were serially separated in the 1940s, there was no appetite to hold on to existing advantages, such as the privileged position of the formal successor to the British Empire, the Republic of India, in Tibet. That land, now divided and dominated by Beijing, contains the primary sources of water for South and Southeast Asia. Would it have been possible to recruit the US Air Force and the Indian army in a joint bid to prevent the PLA from conquering Tibet? All that we know is not only that such a thought never entered the minds of those tasked with securing the future of the Republic of India, but that the takeover of Tibet was in effect encouraged and cheered on by the Indian side, for reasons that are not obvious to serious students of geopolitics and strategy. The takeover of Tibet and consolidation of CCP rule there in the 1950s ensured that India and China shared a common border for the first time in their long history, a border that the CCP leadership refuses even after 75 years to accept as fact. The Ranas in Nepal sought to incorporate Nepal into India, an offer that was declined. Fast forward, and those who say that India has by far the greatest influence over the leadership of Nepal of any country may be guilty of wishful thinking. That Kashmir is part of India is a fact that has often been stated. Then why was a ceasefire agreed upon in 1948 when a third of that state was still under the occupation of Pakistan, a slice that includes the strategically essential territory of Gilgit Baltistan? Why were hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils forced to relocate in India under a pact agreed upon with Sirimavo Banadaranaike, the daughter of the Sinhala fanatic who sought to extinguish the Tamil language and Tamil participation in government, preparatory to throwing out the Tamils. It was Sirimavo who made a start in such a process, again to not just zero opposition but with the active facilitation of India. Events such as the liberation of Bangladesh or the absorption of Sikkim were exceptions to the rule that it was always India that needed to make a sacrifice, never the other side. A War Crimes trial in Bangladesh would have mainstreamed knowledge across the world of the atrocities caused by the Pakistan army on a hapless people. In Shimla in 1972, after winning the war the previous year, India lost the peace.
The list of such sacrifices is long and painful to recite. As we enter the new year, it is important for the people to remember that such a self-inflicted loss must never be permitted to happen again, no matter which government is in power. Given the vagaries of politics in any democracies, there is never permanence in the composition of the parties in governance and those in opposition. What is permanent are the interests of the people of India, and never again should these be sacrificed as a result of the syndrome of self-harm that has in the past wreaked such havoc on the interests of the country. Much of the history that has been taught in schools since 1947 is myth. What is needed is to replace that with truth, and that a start is being made in this direction during 2023 is welcome.

Saturday 24 December 2022

In 2023, G-20 put on course to deliver inclusive growth (The Sunday Guardian)


While the presence of the EU in G-20 is welcome, what is needed is participation as full members of similar regional entities in Africa, South America and Asia.

MUMBAI: As institutions set up in the past falter and fail, the vacuum is getting filled by newer entrants. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the G-20 is being set on course to emerge as a replacement not only for the G-7 but even for the UNSC. Thanks to the death grip that the five veto-wielding powers have over the UNSC, it has become a case of 3+2=0. The Security Council has, in substance, if not in theatrics, become an irrelevance. To this day, the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom are reluctant to prod the People’s Republic of China (PRC) into accepting a UNGA vote on admitting India into the UNSC Permanent Membership (most likely without veto power for the time being). The entry of India and later South Africa and Brazil into an expanded UNSC could revive the institution, but is unlikely to take place.
The G-20 was conceived by the G-7 as a vehicle where the latter’s wish list could be accepted wholesale by the other twelve countries in the grouping. To make doubly sure of this, the European Union (EU) was included as a member. The EU machinery is similar to that of NATO headquarters, with comfortable working conditions and ample salaries. NATO has during this century shown an unwillingness to enter into kinetic combat, except with foes that are far inferior in manpower and weaponry. Even in such cases, NATO has usually been on the losing side, whether it be in Libya, Syria and Iraq (where a pro-Iran government was installed courtesy George W. Bush). In 2021, the Afghan military and people were abandoned by NATO to the non-existent mercies of the Taliban, with humanitarian consequences that were both ignored and denied by Washington, London, Paris and Berlin during the run-up to President Biden’a surrender to the Taliban in August 2021.
The same fate is on track in Ukraine, where that unfortunate country is being hacked to bits by tactics and strategies devised by the very NATO generals whose incompetence caused chaos in whichever theatre they were active in. Despite their aversion to kinetic combat, the risk is rising of a direct conflict between the Sino-Russian alliance and NATO on the plains of Ukraine, with 2023 emerging as a year where the prospect of this is higher than during the previous year. The switch to local currencies among non-members that has been caused by wariness of the unilateral and unpredictable financial and other sanctions imposed on country after country by NATO member states has made calculations of GDP in US dollars an inaccurate portrayal of a country’s economic strength. Given that, by the close of the Modi Presidency, the G-20 is set to emerge as a keystone institution of the international order, especially as (unlike the UNSC), there are no differences in the class of membership. All are equal, as they should be in a world where leaders endlessly express faith in a common humanity while clinging on to exceptionalism and exclusivity.
While the presence of the European Union in G-20 is welcome, what is needed is to ensure the participation as full members of similar regional entities in Africa, South America and Asia. Such representation would make a G-24 or even a G-25 far more reflective of global realities than the present structure. Another innovation would be to have a permanent (although small) secretariat that could assist in coordination and monitoring. This could be located in one of the 19 countries that are part of G-20, preferably avoiding the trap of locating it in a high cost location, as was the case with numerous UN institutions. Thus far, the potential of the G-20 to become an engine of global growth in a sustainable way has been underplayed by many of its members, especially those that are part of the G-7. Under the Presidency of Prime Minister Modi, this is on track to change.
The potential of the G-20 (perhaps with an expansion in its numbers through the inclusion of significant regional groupings in addition to the EU) is likely to be placed on the path towards actualisation, if Modi has his way. That there ought not to be taxation without representation has been acknowledged as a truism, although denied by authoritarian governments. In much the same way, there ought not to be the placing of responsibility without participation in the processes which led to such decisions being taken. Thus far, big powers have sought to impose their will on other countries. From the start of his tenure as Prime Minister in 2014, Prime Minister Modi has emphasised the importance of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, an implied equality among nations, just as among peoples. The sudden spurt in activities of the G-20 now that India has been made its leader during the coming year is palpable. 2022 was a year where global institutions were ineffective in preventing war or in promoting economic growth. Under India’s G-20 leadership, 2023 promises to be entirely different.


Saturday 17 December 2022

Only deterrence will work with Xi’s China (The Sunday Guardian)


PRC will never be content until India is reduced to economic distress and societal chaos, for this is the only country in Asia that can upset China’s primacy in Asia.

Whether during the Clinton or subsequent eras, the fact that the USSR had been replaced by 1992 with the Russian Federation made scant difference to the obsessive search by Washington to cut Moscow down to what was seen as a manageable size. While Gorbachev, Yeltsin and for six years even Putin sought energetically to befriend the US, even earlier, Khrushchev and subsequently Brezhnev had sought to placate the US on occasion. Every such move was met with an outward show of friendliness, and yet steps designed to damage the growth trajectory of the Russian Federation continued on the part of the US. The reason why ought to have been obvious to policymakers in the Kremlin, but many of these worthies were in thrall to the Europeanist St Petersburg school of strategic thinking in Russia, which placed the highest priority on cultivating a maddeningly unresponsive West. The fact is that Russia is the only country within the continent that has the potential to replace US primacy in Europe with its own, and hence the impossibility of simultaneously following a policy of strengthening Russia and forging close ties with those countries in the European continent that are allies of the US, especially in the form of membership of NATO. Successive administrations in Washington have led European countries into lunge after lunge at “Putin’s country” ever since the Russia-friendly elected President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 via a choreographed demonstration of street power. That process reached a crescendo soon after President Putin launched an overt war against Ukraine on 24 February 2022. While the US, in common with that other superpower China, would overall be likely to benefit from the proxy war that NATO is conducting against Russia on Ukrainian territory, most countries in Europe are harming their own futures by the US-inspired sanctions and weapons assistance to the Zelenskyy government in Kiev. This is a regime that is witnessing easily visible profiteering through blackmarketing of assistance received from western countries in the form of money and weaponry, and hence has no incentive to turn off the spigot by accepting reality and agreeing to a ceasefire on the Line of Actual Control that Ukrainian and Russian forces have established thus far. While both CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (the “X” factor in analyses involving the PRC) and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy may want the war to continue well into 2023, the odds are high that by the coming April, the buffeting that populations in Europe get as a consequence of price spikes and other conflict-related disruptions, is guaranteed to make any further continuation of the proxy war between Russia and NATO impossibly unpopular with voters even in countries that are in the vanguard of the prosecution of the conflict against Russia, such as Germany, the UK and Poland. Given an aversion to political hara-kiri among the political class, this will result in the reduction of supplies by NATO to the regime in Kiev, which will finally need to agree to a ceasefire on the basis of the status quo that leaves Ukraine much worse off than would have been the case had such a ceasefire taken place in April 2022. At that time, both Biden and Zelenskyy were united in refusing to stand down unless Putin surrendered the territorial and influence building gains that Moscow had accrued in Ukraine since 2014. By April next year, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party would allow President Biden to continue a war that benefits the defence and food stock industries in the US at the expense of other segments of the economy, and which has led to collateral actions that have damaged energy, food and societal stability in more than sixty countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. What of China, a country that has gained even more than the US from the Ukraine war? Just as the US will not accept anything other than a weakened Russia, the PRC will never be content until India is reduced to economic distress and societal chaos, for this is the only country in Asia that can upset China’s primacy in Asia. There are still more than a few analysts in Delhi who still believe that “effective diplomacy” can ensure good behaviour on Xi’s part, when the reality is that only strong deterrence rather than strong diplomacy will work in dealing with the PRC, especially under its present leader. The Chinese side has mastered the art of what may be termed subcritical expansion, chipping away slivers of territory at regular intervals, followed by much diplomatic sweet talk and gestures. The scale of Xi’s ambitions so far as the land space of India is concerned is vastly different in scale from his interests in Japan, Vietnam or the Philippines. Some commentators argue that only Taiwan is at risk of a major kinetic move by the PLA, as securing control of that island nation has been openly proclaimed as an objective by Xi. The fact is that the CCP General Secretary has declared his intention of “recovering (mostly for the first time in Chinese history) all the lost territories” of the PRC. The word “all” is significant, as it covers an area far greater than Taiwan, and includes Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh in India. The fear within the higher rungs of the CCP that His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet, may be succeeded by an incarnation born in Tawang is acting as a spur goading the leadership to bring under Tawang and neighbouring areas in Arunachal Pradesh before a new Dalai Lama is found by search teams inspired by the present Dalai Lama.
What the PLA is seeking in its efforts at land grab along what the Chinese side refuse to acknowledge is the Line of Actual Control is the capture of vantage points along the line as could enable the occupation of the Daulet Beg Oldi airstrip, the Chicken’s Neck and the new roads that are in the process of being built along the line. Roads and encampments are fine so long as they are built and used by the Chinese side. Similar action by India is in contrast a “provocation” in the mind of Xi Jinping. Russia conceded much to the US and to its partners in Europe, including the surrender of East Germany and got only overt or covert but effective hostility in return. Those who argue that a policy of seeking to placate Beijing, to appeal to its nobler instincts, would be as wrong as Jawaharlal Nehru was when he surrendered a UNSC Permanent Seat and Aksai Chin to China. All that they will get in return for their attempts at conciliation is an attempt by Xi to repeat Mao’s action of October-November 1962.

Saturday 10 December 2022

Annalena Baerbock, there are no special people (The Sunday Guardian)


In the view of Biden or Scholz, unlike Somalis, Tigrayans or Afghans, the Ukrainians are European, they are special.

Annalena Baerbock, the Foreign Minister of Germany, is unusual amongst her Atlanticist peers for several reasons, not merely her relative youth and outgoing personality. The worldwide Green movement is known for its hostility to armed conflict, and especially to its aversion in getting involved in one. The leader of the Green Party in Germany is an exception. Not only is she not averse to her country getting involved in the conflict that has been playing out in Ukraine since February 24, she is among the most insistent voices that are calling for a more robust role for Germany in the proxy war that NATO is waging in Ukraine with the Russian Federation. In the 20th century, conflicts between Russia and Germany were not encouraging for Berlin. In 1917, after the Tsarist regime crumbled as a consequence of the war that Tsar Nicholas launched on Imperial Germany in 1914, he had to abdicate, and the successor government led by Alexander Kerensky doomed his government to extinction by opting to continue the Tsar’s war. Russian soldiers had had enough of fighting foreign armies especially as they were malnourished, poorly equipped and disastrously led. The soldiers had turned against Tsar Nicholas for that reason, and they turned against Kerensky once he sought to carry on with the war. There was a politician, who at that time was in exile in Sweden, who had a better political instinct than Kerensky. Bolshevik supremo Vladimir Lenin had from the start of the war in 1914 called it an act of madness, and had demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities by Russia. Consequently, it was the German General Staff who organised the return of Lenin to his native Russia, so as to weaken the Kerensky government. In the process, the anti-communist German military installed the first avowedly Marxist government in the largest country on earth. The brain behind the return of Lenin, Field Marshal Ludendorff, therefore got a bit more than he had expected from the return of the Bolshevik supremo to Russia. Ignoring taunts that he was a German agent, Lenin endeared himself not just to soldiers but to Russian people at large who were worn down by the war on Austria and Germany that the (by now deposed and soon to be executed) Tsar had initiated in 1917 at the request of (among others) his cousin, the King of England. Afterwards, King George repaid this favour by refusing during 1917-18 to make any attempt at rescuing “Cousin Nikki” and his wife and children from Bolshevik captivity, leaving them to perish at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Once Germany had an eager proponent of a new war, Adolf Hitler, as its leader from 1933 onwards, military experts warned the dictator to avoid a second front by initiating hostilities with Soviet Russia in the war he launched in 1939. Hitler spurned this advice and attacked Russia in 1941 before subduing Britain. That decision, in addition to his genocide of some of the most talented segments of the German population, the Jewish people, ensured the defeat of Germany by 1945.
Whether it was Gerhard Schroeder, Angela Merkel or other Chancellors dealing with post-Soviet Russia, they each sought to retain a cooperative rather than a combative relationship with Moscow. Such a policy served German interests well. That policy has changed under Olaf Scholz, who in 2022 has become as much of a cheerleader for the NATO crusade against the Russian Federation as Boris Johnson was while Prime Minister of the UK. In the past, German leaders believed that the Germans were a special type of human being, far superior to any other. The way in which “inferior” Russian soldiers reduced the “superior” German formations to mincemeat during the 1941-45 war between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany showed such assumptions (of superiority) to be a bit removed from reality. These days, Scholz and his colleagues, including Baerbock, think a bit differently from those in power in days past. For Scholz or Baerbock, it is not just the Germans who are a special people but Europeans as a whole. Which is why, in their minds and those of multiple officials and politicians from Germany, those devoid of European ethnicity need to abide by what the European Union demands of them. After all, as Josep Borrell eloquently pointed out, the EU is the “garden” and the developing world the “jungle”. To him, Von der Leyen and others in the EU of the “Euro First and Only “ way of thinking, not to forget Europeanists in the US such as Victoria 
Nuland, it is an affront to common sense that India dared to go its own way on Ukraine. Small wonder that both sides of the Atlantic have ensured this year that for a citizen of India, getting a visa to travel to either side of the North Atlantic has been made an impossible exercise. Such a policy of collective punishment of the population of India has numerous backers in Europe and North America. A few days ago, Foreign Minister Kuleba of Ukraine has been candid about his view that India needed to “share the pain” of the Ukrainians despite these being caused not by decisions taken in Delhi but in Kiev, Washington and Brussels. Annalena Baerbock has a similar view. Indians must share the pain that members of the EU are facing by their own self-goals, as for example the irresponsible decision of Chancellor Scholz to shut off the Nord Stream pipeline. The stated reason? That President Putin would not accept payment for Nord Stream gas in euros, a currency that sanctions have ensured Russia is no longer able to access and utilise. The sanctions have bitten the poorer parts of the world hard, as in much of South Asia, with the exclusion of India. There are families in poor countries that have even less to eat that their previous near-starvation diet since NATO sanctions began to bite, or who live in even more unbearable accommodation than previously. It is unlikely that Foreign Minister Baerbock of Germany will demand of her countrypersons to share in such distress. Only the “jungle” and not the “garden” should make such a sacrifice.
In their minds, Europe and those of European extraction are special in a way that others can never be. That such people are not like those living in Southern Asia, that geographic stretch of land stretching from West Asia to Southeast Asia. In the view of Biden or Scholz among other like-minded leaders, what is taking place in Ukraine is an epochal event, a point of inflexion as significant as the discovery and use of the wheel. After all, unlike Somalis, Tigrayans or Afghans, the Ukrainians are European, they are special. It must come as a surprise to such minds that in India, as in the overwhelming majority of countries, the events taking place in Ukraine are not a tenth as important as issues back home, except that NATO sanctions and a senseless war have caused the most pain precisely to the poor of the world. So what if western insurance companies are killing trust in them by participating in NATO sanctions on Russia? So what if there is no fertiliser and no grain to feed the hungry? So what if disruptions in logistics chains have sent prices shooting up? Policymakers across both sides of the North Atlantic need to understand that there are no special people in the world, that there are just people in the world, each of them special in her or his own way.

Saturday 3 December 2022

PM Modi seeks to bring G-20 in sync with 21st century (The Sunday Guardian)


Instead of seeking to dominate a hierarchical order of nations, as has been the practice by several past and present Great Powers, Prime Minister Modi puts emphasis on the equality of nations.

BENGALURU: Until 1 December 2022, the day India assumed the Presidency of the G-20, that role had not figured among the consequential pieces in the global diplomatic chessboard. In part, the reason was that the G-7 had visualized the G-20 as a vehicle for the proselytisation of its own views amongst countries that had begun to matter in global discourse and decision-making. Faster economic growth within many of the 12 other countries within the G-20 was steadily giving parity to the Global South. These days, the “South” as commonly defined has begun surpassing the “North” where overall economic indicators are concerned, so much so that it is no longer accurate to classify the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as part of the Global South. Now that it has joined the United States in the ranks of the superpowers, the tag of “developing country” that China holds on to has become incongruous, almost as though Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Infosys’ Narayana Murthy were to pass themselves off as middle class. Within Asia, there has been a significant expansion in the imprint of India consequent to the formation of a majority government in 2014 under Narendra Modi. So much so that the often-used term “South Asia”, which denotes India and its immediate neighbours, needs to be replaced with the term “Southern Asia”. Such an arc would comprise the Middle East, Iran, India and its “South Asian” neighbours, as well as ASEAN. Within the arc of Southern Asia, India has emerged as the most consequential power, followed by Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, in that order.
Across this grouping, the policy of the PRC has been to position itself as still being in the Global South, and hence as the leader of this collective of nations. Principal attention is being paid by the PRC to the whole of Southern Asia, from the Middle East to ASEAN, where CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has sought to assume a position of effective dominance camouflaged by honeyed expressions. The irony of the world’s second superpower seeking to promote itself as just another developing country has been deliberately ignored by the CCP leadership. Another trait is to regard international and bilateral covenants as binding only on the other side and not on the PRC itself. An example is the manner in which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) spokesperson claimed in Beijing that the latest (18th) iteration of the Yudh Abhyas military exercises between the US and India “violated the 1993 and 1996 border management agreements between Delhi and Beijing”. It was not simply the fact that the military exercises did not violate either the 1993 or the 1996 agreements, something that was ignored by the MoFA spokesperson. Even more egregious (albeit typical) was that the Communist Chinese side has been a serial violator of both the pacts it mentioned, most recently witnessed in the refusal of the PLA to return to the line between the two sides that prevailed prior to the incursions during 2020-21 that were made by Chinese forces across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating Chinese from Indian forces. There has even been an effort by the Chinese side to give themselves a veto over India-US relations, an unacceptable demand thus far not noticed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken but pushed back hard against by Indian External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar in his trademark manner.
What is clearly intended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now presiding over the G-20, is for the year-long platform of the Indian Presidency of the G-20 to be utilised to:
(a) showcase among other G-20 members the core elements in the 21st century foreign policy construct designed by Prime Minister Modi and ably put into operation by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. The shock waves created across the world by the Ukraine conflict illustrates the wisdom of the course that had been suggested by the Prime Minister of India in March 2022 itself. Although there was substantial initial hostility to Delhi’s stand of principled objectivity, events have shown that the advice given to Ukraine to have a ceasefire with the Russian Federation before further damage was done to the country would have been a wiser course to follow by both Kiev as well as NATO rather than ramping up a conflict in which Ukraine and its people are paying a terrible price. This cost is apart from the economic and other consequences, especially to the poorest countries of the globe, of the fallout of the proxy war being waged by NATO against the Russian Federation.
(b) Modi understands that a people must have confidence in themselves and a belief in their destiny, if they are to attempt to excel. Over the next year, his intention is to use the G-20 platform to showcase the reality that India has finally emerged as one of the four Great Powers of the globe, alongside China, Russia and the US. The corollary of such self-knowledge would be for the 1.4 billion citizens of the world’s most populous democracy to each try and do the best they can to enhance their own roster of achievements. Although the Union Jack was replaced on 15 August 1947 from the cupola of Rashtrapati Bhavan, vestiges of the colonial complex still linger within elements of the population. During the course of the several hundred events that are being planned within India in connection with its leadership of the G-20, the effort is to reduce if not eliminate altogether such a colonial complex. At the same time, a parallel effort is to display not just to other G-20 members (which include the European Union and 19 countries) the benefits of teaming up with India in economics, culture and diplomacy.
(c) In line with the teachings of ancient India, a country with a recorded history of more than 5,000 years, the international effort of the Union Government will be to put stress on the foundational tenet of Indian civilisation, which may be summed up in the phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family). Emphasis will be given to the essentiality of internal and external harmony, and to ensuring a developmental path by the adoption of measures that would sustain and not degrade the planet. Instead of seeking to dominate a hierarchical order of nations, as has been the practice by several past and present Great Powers, Prime Minister Modi puts emphasis on the equality of nations, on the need for countries big and small to have their interests and territory safeguarded. At the same time, the danger posed to humanity by terrorism in its many dimensions will be a central focus.
(d) India being a country that is numerically dominated by youth, those in schools and universities will be made aware of the interlocking world that we live in, together with the inculcation of best practices of how to become a good citizen in a world where close collaboration among like-minded countries needs to be pursued. In the case of countries that seek to promote their aims through kinetic and asymmetric means, efforts will be made to nudge them onto a path that promotes peace and harmony, while “keeping the powder dry” in case of misadventure by them. The importance of such an attitude, of such a lifestyle, will be communicated not just within India by PM Modi but externally as well. In the latter task, EAM Jaishankar will play a keystone role. The intention of Prime Minister Modi is to refashion what has thus far been little more than a mere talking shop and convert it into an effective mechanism that could further global prosperity and stability. In doing so, those powers that continue to oppose India with its 1.4 billion population getting its due at the UNSC high table and in other fora would be shown up. They would either change their approach from hostility to support, or be shown up as countries that seek to advance their selfish
Zero Sum interests at the cost of others, exactly as took place during the era of overt colonialism. In a situation where the G-7 has become increasingly irrelevant to the emergent world order, the expectation is that the G-20 will by the close of 2023 emerge as the international institution that can make the most difference in matters of commerce and security throughout the world.

A 2022 China Winter after 2011 Arab Spring (The Sunday Guardian)


The decline in economic growth and consequent impact on livelihoods has led to hundreds of thousands of PRC citizens venting their rage in protests.

The 2011 “Arab Spring” caused considerable excitement within the Washington think tanks that promise to deliver democracy to those who uncritically go by the advice of such pools of wisdom. After decades of service to the economic and security interests of the US, Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak was cast aside by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As happened often during his first term as President of the United States, Barack Obama followed Hillary’s lead. Mubarak was advised to be gentle, indeed hands-off, with those filling the streets of Cairo and baying for his blood. In large part owing to disgust at the way in which the Egyptian President was seeking to install his profligate son Gamal as his successor, the Egyptian army decided to follow the advice of the US Secretary of State, and abstain from intervening in the chaotic situation that was developing in Cairo. Not surprisingly, crowds that had at one point in time been getting smaller in size grew enormously as a consequence of the enforced impotence of the state machinery under Mubarak. Finally, he had to quit, as did other dictators in some nearby Arab countries. They were replaced by politicians characterised by religious zealotry, a quality that Mubarak and the regime he presided over did not share. As a consequence, and as predicted by this columnist just days after the eruptions of street violence, a Wahhabi Winter descended on Egypt and several other countries that witnessed regime change consequent on the Arab Spring. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood took over. The Brotherhood’s chosen champion, Mohammad Morsi, was in a hurry to transform his country into a theocracy, and began introducing measures designed to make Egypt more like the Saudi Arabia of that time. After a few months of such zealotry, much of Egyptian society got into a panic at Morsi’s haste to convert Egyptian society into a replica of Saudi society at that time. It was not with relief that they witnessed the overthrow of Morsi by the Egyptian military led by General Abdel Fattah Al Sissi. The new Head of Government adopted a muscular stance against the Brotherhood and its elements in Egyptian society, so much so that the threat of a Wahhabi takeover of the country receded. The repressive and regressive performance of the religious zealots who took power in countries where existing regimes had been toppled consequent to the Arab Spring made them unpopular. Exchanging the dictatorship of a Mubarak with that of a Brotherhood zealot did not seem to be an improvement to most of the people in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
There are a few who liken the present situation in China to what took place just before governments got toppled during the 2011 Arab Spring. They forecast that anti-regime crowds would grow, and that the authorities would find it impossible to hold them back. And that, at the very least, a change in the top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would be inevitable. That the CCP is getting out of touch with the people in whose name they have governed since 1949 has become obvious during the October-November riots across the PRC. A goodly portion of the protestors backed the view that Xi Jinping should be ousted from office. If ever proof were needed that Xi could not have won his job in a free election, not just the slogans of the crowds but the refusal of other elements in the population to oppose them made clear the CCP General Secretary’s unpopularity. Compare this with the unanimous election of Xi in his present titles by the Central Committee of the CCP, and it is clear that the higher rungs of the immense party bureaucracy in China are wholly out of sync with what the people want. Just as it was claimed during the Arab Spring that the crowds came out in support of democracy and individual freedom, it is now being claimed in sections of the media that the crowds protesting against the “Zero Covid through Maximum Restrictions” policy of Xi Jinping are motivated by a common love of democracy and freedom.
The reality is more prosaic. Sharp rises in the price of bread juxtaposed with steep falls in employment led to the eruption of public anger witnessed in several Arab countries in 2011. Similarly, it is the decline in economic growth and consequent impact on livelihoods that has led hundreds of thousands of PRC citizens venting their rage in protests on a scale not seen in China even in the prelude to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Under Xi, for the first time since the 1970s, the standard of life of a young citizen in China is visibly worse than was the case in the two generations that preceded him. Were leaders of countries to undergo a test in how they are dealing with the economy, Xi Jinping would fail. Had the Chinese economy been growing faster rather than slowing down, the Covid-19 restrictions that are being endured would not have motivated so many citizens to protest in public. They are doing so because of the growing belief that their futures are dark under Xi’s leadership. What is taking place is in some ways an analogue of the Arab Spring, it is a China Winter. Equally, it is the PRC’s 1905, the year that saw the unrest in Tsarist Russia that heralded the revolution of 1917, the year that the Tsarist regime disappeared.

Saturday 26 November 2022

India’s Constitution is not static, but a living document (The Sunday Guardian)


Given an overall framework that ensures the Rule of Law, the greater individual and personal freedom is under the law and administrative practice, the faster the economy will grow.

The country has to be grateful that the Supreme Court of India has not gone in the backward looking direction of the US Supreme Court. The latter threw out Roe v Wade, the landmark judgment that fifty years ago ensured a woman’s right to choose. Instead, the Court, while dealing a death blow to Roe v Wade, transferred authority to the states of the US. Should such centripetal thinking operate in more such monumental verdicts of the US Supreme Court, the consequences for societal stability in the US could be dire. The Roberts Court has placed emphasis on the US Constitution as it was effectuated in 1789, ignoring the fact that the country then was very different from what it now is. It is this apparently irresistible tendency of the US Supreme Court to look backwards while moving ahead that has brought public faith in that institution to a historic low. In contrast, overall the Supreme Court of India has looked ahead to the future, along the way doing away with more than a few colonial era laws that placed severe limits on individual freedoms. Before August 15, 1947, India was a British colony, its people subject not to the protection of a Constitution but to regulations designed by the colonial authorities that reduced to insignificance the rights of a citizen vis-à-vis those of the state. In 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect. In his wisdom, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declined to fashion new Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes so as to make the transition from enslavement to freedom complete. As ab consequence, there is a mismatch between the Constitution of India, designed as it is for a free people, and several of the laws and administrative practices of India, which remain for long much the same as what they were under British rule. Only with the coming to power by Narendra Modi in 2014 was such a dichotomy sought to be resolved through the elimination of colonial era laws that had been retained in free India. More than 40% of such laws have been repealed or modified since 2014, and more are slated for the same fate. Arbitrary and unchecked use of executive power is the path towards a totalitarian state, and given the universality and freedoms inherent in the ancient Indian theology of Sanatan Dharma, such a path would be entirely opposed to not just the interests of the people of India but to their culture as well. Given an overall framework that ensures the Rule of Law and the prevention of violence and other societally destructive actions, the greater individual and personal freedom is under the law and administrative practice, the faster the economy will grow.Unfortunately, just as was the case with the British, the giving of freedom to a citizen of India was in effect regarded as unwise by successive governments. An example is the English language, the spread of which has assisted in enabling India and its people to excel in the knowledge economy. A language should not be imposed or outlawed by fiat, but by popular will. Despite his knowledge of the English language and attachment to aspects of English culture, Nehru made it almost impossible for the children of an economically weak citizen of India to study in English, a policy that muffled the growth potential that was (and remains) present in the Indian people. Government schools banished English, thereby giving a monopoly of that language to the middle and upper classes to the exclusion of the poor. Under Modi, this has changed. In UP for example, the teaching of English is being encouraged, because Chief Minister Adityanath understands the value of that language in ensuring that the young in UP get better equipped to move on to successful careers not just across India but across the world.The majority within the US Supreme Court is anchored to the 17th century rather than to present-day effects of such a literal interpretation of Constitutional provisions. The Court has opened the floodgates even to mass killing automatic guns that any police force should be wary of using. As a consequence, being in the US is to exist in an environment where the next minute may see a shooter try and snuff out lives. The US Supreme Court has even tossed out such commonsensical laws as that passed by the New York legislature mandating the evaluation and registration of citizens who carry a concealed gun. How those justices of the US Supreme Court with their flawed verdicts that have caused such a perilous situation in their country can sleep restfully at night remains a mystery. Just as the Constitution of India or the US is not a marble statuette but a living document, it is the duty of the Roberts Court to ensure a safe environment for citizens, rather than making it legally permissible even for misfits and psychos to stock up on enough weapons and rounds of ammunition as could kill hundreds of people during a single rampage. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution granting the right to bear arms was passed during a time of peril, when external forces as well as internal desperadoes were threatening the lives of citizens in an environment where the available police force was rudimentary. The First Amendment to the US Constitution granted freedom of speech, but where was that freedom when Twitter under its previous owners banished even a sitting President of the US from its platform? Where was that freedom in the vicious way in which significant chunks of the public health bureaucracy in the world’s most powerful country decried those who dared to suggest in 2020 that Covid-19 was the consequence of the leak in Wuhan of a lab experiment? Given the self-censorship evident in the narrative within NATO media of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, freedom of speech appears to apply only to those who hold a politically correct view (about Saint Zelenskyy and Satan Putin for example ) and not to those having a contrarian view. As a consequence of the way in which dissent has been stifled in western countries about the origins of Covid-19 or the manner in which NATO is prosecuting the Ukraine war, not just western countries but the entire world is enduring growing tensions in society and weaknesses in the economy. There are countries where the state decrees what the citizen may lawfully do, and outlaws the rest. There are countries where the state describes in some detail what actions are legally forbidden, but are generally permissive about the rest. No prizes for guessing which set of countries will do better in the 21st century.

Saturday 19 November 2022

Global interests perish at the altar of Ukraine (The Sunday Guardian)


The only remaining hope for Zelenskyy is that NATO will enter the war in a full scope manner rather than indirectly through assisting Ukraine even at great cost to the interests of its own members.

It is all somewhat confusing. Duda, Biden, Sunak, Scholz and other unwavering backers of the Zelenskyy Doctrine (of no ceasefire unless Putin surrenders) agree that the missile fragments that killed a couple of Polish farmers were Ukrainian. However, they add, it was all Russia’s fault. Presumably it was Vladimir Putin whose agents in Ukraine arranged for an anti-aircraft missile to land in Polish territory. We must assume that the votaries of Russian surrender that are in control of governments across both sides of the Atlantic are not prone to talking untruths. As for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the leader of Ukraine, whatever he says gets accepted as fact by the governments to his west. It is only with the approach of winter and the signs of incipient economic depression across Europe that there has been a change in this mistaking of the word of Zelenskyy as divine writ. Technically, the President of Ukraine is correct when he says the crashed missile was Russian, for it was made in that country. But to extrapolate from that the assumption that any Russian-built missile that gets launched by Ukrainian forces should be assumed to be launched by Russia may not be a prudent surmise to make. While technically Biden et al agree that the missile was launched by Ukraine, they reiterate that it was Russia’s fault. At present, the only remaining hope for Zelenskyy is that NATO will enter the war in a fullscope manner rather than indirectly through assisting Ukraine even at great cost to the interests of its own members. It may be said that never before have so many sacrificed their interests (most of them unwillingly) for so few. More than three billion people across the world are in much worse shape than they would have been if the 31 million Ukraine-speaking population of the country had accepted reality and given up on recovering 20% of its territory. Instead, Ukraine began a process of losing even more land in the expectation of NATO-assisted recovery of all land that it had prior to the intervention by Russia in 2014. The intervention began after the paradigm shift that the government of the country underwent in 2014, when the new President, Petro Poroshenko, reduced the 19 million Russian-speaking Ukrainians to second-class status. Given the prospect of a winter sans power and running water, there is logic behind President Zelenskyy’s transparent efforts to ensnare NATO troops into directly intervening in the phase of the conflict that began on 24 February. Despite the politically fatal attraction that making sacrifices for Zelenskyy and his colleagues increasingly have for Biden, Scholz and other Atlanticist leaders, public opinion within NATO has begun turning hostile to the involvement of NATO as a co-belligerent in the war against Russia that is being fought on the territory of Ukraine.
Who was responsible for punching holes in the two Nordstrom pipelines? If Biden, Sunak, Macron and Scholz are aware of the actual culprit, sooner or later, the identity of the perpetrators will get outed despite their silence, smudging the reputation of these leaders for transparency and straightforwardness. What the world deserves are not just repetitive denials of culpability but the facts that have been uncovered in the investigation into the sabotage of a crucial infrastructure project. Just as it expects the Ukrainian government to list the identities of the many whom they claim were killed by Russian forces in Bucha, a revelation that has yet to be made. Why Biden, Sunak and Scholz are not seeking the release of the names of the Bucha killings has given rise to suspicions that the dead were Russian-speaking. If so, the question needs to be asked as to what was Russia’s motive in apparently killing people that were sympathetic to it? If the Russians did kill them, what explains them leaving a Bucha that was shown as strewn with dead bodies? If the boastful claims of the Ukrainian leadership that its forces are steadily squeezing Russian forces out of territory that had been earlier captured by them are true, the risk of Vladimir Putin using some of the more deadly weapons in his arsenal multiplies rather than chances of his accepting surrender. He is unlikely to follow the carefree path that President Biden took when he surrendered to the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021. That self-inflicted defeat was the start of Biden’s fall from grace where US voters were concerned. The Democrats are fortunate that the Republican Supreme Court as well as Donald Trump prevented the unpopularity of the White House from dragging Democratic tallies down. Their Senate win means that India may soon get a US ambassador after two years of waiting. An incoming envoy may try and end a situation where citizens of India wait 900 days for a US visa, in contrast to citizens of the PRC, who get such visas in a jiffy. As for the EU, the wait for a visa for Indians is reported to be 500 days, but less than 50 hours for a Chinese national. The constant chants of the US and the EU of “Viva Democracy” are clearly different from making available visas for citizens of democracies. The whole world is the loser as a consequence of both sides not heeding Narendra Modi’s warning that “this is not the era of war”. The effects of winter sans Russian energy to Europe may at last bring to fruition Modi’s wish.

Saturday 12 November 2022

DMK must rethink its opposition to EWS quota (The Sunday Guardian)


It would be less than an incentive for domestic and international companies to invest in Tamil Nadu if those governing the state give the impression of being trapped in a time warp.

Finance Minister Thiagarajan of Tamil Nadu has received admiring attention from much of the media for his reported depth of knowledge and immense reserves of competence. If such be true, he would certainly be an asset not just to his party the DMK but to Tamil Nadu as well. The state would emerge as a model for other states, should the economic situation in a state that has always done relatively well in several economic parameters improve speedily and vastly. The future will tell. However, judging by his remarks on the recent move to have a 10% quota for the Economically Weaker Sections of the communities that have historically been excluded, it would appear that the TN Finance Minister believes that even during the past thousand-odd years, the so-designated “forward castes” of India have discriminated against the others within the Hindu community. This is indeed a discovery that needs to be applauded in textbooks of Indian history, that during Mughal and British colonial rule, the “forward castes” were so empowered that they wreaked havoc on the others. Till now, the perception was that Hindus in general (including the so-called “forward castes”) were subordinated to first the Mughals and later the British. Let it be added that the present writer has no quarrel with reservation quotas for the SC, ST and Backward groups. There must indeed have been discrimination in the past, even if more than a thousand years ago. As a consequence of such reservations, more and more from the population segments that were given the benefits of reservation improved their lot. Indeed, in Andhra Pradesh, the Kamma community is known for its entrepreneurs and the wealth of many within that group, far more than the Brahmins of the state are, and they are at least the equals in material advancement of the more “forward” Reddy community. In Kerala, it is the Ezhava community that is at parity with the Christian community in the matter of success in business, not the “forward” Nairs. In Maharashtra, not the Brahmins but the Marathas dominate the field of state policy, while in UP and Bihar, the Yadav community has emerged as probably the most influential, as witness the progress to the top of leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav in their time. So what is Minister Thiagarajan upset about? All that he needs to do is to take a stroll around his ministerial bungalow, and he will come across several homes of those from so-called “forward” communities living in poverty. Surely hunger and want are felt equally by individuals who are classified as either “forward” or “backward”, or “most backward”? Or do “forwards” have some quality within themselves that they feel the impact of neither hunger nor the horrors of hardship? Now that the Supreme Court has given its imprimatur to the policy of providing a quota on the basis of economic need, including to sections of the population till now outside the matrix of reservations in state jobs, it is doubtful that the Tamil Nadu state government will succeed in getting the move overturned. All that will happen will be to accumulate the dismay of those who fail to understand the reasoning behind the implicit assumption that poverty is felt differently by individual segments of society.
DMK supremo Stalin became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in the third decade of the 21st century. Surely it is time for him to join hands with other regional leaders who have refused to join in moves against a policy that has been overdue for 75 years. If he were to look around, he may notice that Tejashwi Yadav is not a copy of his father, nor is Akhilesh of Mulayam Singh or Aaditya of Uddhav Thackeray, just as the former CM of Maharashtra is not an exact copy of his father Balasaheb, who incidentally had a sense of wry humour that made him a pleasure to meet. Generation after generation has moved on from the 20th to the 21st century. It would be less than an incentive for domestic and international companies to invest in Tamil Nadu if those governing the state give the impression of being trapped in a time warp, unable to come to terms with a society that is very different from what it was a thousand years ago, or even a thousand weeks ago. Since the 1990s, this writer has talked of the “Mercedes Caste”. Whatever the family of an individual owning such a car might have been in the past, most fathers-in-law would welcome such a son-in-law into their homes. Among the many signs of hope for the future of India is the rising and welcome incidence of inter-caste marriages. Those who oppose such a marriage, and in some cases even resort to murder to prevent it, are indistinguishable from animals of the jungle, for they cannot understand that every human being has the right to equality, not only in law but in the treatment given to her or him by the rest of society. Surely the very well-regarded Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Thiagarajan is free of such Jurassic Park traits as refusing to acknowledge that the poor need to be helped to change their circumstances, no matter what classification has been applied to them. In the Karunanidhi clan, there are modern individuals with creative minds, such as the patriarch’s daughter, Kanimozhi. It may be time for those in the DMK who have adapted to the 21st century to show that today’s DMK is as changed as today’s India is.

U.S. midterm elections give Biden a chance to course correct in Eurasia (The Sunday Guardian)


The G20 Summit may show whether President Biden has finally read the memo that this is the era of Cold War 2.0, and that the lead adversary is no longer Moscow but Beijing.

BENGALURU: The results of the 2022 midterm elections in the United States came as a surprise to at least three of the four heads of the great powers of the 21st century. The response of Prime Minister Modi is not known, but Presidents Biden, Putin and Xi had expected a Democratic meltdown, given the toxic consequences of the war in Ukraine that NSA Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken ensured that Biden hyperactively led. Xi and Putin must have been disappointed by the close result, for to both Moscow and Beijing, a much weakened Executive and an even more sharply feuding Legislature in the US would have been welcome. Instead, despite the unpopularity of President Biden, the Democrats have surprised themselves by putting up a good showing, making the US President ecstatic and putting within reach the enactment of the $2 trillion Biden Social Justice Plan. The Republican leadership expected to gain a record number of seats in the US Congress as a result of the inflation and supply dislocations caused by the very war in Ukraine that they were vocally backing, including by voting with the Democrats on the huge amounts of money regularly expended on the war by the White House. Unfortunately for the GoP, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had ensured through then President Trump the transformation of large swathes of the US judiciary into crusaders for what may be termed Theological Republicanism. Clearly, McConnell had not factored in the distaste felt by several independent voters, especially young women, at a Supreme Court that appears to be basing many of its judgments less on settled laws and democratic logic than on theological and ideological justifications. In particular, the US Supreme Court’s open sesame to the proliferation of mass killing automatic weapons in the hands of citizens, added to its shock overturning of Roe v Wade took away not just public safety but freedoms that for half a century had been taken for granted by US citizens. The evident ideological and theological bias of the six Republican-leaning Justices in the US Supreme Court helped the Democratic Party to avoid a predicted Republican sweep during the November 2022 midterms.
Apart from the Supreme Court, the other factor that boosted vote tallies of Democratic Party candidates was Donald J. Trump. Several independent voters swallowed their distaste for Biden’s unwillingness to minister to voter priorities in his obsession with Russia and Ukraine, and voted Democratic out of fear that a Republican midterm sweep in 2022 would make another Trump bid for the US Presidency in 2024 inevitable. Even if Trump were to lose that contest, which he would unless Joe Biden were his opponent, his consistent refusal to accept any result other than a victory for himself would continue to poison politics and society in the US even from 2024 onwards, to the delight of Xi and Putin. The strands of Trumpian logic, including denying that losing in a fair election was normal in a democracy, brought down Republican candidates such as Mehmet Oz and Karri Lake, who would have won but for their extravagantly advertised embrace of Trump and his views. In contrast, a future superstar, who has yet to be acknowledged as such in US media, J.D. Vance, in effect, only had a handshake with Trump rather than a full embrace, which was why he was elected as a US Senator from Ohio. Tellingly, Vance thanked more than 30 individuals by name in his victory speech, but left out Trump. He was clearly aware that from the 2022 midterms onwards, Trump’s stock was going to be in decline even amongst the Republican faithful, and so the incoming first term Senator did not want his popularity to get dragged down by adherence to Trump in the manner that several other legislators in his party are experiencing. The combination of public dread of a rerun of Trump’s tantrums, together with a Supreme Court that in some of its judgments do not go by the legal logic that is the foundation of democracy, but the belief systems of particular religious theologies mixed with political ideologies, hurt the Republican candidates. The 6:3 majority in the Roberts Court has exhibited a method of deciding cases that had not been anticipated by those who wrote the US Constitution in 1787.

As had been predicted much earlier in these columns, the November 2022 US midterms have shown that Donald Trump would be the ideal Republican candidate for a Democratic opponent to defeat, provided that such a candidate not be Joe Biden. Although known to be well-intentioned and straightforward, Biden’s hyperactivity in leading NATO’s proxy war on the Russian Federation in the battlegrounds of Ukraine has crippled the 46th President of the US in the way that the Vietnam War made the continuation in office of Lyndon Baines Johnson beyond the close of his Presidential term in 1969 impossible. So blinded have key Europeanist advisers of the White House been in their fixation on kneecapping “Putin’s Russia” that they neglected to take account of the collateral damage that the US and its allies would suffer, especially in economic terms, because of the Biden-led sanctions that were imposed on Russia that accelerated in wave after wave since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces on 24 February 2022. The harm to citizens in the US, EU and the UK (not to mention the rest of the world) that has been caused by worldwide shortages and price rise (including within key NATO member states) in the aftermath of each round of western sanctions on Russia has yet to deter the frenzied effort by that alliance to “teach Putin a lesson”, but it has made a growing number of US-UK-EU voters turn away from those NATO leaders who are responsible for such policies, including Biden and Scholz. In the 1960s, President Johnson was persuaded to expand US involvement in the Vietnam War by Kennedy-era holdovers such as NSA McGeorge Bundy and Defence Secretary Robert Strange McNamara. After Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020, the still thriving Cold War 1.0 (USSR-US) enthusiasts, who had come of age in matters of policy under President Clinton, individuals such as Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken, convinced President Biden that the very future of western civilisation was at stake in the Ukraine conflict. In the 1960s, Bundy and McNamara had similarly convinced President Johnson that the future of non-communist Asia was at stake in the paddy fields of Vietnam. Despite scuttling the political fortunes of their boss President Johnson, both Bundy and McNamara went on to lucrative careers in prosperous institutions, as no doubt Blinken and Sullivan will after Joe Biden becomes wholly unelectable by the initial months of 2023 as a consequence of the fallout of the intensity of the tactics the US President has signed on to in the Ukraine conflict. The US taxpayer largesse showered on that country stands in contrast to the absence of any armaments given away gratis by the US to India, the Philippines, Vietnam or Taiwan, despite Xi Jinping’s repeated efforts at encroaching on their sovereignty in land, sea and air. Given the contrast between the assistance given free of cost to the Ukrainian military and the pell-mell withdrawal during June-August 2021 of all US support to the Afghan National Army that had been till then been battling the Taliban at great cost in lives, the reliability of the US as a partner in defence and security matters has come to be doubted within the GCC, South Asia, East Asia and ASEAN.

In the gifting of abundant supplies, President Biden’s open heartedness to Ukraine stands in contrast to his relative inattention to countries where human suffering is much worse, such as Somalia or Ethiopia. This has been noted in countries that are not part of what is referred to as the “civilised world” aka “international community” in media outlets of member-states of NATO. For the Cold War 1.0 policymakers within NATO the need is for continuing the war until their hopes are realised of Russia under Putin entering a meltdown. Unfortunately for them, the Ukraine war has resulted in domestic constituencies tiring of the pain to themselves of the rising volume of aftershocks of the war and sanctions, even though President Biden appears focused on expanding US involvement even in 2023, exactly as President Johnson was fixated on increased US involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s. Seeing that candidates embracing Trumpian logic such as Karri Lake could overcome moderate Republican alternatives to get nominated as candidates in the midterms, although many subsequently lost to the Democrats, ex-President Trump’s hopes for the Republican nomination in the 2024 US Presidential elections remain alive. While there remains a chance that Trump may still get his party’s nomination in 2024 and go on to lose to a rival so long as he or she is not Joe Biden, discontent within the Democratic Party base at the Biden White House is likely to ensure that President Biden gets defeated in the 2024 Democratic primaries, should he make the mistake of seeking a second term in the White House. Should Vice-President Kamala Harris detach herself from the White House in a way that Hubert Humphrey was unable to do in 1968, she may yet emerge as the Democratic nominee, but that seems unlikely. In the case of the Republicans, should Trump understand that he would lose in 2024 just as he lost in 2020, he could back son Donald for a Senate seat in 2024 rather than seek a rerun himself. A balanced 2024 Republican ticket that showcases moderation and ethnic diversity may result in a Red Wave in 2024 that has been absent in 2022. In its effort at flipping seats, the Republican Party backing Independent Tulsi Gabbard for the US Senate from Hawaii may be the best way of flipping a Democratic seat in that scenic state. The economic storm intensifying as a consequence of Biden’s expensive and risky prosecution of the Ukraine war, plus the effect on much of Europe of facing winter cold without Russian energy will show that Gabbard was right in warning about the costs to ordinary US citizens of the Ukraine war. Unfortunately for the regional powers focused on ensuring that the Indo-Pacific remain free and open to all, Biden is led by Cold War 1.0 enthusiasts in an administration that seems ignorant of the fact that the US and the rest of the world have decades ago slipped into the era of Cold War 2.0 (between the PRC and the US principally). In Cold War 2.0, Russia is only a secondary threat, in the way then US ally China was to its foe the USSR during most of Cold War 1.0 between the USSR and the US.

Facts speak louder than statements, and if reports emanating from Washington are to be believed, despite the number of applicants from the PRC for a US visa being higher than the number of Indian citizens applying, it takes less than nine days for a citizen of the PRC to get a US visa and 900 days for a citizen of India. What the charm of Xi Jinping is that enables him to so influence the White House in a favourable direction remains unclear, but what is obvious is the growing doubt in the world’s most consequential continent about the sincerity of the protestations of President Biden that he has as much concern for Asia as he so evidently has for Europe minus Russia. Friends of India such as Representative Raja Krishnamurthy and Senator Marco Rubio are still present in the US Congress, but the White House will need to do much more to not just improve its standing among US citizens but in that other huge democracy. And despite several accommodative signals of the Biden administration to Beijing, this is not the People’s Republic of China but the Republic of India.

The G20 Summit may show whether President Biden has finally got the memo that this is the era of Cold War 2.0, and that the lead adversary is no longer Moscow but Beijing. 2023 will show whether Biden can get passed his societally transformative agenda, thereby replicating the feat of Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. The year will show whether Biden shows in action rather than merely in honeyed expressions that the White House understands that India, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are much in the front line of US security interests as France, Germany and the UK were in the Cold War 1.0 era. Despite Biden, aided by the shadow of the US Supreme Court and Trump, the Democrats have managed to avoid a midterm collapse. As a consequence, the US President has the opportunity to course correct policies and actions concerning Eurasia. Whether Biden has the will to do so will become clear before the winter retreats in early 2023.

U.S. midterm elections give Biden a chance to course correct in Eurasia

Saturday 5 November 2022

Appeasement of dictators results in tragedy, not farce (The Sunday Guardian)


The capitulation of Daladier and Chamberlain to all of Hitler’s maximalist negotiating positions made Hitler certain that neither Britain nor France would take up arms against Germany.

There are two contrary views about why Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought to placate Adolf Hitler rather than attack Nazi Germany at a time when it was militarily weak. The first view is that Chamberlain believed that Hitler had limited ambitions, and made decisions on war and peace based not on mystic faith but sound reasoning. As a consequence, he took the Attila the Hun of the 20th century at his word when Hitler said that getting the Sudetenland was the last conquest that was on his agenda. There were multiple indications, including not just in Hitler’s many speeches but in Mein Kampf, that much more was sought by the despot, but these were considered simply the promises of a politician, intended in the manner of empty pots and pans to make a loud noise, and quickly be forgotten. In such a telling, Chamberlain was a man of peace, who sought to avoid another continental war after the 1914-18 carnage, and in any case, was able to gain a bit of time for England to rearm through the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia for Britain. A movie was made about that period that showed Chamberlain to be clear eyed about Hitler, but dismissive of domestic public support for a Franco-British first strike on Germany. That an individual he loathed, Winston Churchill, had been advocating such a strike for years made Chamberlain all the more anxious to avoid such a portentous move. The other view of Chamberlain is the more common, which is that he misread Hitler, and failed to understand that the appetite of a street bully is whetted by concessions, not satiated. A book, “Travellers in the Third Reich”, written by Julia Boyd, compiles a series of views about Nazi Germany from the inside, from the years just before Hitler was appointed the Reichskanzler in 1933 to the final period marking the end of himself and the regime that he led until his death by suicide in 1945. It is clear from the anecdotes given in the book that Hitler had from the start planned for a great war, even installing iron brackets atop buses in the 1930s so as to affix machine guns on them once the war that he had planned from the start of his political career began.
As part of the training for wartime conditions of the German population, many of whom had blind faith in Hitler despite his hysterical gestures and hate-filled invective. Hitler used to hold mock drills in German cities that even mimicked the sound of bombs and artillery blasts, as well as total blackouts. All this from four years before the war began in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, a country where the leadership to the end of peacetime regarded Germany as a potential ally against the country they loathed, the Soviet Union. Of course, such a stance gave Chamberlain another excuse to ignore the persistent pleading of Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov (who had a British wife) for France, Britain and the USSR to form a pact designed to attack and defeat Germany and destroy the Nazi regime together with its Fuehrer. In August 1939, Chamberlain and his French counterpart Eduard Daladier finally agreed to send a delegation to Moscow to “study and examine the possibility” of a Soviet-French-British pact designed to protect smaller European states against Germany. The delegation was given no plenary powers, and was headed by Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, whose most significant distinction was his longish name, which had been gifted to him by adoring parents. The Anglo-French mission set off for Moscow not by air but by ship, as Sir Reginald was a navy man. The Royal Navy vessel in which the delegation made its slow progress to the USSR included an Indian cook who was known throughout the service for the delicious curries that he produced for appreciative naval officers. Curry on the way back must have served as some solace, for when the delegation reached Moscow, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov pointed out that the members had no powers to take any decisions, merely to talk, and that anyway, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had arrived a short while ago by air. Hours before, Ribbentrop had signed the Nazi-Soviet pact with Molotov in the presence of CPSU General Secretary J.V. Stalin. According to some anecdotes of the tragi-comedy that was the Drax delegation, both British and French members of the Franco-British delegation to the Soviet Union were visibly relieved at news of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. For this meant that neither France nor Britain would have to ally with the odious Soviet Union and its brutal dictator Stalin. In their view, Nazi Germany was not odious, nor was its dictator Hitler brutal. In a happy mood, they took sail back to France and Britain, and may have been seaborne enjoying the delights of onboard meat curry lunches when the German Wehrmacht invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.
The capitulation of Daladier and Chamberlain to all of Hitler’s maximalist negotiating positions made Hitler certain that neither Britain nor France would take up arms against Germany, were Hitler to next annex Poland after throwing a few scraps Stalin’s way, as he had intended from the start. Julia Boyd’s book shows the shock of those few who understood the mind of Hitler, knew that he would keep wanting more with each concession, with each perceived show of Allied lack of resolve. Other recollections show the surprise and joy among the Nazi faithful at the unexpected news that Chamberlain and Daladier abandoned Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in August 1939 much the way President Biden abandoned Afghanistan in August 2021. Will a present-day dictator draw from Biden’s surrender to the Taliban the conclusion that there would be little or no substantive blowback from the US (and therefore its Atlanticist allies) to a PRC invasion of Taiwan? Or another PLA attempt at grabbing Ladakh and Arunachal from India? Marx was wrong. A tragedy in history need not repeat itself only as farce, but could return as yet another tragedy. If only the White House had received that memo in time.