Sunday 27 August 2023

Ahead of G20 Summit, Modi steers BRICS towards neutrality (The Sunday Guardian)

 Despite efforts by some of its members to convert the group into an instrument of bloc politics, BRICS has remained neutral. Despite similar efforts directed at causing disharmony within the 2023 G20, the proceedings have gone on smoothly.

New Delhi

The XV meeting of the BRICS Big Five (one of them attending virtually) that took place during the week in Johannesburg drew international attention on a scale not seen before. The reason was the perception in international media that the association would change from its present neutrality to a stance that opposes the Atlanticist powers, specifically the United States. This did not happen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has thereby ensured that the autonomy of India where foreign (and domestic) policy is concerned remains intact.

Despite the fault line created within the UNSC and the G20 (to name just two international bodies) by the intensification since February 2022 of the conflict in Ukraine, India has remained on the best of terms with both the Russian Federation as well as the United States. Within BRICS, India was clear that the bloc politics of Cold War 2.0 needed to be avoided, and that the platform should continue to remain neutral. As a corollary, it was made clear that any new member should be carefully and unanimously chosen, so that bloc politics did not creep into the selections. All six of the new members are on good terms with India, and among them only Iran, partly as a consequence of the scrapping of the nuclear deal under President Trump and partly because of its clerical regime, can be considered hostile to the Atlanticist powers . Efforts made by some in the group aimed at bringing in additional members, at least two of which were closely aligned to Cold War 2.0 bloc politics, was put aside in deference to the view of the Indian side that BRICS needed to remain a neutral platform even after it was expanded by six new members to BRICS Plus. Both Brazil and South Africa, the other two members of the Global South within the current BRICS framework, were on board with the Indian stand that the platform ought not to become an instrument of bloc politics and recrimination.

India’s success at maintaining a balance within BRICS between the two competing blocs in the new Cold War has been unwelcome news to the PRC, which under its present leadership seeks to dilute the friendly relationships that India has with the powers (the US and Russia) that are the principal protagonists in a conflict in which Ukraine has become a proxy for NATO. It had been informally sought by an important country in Asia that President V.V. Putin come in person to the G20 Summit that is to take place in less than two weeks at Delhi. His physical presence at the conference venue would have resulted in the 2023 Delhi Summit being at risk of setting at naught the immense work done by several delegations in the preparation of policy briefs intended to better promote growth across the board, and across the globe, and not just in the nineteen countries that are part of the G20 together with the European Union. Brazil and South Africa joined hands with India to champion the cause of several other countries as well, most of them being in the Global South. Instead, the 2023 Summit would have witnessed a cacophony of accusations and counter accusations by the two sides at each other, given the passions that the Ukraine war has ignited within both the G7 as well as the Russian Federation.

A malicious trope had been assiduously spread that President Putin had avoided going to the BRICS Summit in South Africa “in order to prevent his arrest under the international warrant issued in his name” thanks to the efforts of the G7 countries.The fact is that there is no way that the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, would have detained the President of Russia, a country that together with India had always stood by the African National Congress during the dismal years when South Africa was in the grip of apartheid. However, the very presence of Putin in Johannesburg would have shifted international media focus away from the work being done by BRICS to the visit of the President of the Russian Federation. In order to avoid such a diversion, he disappointed troublemakers, and made sure that his presence would only be virtual. Interestingly, the very country that had informally lobbied to ensure that President Putin avoided going to the BRICS Summit in South Africa had been hyperactive in seeking to ensure his physical presence at the New Delhi G20 Summit in September. Once again, immediately after Moscow’s clarification regarding the physical absence of President Putin from the Delhi Summit, the same malicious trope has been spread that this decision was because of the possibility of arrest once President Putin arrived in New Delhi. In actuality, there was no way that the Russian President would be at risk of arrest in a country that is not even a signatory to the international convention that calls on international arrest warrants of the kind issued against the Russian President, unlike South Africa, which has.

As a consequence of his longstanding friendship with Prime Minister Modi, the Russian President resisted powerful voices, especially from an influential nearby country that sought to ensure that he go to Delhi for the G20 Summit. Instead of obliging such voices, the Kremlin publicly communicated to the Indian side that Putin would, instead, of coming to the Summit, remain in Russia. Being a man whose words need to be taken seriously, it is likely that there will be a spurt of activity on the Ukrainian front during the period when the 2023 G20 Summit is taking place. The ostensible reason given by Moscow for Putin’s absence is after all his “preoccupation with the Special Military Operation” in Ukraine. By his statesmanlike decision to skip the meeting, perhaps even virtually, President Putin has shown that despite efforts by the G7 to terminally weaken him and in the process his country, he maintains to the extent present circumstances permit Russia’s independence in foreign policy, especially where friends such as India are concerned. It needs to be said to the credit of another friend of Prime Minister Modi, US President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, that he had confirmed his physical participation at the G20 Summit much before it was officially stated by the Kremlin that President Putin would not be making the visit to India, at least not at this time.

There has been speculation about whether there will be an outcome document signed by all the members at the Summit. The fact is that the 2023 G20 mechanism created by India has ensured the completion of several policy papers that would serve as guideposts for the future. An outcome document would be icing on the cake, but would not be critical in judging the success of the 2023 Indian Presidency of the G20. At the New Delhi Summit, India is likely to present the case made by Prime Minister Modi earlier, that the African Union (AU) be included as the 21st member of the group, following the precedent created by the admission of the European Union to the G20, which in reality comprises only nineteen countries, the EU being the twentieth member. There has been intense diplomatic activity by the Indian side led by the Prime Minister and assisted by the External Affairs Minister to try for the admission of the AU into the G20, perhaps in the 2023 Summit itself. The expectation is that the Modi Initiative will be supported by President Biden. The G20 would thereafter become the G21. Africa is a continent with enormous future potential, and the admission of the AU at the request of India would strengthen the G20, just as the admission of South Africa strengthened what till that time was simply BRIC but then became BRICS and will be BRICS Plus by January 2024.
In a year when high explosives are literally going off with abandon in significant parts of the globe, the fact that India was able to navigate its way through such a minefield in both the BRICS as well as in the G20 without an implosion is a feat that may not be welcome to hostile powers, but is evidence of the success of the Modi government in weaving through the obstacle race that international relations has become since the onset of Covid-19 and the Ukraine war. Despite efforts by some of its members to convert the group into an instrument of bloc politics, BRICS has remained neutral. Despite similar efforts directed at causing disharmony within the 2023 G20, the proceedings have gone on smoothly. India has in 2023 shown that it is the UNSC that is the loser when the country with the largest population on the globe continues to be kept outside the list of Permanent Members of that now fractured body.

Ahead of G20 Summit, Modi steers BRICS towards neutrality

A neutral BRICS Plus is a win for India (The Sunday Guardian)

 The presence of PM Modi at the 2023 BRICS Summit proved to be an effective counter to what was expected to be the overwhelming influence of Xi Jinping.

It is a relief that there has not been a demand from the G-7 that President Zelenskyy be invited to the BRICS Summit that has just concluded in Johannesburg. It would be a measure of diplomatic finesse on the part of the G7 were such a demand to also remain unsaid where the forthcoming G-20 Summit is concerned. Given the South Africa precedent, President Vladimir Putin will join the forthcoming summit only virtually if at all, given that his physical presence would convert the conference into a cacophony of recriminations. The British delegation, in particular, has from the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in February 2022 been particularly anxious to demonstrate a complete absence of the calm and understatement that so many in the UK claim as their special trait. In the UNSC, the British delegation has been even more “frank” (to use diplomatese) than the US side, although neither can compare with the histrionics of that perpetual Special Invitee, the Ukrainian delegation. If there was ever a time when the UNSC was taken to be a serious and significant forum, ever since the repeated meetings on Ukraine, its proceedings have taken on the characteristics of a circus. Along the way, the G-7 has lost much of the goodwill that countries within the group had accumulated in the populations of those countries that are not situated on both sides of the North Atlantic. There is a perception that all that the Europeans and the Europhiles on the other side of the North Atlantic care about is themselves. Or in other words, about those who are either European or of European ethnicity, specifically Ukraine. After a hiatus, the perception that the world is divided into the West and the Rest has returned, with practically the entire “Rest” unable to understand the fixation of the West on a country in Europe that is of strategic value only in the advent of a kinetic war with the Russian Federation. Small wonder that the Kremlin has become obsessed about the worry that NATO was going to do what it had avoided doing throughout the period when the USSR was around, which was to launch a war with Russia. The more the western resources and manpower that gets thrown into the quagmire that the Ukraine conflict had from the start been for the West, the greater the sense of a double standard in the rest of the world. In the US, a new crop of Republican leaders has been making their presence felt, of which Vivek Ramaswamy has been the most forthright. If elected President of the US, he says his first mission would be to go to Moscow and try and wean the Russian Federation away from the primary danger to the democracies, which is the People’s Republic of China. As the 2024 Presidential election comes closer, the rising popularity of such a stand within US voters may perhaps even seep through the doors of the White House, which is presently throwing in a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars into the all-consuming fire that the conflict on Russia’s borders has become for NATO, an organisation that in its present form at least, has outlived its utility. The memo that the PRC is, in a much more potent form, the challenge to the US that the USSR was until the 1980s seems to have been misplaced on its way to the Oval Office. Included in the collateral damage that this has caused is a sharp diminution in the trust and therefore loyalty of several countries that the US had previously firmly had in its corner.

Several of converts to mild or serious strains of Westphobia have indicated their desire to join BRICS, a group in which neither side of the North Atlantic plays any role. Indeed, the effort by Putin and Xi is to refashion BRICS as a counter to the numerous post-1945 structures that continue to be dominated by the West. Had the two been successful in bringing Brasilia, Pretoria and New Delhi to their point of view, BRICS would have expanded not by just six additional members but by more than a dozen. Smuggling in bloc politics in the name of moving away from such games has been the PRC effort, but given the convention of unanimity, Xi joined by Putin was not able to get their way except on members that were approved for inclusion in January 2024 by the other three members of BRICS. The three, India, South Africa and Brazil ( unlike Russia and China) are part of the Global South, as are four of the six new BRICS members, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE by virtue of their wealth being part of the Global North, in contrast to Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and Iran. Of the six, only Iran is Westphobic, partly out of its clerical rulers and partly out of the reaction caused by the tearing up of the Obama-era pact between Iran and the US that set guardrails on that country’s nuclear program. It was an agreement that was more generous to the other side than to Iran, but for the “All or Nothing” President Trump, it was not good enough to retain. Instead of his subsequent “Maximum Pressure” policy cutting back Iran’s nuclear program, it has expanded to a level that the Obama-era agreement was designed to delay, if not avoid. Given that none of the new members of BRICS are within the PRC sphere of influence (except Iran by default), it is unlikely that Beijing would be able to exercise the degree of control over an expanded BRICS that Washington has long had over the World Bank and the IMF. Even as debts to China accumulate to unrepayable levels, the nightmare facing Beijing is that several countries may simply repudiate that debt, especially if they were able to garner support from countries opposed to PRC expansionism in such a move. In the past, the PRC poured money into the pockets of influential US citizens through various channels in order to ensure policies suitable to itself, only to watch that investment go up in smoke once President Trump calculated in 2017 that taking measures against China was not a vote loser but a vote enhancer.
The presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 2023 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg proved to be an effective counter to what was expected to be the overwhelming influence of Xi Jinping. With the possible exception of Iran, which is still smarting over the cutting off by India of oil purchases as a response to the Trump sanctions, the other five countries that will in four months become members of BRICS (or BRICS Plus, as the group has been renamed) are friends of India, especially the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with Indonesia expected to follow soon. Despite the presence in the group of Russia, China and Iran, BRICS Plus cannot be termed anti-West or Sino-centric. Often in diplomacy, something that does not happen is equally if not more significant than something that has happened. BRICS in its new form will not change, it will remain a bloc-neutral platform. At the same time, inspired untruths (such as that India was opposed to BRICS expansion) were promptly shot down by the MEA. All in all, the 2023 BRICS Summit has been a win for India and the rest of the Global South.

A neutral BRICS Plus is a win for India

Chandrayaan shows Global South’s mettle (The Sunday Guardian)

 When Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his joy and gratitude to the scientists, technicians and others responsible for the soft landing of the Vikram on the south surface of the moon, he was joined by the entire country in such an emotion. Under PM Modi, the full weight of the Indian private sector has been harnessed in the development of the space program, and multiple private entities played a role in the success of the Chandrayaan mission. For too long, the private sector was considered a much lower priority than its public counterparts, several of whom were converted into monopolies by a stroke of the pen. Not surprisingly, many did badly. It was only in the 1990s that this double standard was, if not abolished altogether, at least diluted. The consequence has been much faster economic growth. It needs to be remembered that a double digit growth is not just desirable but necessary for India, given its expanding young population. Unless the ten million and more young Indians coming into the job market are given the opportunity to work, unless they are educated in a manner that fits 21st century needs, the Demographic Dividend so often talked about would go to waste. The importance of the success of Chandrayaan is also in the demonstration effect that the feat has on investors looking at India, now that geopolitical tensions and domestic policies have made China far less attractive as a production base than before. Whether it be gadgets or semiconductors, India has shown that these can be made in India not only in a cost-effective way but in a manner that improves quality.

Chandrayaan has shown that when the Prime Minister says that India is an ideal destination for investment, no matter how advanced the product, he is being completely accurate. Across the world, while in a few countries such as China that are competing with India in attracting investment and have caused tensions in bilateral relations, in other parts of the world, the feat was welcomed, particularly in the Global South. Although China under Xi Jinping claims to be a part of the Global South, both in terms of geography as well as in terms of GDP, the country is no longer part of the group, unlike India, which has become a champion of the interests of countries hitherto ignored. The success of Chandrayaan is the success of the Global South, which is why it must have been warmly welcomed by the leaders of South Africa and Brazil at the BRICS Summit. Given that a similar mission by Moscow failed a short while ago, the President of Russia may be excused for being as unenthusiastic as his PRC counterpart at the soft landing of the India-developed space vehicle on the south side of the moon, a first in the history of space travel dating back to the 1950s.

Some years ago, when ISRO in India conducted a successful space mission, there was a disparaging cartoon on the front page of a prominent US newspaper. The cartoon showed a skinny, evidently starving, man in rags carrying a rocket under his arm and knocking at the door of a large house, inside which a few wealthy people were having a laugh at the apparition at their doorstep. The message in the cartoon was unmistakable. It was that a country with a per capita income as low as India’s ought not to try and break into the world of activities that were the prerogative of the wealthy, such as space exploration. If that cartoonist, and the editor who placed such a cartoon on the front page, are still around, they would have learnt of the success of the soft landing of the Chandrayaan mission to the moon and remembered their earlier work and its meaning. Certainly India has a per capita income that is far below what it ought to be (and will be within a decade). However, although not in per capita income but in brainpower, India is easily among the top countries in the world. Financial stringency had the benefit of making ISRO scientists work hard at rockets that were much lower in cost than those launched by other countries. India has the least cost per unit of output of any space program in the world, which is why countries across the world have started to rely on Indian launch vehicles to get the satellites made by them into orbit. Unlike other space programs that concentrate on military needs, with the civilian component piggybacking on the military, in India the nuclear and space programs have as their foundational mission civilian needs, with military applications only a by-product. At the BRICS Summit that took place in South Africa, India, Brazil and South Africa worked together to ensure that the Global South in the form of IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) was given its due, and would together become a symbol not of backwardness but of progress. The Chandrayaan mission is a major milestone in such a necessary road.

Chandrayaan shows Global South’s mettle

Sunday 20 August 2023

Accessible and speedy justice possible by 2029 (The Sunday Guardian)

 PM Modi would surely welcome CJI Chandrachud’s emphasis on inclusive justice, given that inclusion has been a watchword of his.

Mahatma Gandhi gave a talisman to the policymakers of an India that would soon be freed of the colonial yoke. This was to sift through the records kept by memory and settle upon the most wretched, the most deprived individual who has been encountered. It may be a beggar getting drenched in the rain but still importuning those ensconced in passing limousines to hand over a few coins of the wealth they possessed to him or her, but getting only indifference in return, even as the desperation on the face of the beggar visibly grows. It may be some other person, wracked by fever and shivering in the winter cold with only a tattered sheet to keep him warm, with passersby scarcely bothering to glance in the direction of the man huddled in a corner in a fetal position. It may be some others whose luck, if ever it existed, had long since run dry. The Mahatma asked if the measure being contemplated by the policymaker would have a beneficial effect on that most wretched individual, or whether it would not in any way alleviate his or her misery. If the latter, it would not be a policy that was worthy of being carried out. When Covid-19 surged across the border from China to India, often not directly but from visitors from faraway lands that the virus had travelled to during the course of its spread as a pandemic that during 2020 and 2021 caused tens of millions of lives, as much as some of the wars of the previous century. As a response, Prime Minister Modi ordered that a sustainable level of foodgrain be provided to every family that was in need, a figure that at its peak reached hundreds of millions. Leafing through glossy magazines or watching programs on television screens, it would be a rarity to find an image or a mention of the poor of the land. The higher the position of an individual in the social ladder, the greater the chance of figuring in the news. The rest remain invisible.

Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud is right on target when he says that the greatest challenge facing the judicial system in India (or in practically all countries, with few or no obvious exceptions) is to ensure that the justice system ensures access to all citizens, especially the least privileged. The Chief Justice correctly saw technology as a means towards the fulfillment of such an objective. In the democratic system of governance, checks and balances are what keep the in flywheel of society stable rather than veering off in an unstable direction. A modern executive in a country as complex and populous as India comprises millions of individuals. Despite the best leadership and a preponderance of the honest and the able within the bureaucracy, there will still be elements who seek to profit personally, often by harming the interests and welfare especially of those who may lack the resources and the ability to react to such breaches of the governmental code of conduct. In such a situation, should the victim knock at the doors of the nearest court, he or she may be faced with counters from a phalanx of individuals who have a vested interest in misgovernance, and who may come up with superficially credible reasons why allegations against wrongdoers are not true even when they are. Ensuring that every court proceeding gets live streamed is a way in which technology could operate as a deterrent against false statements. Perjury in the sense of knowing something to be false and yet repeating that as truth in a court, needs to be punished severely.

Once there is complete transparency in court proceedings through the internet, the odds would be high and rising that untrue averments will get noticed and protested against. Apart from access, what is needed is speed in the delivery of justice, and here also technology could help. Virtual hearings could take place, and courts may need to regard it as normal practice to have a hybrid system that is both physical as well as virtual, including not just advocates and clients but judges as well. Much of the cost of getting justice involves travel expenses, and a virtual mode could not just ensure that powerful judicial minds listen to and decide on cases even in remote locations, but that others involved in the case too avoid travel where possible. Prime Minister Modi has mentioned in his Independence Day address some of the priorities that will be followed during a third term. He would surely welcome CJI Chandrachud’s emphasis on inclusive justice, given that inclusion has been a watchword of his. The Prime Minister and the sitting Chief Justice of India need to work together to ensure that transparency, access and faster delivery of final verdicts become the hallmarks of the justice system in India by 2029.

Accessible and speedy justice possible by 2029

Zelenskyy would be a distraction at G-20 (The Sunday Guardian)

 Before becoming the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a showman, entertaining audiences with his comic routines. A showman and his stage are seldom parted, so it comes as little surprise that Zelenskyy is constantly on the hunt for stage after stage in order to once again present the same pyrotechnics that has won his country what appears to the world outside the NATO alliance to be a self-destructive level of support for a lost cause. For Vladimir Putin, retaining Crimea and other parts of Ukraine that he helped break away from the control of Kiev in 2014 is existential, and explains occasional menacing references to the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia, should there be an “existential” threat to any territory defined by the Kremlin as belonging to the Russian Federation. Given that much of his working life was spent as a comic on stage, President Zelenskyy may be excused for not comprehending the mounting risks to NATO and to the rest of the world by his brinkmanship. What is incomprehensible is how politicians such as Chancellor Scholz of Germany, who was earlier believed to have a firm grasp of global realities, has morphed into almost as much of a cheerleader for Zelenskyy as his Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock. The nominally Green leader appears to be rivalling Victoria Nuland in her obsession with humbling the Kremlin, no matter what the risk or the cost. When Putin ordered his troops to march into Ukrainian territory (albeit controlled by surrogates of the Russian Federation) in February 2022, some geniuses close to the White House must have seen such a move as another Afghan misadventure by the Kremlin, and thereafter pushed for a series of measures that (in the view of these geniuses) would push Russian forces into as deep a quagmire as the pit they got into in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

President Biden, smarting from the obloquy earned by him as a consequence of his lighting fast total withdrawal from Afghanistan the previous year, would have seen in a strategy of bogging Russia down in Ukraine a way of showing that he was at heart also a warrior, despite what happened in Afghanistan. Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister of the UK, saw in a full-blown European conflict a means of keeping him in office despite Partygate and Cakegate, and the other members of NATO fell in line with the duo. Judging by western media, their perception about Russia was the same as what Adolf Hitler had about the USSR when he invaded that country in 1941. This was that the entire state was rotting from the inside, so much so that “a single hard kick would cause it to come crashing down”. That did not happen, and the odious Fuehrer of the Third Reich almost destroyed Germany because of the error he made in invading that vast country. Given Russia’s size and armoury, there is no way Zelenskyy can get what he seeks, which is the return to the pre-2014 position where control over territory by Kiev is concerned. Those outside the charmed circle of NATO, in Asia, Africa and South America, have begun to believe the old trope that Washington cares only about Europe. This is because of the way in which Ukraine has been showered with weapons by the US that are effectively given free of cost, in contrast to Taiwan, which has been given much less hardware, and that too on fiscally extortionate terms. The sooner a cease-fire in Ukraine is declared, the better. If the next G-20 meeting is to make progress towards that, the presence of Zelenskyy at the deliberations would only be a distraction. Far better that there be a few major international conferences, including the G-20 summit to be hosted by India next month, where the showman is a No Show.


Zelenskyy would be a distraction at G-20

Sunday 13 August 2023

Manipal, where a single acorn became a tall oak (The Sunday Guardian)

 The example set by Dr T.M.A. Pai illustrates the truth that we Indians have what it takes to be world-beaters, even in locations where such advancement is not expected by others.

On 9 August, the Indigo flight from Delhi to Mangalore from Terminal 1 lifted off a bit before its scheduled departure time of 2.15 pm. Milling around the departure gate were passengers clustering around in small knots. Judging by the conversations taking place in English, Hindi, Kannada and a few other languages, most of the passengers were Manipal-bound. They were either going because they were students, or the parents of students, or teachers and other specialists coming to the campus to listen to (or to give) a talk. Nestled next door to Udupi, the university town of Manipal conveys a portrait of 21st century development. It would be hard to believe that in the initial years after India became free, Manipal was just a small village, where even the sight of a pair of bullock carts was rare. It was here that Dr T.M.A. Pai was born, and even after completing his medical education elsewhere, returned so as to be together with his family rather than settle in a big city elsewhere. Dr Pai believed in a bright future for India, and saw the route to that objective through the achievement of excellence through education by citizens across the country.

He thereupon drew up plans to set up a medical college in the small village of Manipal itself. Those who were close to Dr T.M.A. Pai knew that such a feat was not beyond his reach, given his tenacity of purpose, but others scoffed. A private medical college, indeed an educational complex, in the back of the back of beyond? Impossible! The 1950s were not a good period for private initiative, and neither were the 1960s or the 1970s. It was considered optimal by those in power to give the state sector control of the “commanding heights” of the economy, and private institutions were being taken over by the government on almost a daily basis. Whenever the efforts of the state to hobble his educational institutions proved to be too much to shrug off, Dr Pai would turn to the courts, and they would more often than not ensure that he was given enough leeway to implement his plans. By the time he ended his time on earth in 1979, Manipal had become a known hub of quality education that drew in students from all parts of India and even from outside. He refused to call himself the founder of the education hub that became the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, saying that many were responsible and not just him. Many did assist him, because each of them had been inspired by his vision and confidence that anything was possible in India, and that too in the tiny village of his birth.
By the 1990s, the private sector ceased to become a term of abuse in the abodes of power, and the decks were cleared for his son Dr Ramdas M. Pai to take over the now substantial chain of institutions built by his father. Steering away from politics and from most of its practitioners, Ramdas Pai expanded the university to the far corners of the globe, ranging from the Americas to West Asia to Malaysia, and Nepal. Today, on the mother campus in Manipal (or in other campuses within India such as in Jaipur, Bangalore and Sikkim), there are students from a multiplicity of countries. Dr Ramdas Pai persuaded a doctor-researcher of renown, Dr M.S. Valiathan (the founder of the Sri Chitra Institute in Trivandrum) to join as the first Vice-Chancellor of the university, now with its newly-conferred status of being a “deemed” university. Why private universities in India are unable to call themselves what they are, full universities, rather than go by other titles remains yet another totem of Official India’s wariness about the private sector, although such handicapping may not last much longer, given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has from the start of his term in 2014 given the private sector the same respect being bestowed towards the public sector. It was Manipal, under the inspiration of Dr Ramdas Pai and Dr Valiathan, who set up in 1999 what was probably Asia’s first Chair in Geopolitics. Since then, the Department of Geopolitics & International Relations has become a teaching department that each year trains experts in geopolitics who get snapped up in institutions across the world. International relations is taught in Manipal with a focus on India and its needs, rather than following the commoner track of recycling International Relations theory from a US or Russian or Chinese or other perspective. As has been often said about a large public university in the national capital, “it has taught International Relations from every country’s point of view except that of the Indian”. Manipal is very much a product of India, and is proud of that fact. Even during the 1990s, India was not considered even a major power, much less a great power, but times have changed, especially during the past decade. From the start of their odyssey in the 1950s, the architects of Manipal always considered India to be a potential Great Power, and now most of the rest of the world has seen that this dream has come true, and this is what has been happening during the past few years.

The example set by Dr T.M.A. Pai illustrates the truth, which is that we Indians have what it takes to be world-beaters, even in locations where such advancement is not expected by others. The truth that the people of India have the inner spark that generates excellence, that this is there in hundreds of millions of people in our country. If a small village barely noticed by any other person than its inhabitants could in a generation grow into an educational colossus as a consequence of the belief in its possibility by a single individual, it is clear that such potential exists across the country, awaiting its release through inner confidence, through the inner empowerment that creates the foundation for a strong country. Whether it be the Amul story scripted by Tribhuvandas Patel and Dr Verghese Kurien, or the belief of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata back in 1868 that India could be the natural home of a global conglomerate, individuals have made a difference to the country and the world that can endure through the centuries. In today’s young citizens, there are many such individuals. They are acorns that will create oaks, as the years ahead will show in the shape of many, many stately “oak trees” of achievement.

Manipal, where a single acorn became a tall oak

Delhi, the national capital, is special (The Sunday Guardian)

 If Arvind Kejriwal has his way, the primary challenge for the BJP would come in 2029 not from the Congress but from the AamAadmi Party. In a ruthlessly consistent and effective manner, Kejriwal has ensured the marginalisation of any individual who regarded himself or herself as his superior or mentor. Whether it be activists such as Anna Hazare or Aruna Roy, individuals who have worked for decades in their attempt to bring into fruition more of their ideas for the direction India needs to take, both at one time overshadowed Arvind Kejriwal. Today they have been eclipsed by him and almost never heard of. In contrast, Kejriwal’s party was very much in the news when he opposed Central say in the Delhi administration officialdom. A wide spectrum of opposition parties joined hands with the AAP to oppose the bill moved by Home Minister Amit Shah to change the laws so that control of important officials within the Delhi government will vest with Central and not the state authorities. Political parties such as the Congress, that have been at the receiving end on several occasions of the drive by the AAP for expansion of its voter base, have been vociferously defending the stand of the Delhi government. This is that it is Delhi CM Kejriwal who has the right to control and direct the officials working under him. Were the Congress Party (or even the AAP for that matter) in control of the Central government in the way that the BJP now is, neither would have supported the stand of the AAP joined with several opposition parties that the state government in the Union Territory that is the national capital of the country has the right to control even the senior officials working for it, and not the Central government. Anytime the two were on a collision course, as has been the situation for more than six years now, the Central government would find it difficult if not impossible to function from the national capital. It would find itself severely circumscribed by the Delhi government to take advantage of the broad powers that it has assumed for itself to work on ways of inconveniencing and impacting the functioning of the Union Government. Given the undoubted political talents of not just Chief Minister Kejriwal but some of his closest lieutenants, such an outcome would have been very likely, had the changes to the law effectuated by the Union Home Minister not been passed in Parliament. A city that is paying a high price for reducing the national government almost to an administrative nullity in several crucial fields (including the city police) is London, where MayorSadiq Khan is following his own course where the metropolis is concerned. This has had an effect on the city that is visible, and which is different from what the capital of the UK was before his term as Lord Mayor of London began. Because of the vast powers of the Mayor of London, it is a political prize. Should Boris Johnson once again become Mayor, and Rishi Sunak and his party lose the next general elections to the Labour Party, he would automatically be the most senior office-holder in the Conservative Party, thereby giving him tailwind such as to once again be the standard bearer of his party. Had the Mayor of Washington DC been given the powers that the AAP believes it has a right to exercise over the national capital, the repercussionswould be substantial for whichever administration has been elected in a Presidential contest.Under the circumstances, granting even UT status to Delhi, with an elected government superseding the Municipal Corporation, was going to be a risky proposition had the Delhi government been on a collision course with the Central authorities, as has been the situation between the AAP and the BJP. Delhi is not just another city, not even just another metropolis such as Mumbai or Bengaluru, but is the capital of India. The Central government needs to have the principal voice where the national capital is concerned. 

Punjab has shown the potential pulling power of the AAP over the voter, just as Delhi earlier had. Although relatively small in size compared to the Congress Party, the AAP leadership knows that it must win over the existing Congress voter base to jump-start its position within the political spectrum. In fact, not just the AAP but several regional parties are in effect competing with the Congress Party to secure power, which is the reason why the Congress is weak where regional parties are strong, and vice versa. The only way out for the party is to try and ensure that it is seen as the most potent challenger to the BJP. Should such a perception take root, those who are hostile to the BJP would gravitate towards the Congress. The problem for the party is that in Bengal for instance, it is the BJP that is regarded as the strongest challenger to Mamata Banerjee, a regional party-BJP contest that is replicated in many other states as well, leaving the Congress as a peripheral force, including in seat-rich states such as Bihar. The South was a Congress bastion that saved the party from ignominy in 1977, but even there, except in Karnataka, it is not dominant anywhere. The hope of the Congress leadership is that an anti-BJP wave can get created in states where in 2019, the BJP swept the board and that the party would be the beneficiary. Such is the calculation behind the unrelenting effort by the leadership of the Congress Party, especially Rahul Gandhi, to damage the image of the BJP and its leadership, a compliment in reverse that is being returned by the BJP with interest. The Congress seat tally in 2024 needs to cross 75 for the party to have a reasonable chance of heading UPA-style the coalition it is a member of. Which is probably why the major regional players in the I.N.D.I.A alliance try  to part with as few LS seats as possible to the Congress Party in the states where they are strong. As an example, AAP even being ready to part with a single LS seat in Delhi to the Congress Party seems doubtful. Given the poor performance of the party in Tamil Nadu, the DMK too is likely to be similarly parsimonious where seats are concerned. Of course, should the Congress Party replicate its Karnataka performance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, that could change. It was not an accident that the JD(S) did poorly in the assembly polls, given the strong showing of the Congress under KPCC President DK Shivakumar, who is also a Vokkaliga, as is HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S). Of course, an assembly victory sometimes turns out to be a mixed blessing, in that an anti-incumbency vote may rise as a consequence of the state government being from a party different from the BJP.

Given the overpowering presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the organisational depth of the BJP, 2024 remains very much in that party’s favour. An opposition composed of mutually feuding parties and a history of indifferent governance in the states seems less than poised to prevent a Modi hat trick in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.


Delhi, the national capital, is special

PM Modi to detractors: Do you really have a plan for India? (The Sunday Guardian)

 Have Mamata, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul and others become genuine allies? Or will the coalition fall apart at the first touch of hard reality bumping into flowery language? India cannot afford such a disaster.

New Delhi

What is their plan for the morning after, in the event that a miracle occurs and what as the core group may be termed RUSTAMS (the combination of Rahul, Uddhav, Stalin, Tejashwi, Akhilesh, Mamata and Sitaram) repeat 2004 and displace the BJP to form a government at the Centre? Given the presence of the CPM as one of the key players in the anti-Modi alliance, would those looking to India as an alternative location to China change their minds and decide to stay or go elsewhere? Not that many others in the group have distinguished themselves for their support to private investment in general, whether domestic or external. Rahul Gandhi shares his great-grandfather’s tendency to indulge in cosmic conversation, wanting love and peace for all without telling us how either objective can be achieved. The obvious candidate of AICC de facto President Sonia Gandhi for the leadership of the party (and the country), Rahul has defied predictions of irrelevance and has as a consequence emerged as the primary target of the BJP, displacing Arvind Kejriwal. His mention of the power of love is frequent. But is it as dissociated from reality as was Jawaharlal Nehru’s unwavering belief until the 1962 war that the PRC and Mao Zedong could become brothers to India and its leadership? Yet in practice there seemed very little evidence of love in the manner in which Rahul talked of his cousin Varun as an individual who would always be unwelcome in the Congress Party. Love seemed a bit distant in the use of such sharp language against a close family member, albeit from the Sanjay Gandhi side of the Nehru family.

Turning to the CPM, the Bengal unit of the party broke with orthodoxy in 2008 when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee invited Ratan Tata to set up the new Nano factory at Singur. Immediately, the Trinamool Congress, founded and since led by Mamata Banerjee, launched a muscular movement against a project that would have created not just hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state directly and indirectly including by acting as a catalyst to restore Bengal to the status it once had as the most advanced part of India. The quintessential politician that she is, Mamata knew that Singur’s success would affect her chances at toppling the CPM, and ensured the project was shifted from the state through her agitation against it. As Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee has shown the same mastery over politics as Jyoti Basu did in the same job, and the same lack of success in economic matters as Jyoti-babu, the long-serving CPM CM of Bengal. While there is considerable interest in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the South where external investors are concerned, thus far few have been making a beeline to TMC-ruled Bengal despite the hold that the hard-working, feisty Chief Minister has over the state.
Defying political logic, the present Numero Uno in the CPM, Sitaram Yechury, has become a formal ally of Mamata Banerjee. It is unlikely that Sitaram would have sided with Bhattacharjee in trying to get the Tatas to invest massively in Singur. Although the CPM broke with the CPI as a consequence of the former siding with China against the Soviet Union when the two communist giants parted ways, it is clear that in matters of economic policy, it is the Stalin rather than the Deng model of economic development that is favoured by the party elite, with the possible exception of the pragmatic CPM Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan. Of course, the CPM government in Kerala too is not hesitant to go the Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi way on occasion, in seizing private property, naturally in the name of public good. Given the immensity of expropriation of private property that has taken place in India even after 1947, and the continuing poverty in India for decades, it does not appear that there has been much public benefit through taking away private property at negligible or zero prices. As for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, he has in practical terms given responsibility to his son and his son-in-law to bring more investment into the state, but this has so far remained a work in progress. None of them seem to have mentioned the fact that several actions by private players that were banned earlier have recently been decriminalised by Prime Minister Modi, and more such moves are on the way. Surely such measures would encourage investors to put more of their capital into India.

No one outside India would have believed that the IPC and the CrPC have remained the bedrock of the police system in India, despite their origin going back to the 1860s. All that is now being changed, although in time what needs to happen is the abolition of the death penalty in the same way as colonial-era laws relating to same-sex relationships were repealed. In view of the fact that the only crime meriting the death penalty (until its complete ban) ought to be terrorism, and that lynching of an individual by another or others for whatever reason is a terrorist act, prescribing such a sentence for cases of lynching has been welcomed by many, as also the specific mention of harsher punishments for crimes against women and minors. Not that any of these changes has attracted any attention by the RUSTAMS. This is despite the fact that the reality is that for too long, enmeshing an individual in a criminal case has been far easier for the authorities to do in India than in the other democracies that are part of the top five economies of the world. Reducing this vulnerability of the citizen to arbitrary arrest is a welcome move in the context of attracting investment away from China or from countries whose populations are ageing and therefore need to locate manufacturing and services not just within their boundaries but in friendly countries that have youthful populations, predominant among which is India. The next five years will provide a window of opportunity for India to attract hundreds of billions of US dollars of outside investment, a fact understood by the Modi government. Should the RUSTAMS have their way, it is very likely that policies towards investment both external and domestic may change in a manner that operates to the advantage not only of Vietnam and Indonesia, but principally China as well. Of course, several in the I.N.D.I.A. coalition may change sides and join hands with the NDA later. Indeed, several of its member parties had once been allies of the BJP, with even the CPM joining hands with the ruling party during some periods in the 75 years of the political history of free India. Given the cloud of doubt about the propriety of expropriating the name of the country for a political formation, it is likely that some citizen or the other may file suit demanding that each letter in the I.N.D.I.A. coalition be pronounced together with the full stop after it, to avoid a political formation getting identified with the country itself.

The world is presently in a state of transition, as its equilibrium is under challenge by China under the CCP led by General Secretary Xi Jinping. The new Cold War has become a reality that must not be ignored in the manner that the Government of India ignored the China threat throughout the 1950s. Even by 1959, when the hostility of Beijing towards Delhi was palpable, no efforts were made to prepare for a contingency such as war. If Rahul Gandhi rather than Indira Gandhi were the Prime Minister in 1966, would he have taken the painful but necessary step of bombing areas in Mizoram that had been overrun by armed groups backed by China? If it were Lal Bahadur Shastri, he would certainly have followed the same path as his successor, but would Nehru have, given his belief that all problems could be resolved through a show of love and dialogue? Love is a wonderful emotion, but even the genuine and not the feigned kind is often of limited value in times of potential crisis. This is what India has been facing on its border with China since Tibet was occupied by the PRC in the 1950s to an attitude of welcome from India. Whether it be Cold War 2.0 pitting the major democracies against an authoritarian superpower, or the opportunity of India becoming a production hub for relocating industries and services from China in particular during the next five years, the Central government over the next five years needs to acknowledge such realities and take measures to ensure that threats are dealt with while opportunities are grasped.

Prime Minister Modi was criticised for spending time in the US and France rather than attending Parliament during those days. Should the portents of conflict and confrontation inherent in the situation on our sea and land borders multiply, the US and France would be key partners of India. It may be remembered that no country was substantively in 1962 when China attacked all across the Sino-Indian boundary in force. Repeat, no country was there by the side of India when the attack came. That is what comes of ignoring reality. Whatever may be said about Indira Gandhi, she did not ignore the reality of the genocide taking place in what became Bangladesh since 1969. By going abroad and shoring up relationships with major democracies for mutual benefit, and in doing away with colonial-era laws and regulations that have kept India chained for so long, Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated that he understands both the threats and the opportunities for 1.4 billion citizens that are extant in the present era. Do the RUSTAMS share that appreciation of the situation? India cannot afford geopolitical errors in the present era, especially on the scale witnessed in the past. The public need to be confident that there is the inner cohesion and a united will in the I.N.D.I.A. coalition to walk the talk before votes get cast. Have Mamata, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul and others become genuine allies, including in the states they run? Or will the coalition fall apart at the first touch of hard reality bumping into flowery language? India, especially the country’s youth, cannot afford such a disaster.

The times require clear and purposive leadership or past errors will get repeated. Oh, that’s “whataboutery” is the reflexive response of those with a Lutyens mindset when asked a difficult question. The fact is that past experience, past events, count when judging those who seek to lead India in the crucial period from now until 2029. Analysis has to be based on the records and experience of the past, not on assumptions based on illusions or verbal sophistry. The coming five years is a once in a generation opportunity for India just as the 1980s were for China. Which is why the result of the 2024 general elections will impact generations to come. Which is why qualities such as a proven track record of competence and good judgement matter. The Constitution of India provides for a single Prime Minister. Who that person will be should RUSTAMS succeed needs to be known before votes get cast but this remains unclear. In contrast, Prime Minister Modi’s record in governance since 2014 is as clear as crystal.

PM Modi to detractors: Do you really have a plan for India?