It is not hard to see why China decided at this time to pick at the scab of disputed border with India by starting ruckuses along the length of it at Daulat Beg Oldi, Galwan Valley, the Pangong Lake, Bararahoti, and Naku La in Sikkim. Xi Jinping and his ruling cohort find their pretense to Asian hegemony challenged in their own backyard. Developments in Taiwan and Hong Kong have shred China’s “one country, two systems” policy. President Tsai Ing-Wen, elected to a second term, has made it clear that Taiwan is separate from China and sovereign. The people of Hong Kong, with less latitude, are fearlessly resisting rule by Beijing’s puppets.
Elsewhere, the United States is embarked on a Cold War that is halting China’s economic gravy train. By pouring advanced weaponry into Taiwan America is making the difficult task of invading that garrison-state People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals dream about, unthinkable. Japan is waving China off the Senkaku Islands, and the freedom of navigation patrols by several extra-territorial navies in the South China Sea and assertive actions by littoral states are making nonsense of China’s “nine dash line” claims.
That leaves the big, cowering, India an easy target for Beijing to coerce to show other Asian countries who is boss.
What is unusual about the latest Chinese provocations are the medieval arms the PLA wielded in the encounter in the Pangong Tso area of eastern Ladakh. An Indian army colonel and a major accompanying a small patrolling unit were grievously injured early May by Chinese troops swinging solid wooden batons with protruding nails! Perhaps, it is time Indian soldiers are armed, other than the standard infantry weapon, with hefty wooden clubs with embedded steel spikes for free use at close quarters against PLA soldiers.
The still greater surprise was the nonresponse of the Indian army and government. The spokesman of the army’s Eastern Command, almost condoned Chinese provocations saying “Temporary and short-duration face-offs between border-guarding troops do occur as boundaries are not resolved.” The Ministry of External Affairs, equally conciliatory, conceded PLA had disturbed India’s “normal patrolling patterns” in Ladakh, but referred to the “established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue.”
It is as if the clubbing of senior Indian officers is normal and the Chinese are amenable to quiet persuasion. No hint here of what this portends for the armed monitoring of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or of the potential for such designed eruptions to escalate into war.
Such anodyne statements, moreover, do three things. They demoralize the frontline troops, hide from the public the seriousness of India’s deteriorating military situation vis a vis China, and by reflecting the acute timidity characteristic of the Indian government and army leadership when confronting China, encourage Beijing to be even more obstreperous. Aggregated, such reactions only reinforce Beijing’s contempt for India and convince it to push India around some more.
[ Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with General MM Naravane]
The latest events on the LAC may have shaken Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s confidence in his policy of rapprochement with China that pivots overmuch on his personal relations with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Otherwise the apex meeting of the principals called by Modi on May 26 would not have so quickly followed the May 23 briefing of defence minister Rajnath Singh by the army chief General MM Naravane who bore ill-tidings from his Ladakh trip, with national security adviser Ajit Doval and chief of the defence staff General Bipin Rawat in attendance.
Obviously, the situation is grim and getting worse. While the decision by the PM forcefully to oppose the Chinese changing the status quo on the LAC and especially in the sensitive Daulat Beg Oldi sector is reassuring, it fails to address the central problem of sustained piecemeal territorial aggrandizement by China.
Just how much territory has been lost is revealing. Punchok Stobdan, a native Ladakhi and former ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, refers to a 2013 report by Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary (2004-2006) that indicated China had until then annexed 640 sq km of Indian territory deploying “area denial” measures that, in effect, changed the alignment of LAC on the ground. It is an activity, incidentally, that has proceeded unmolested by Indian forces. With China creating new status quos and Delhi accepting them there’s every incentive for Beijing to persist with this “no cost” policy.
Invariably there’s strategic intent behind Chinese moves.
Regarding the Chinese claim of 80 sq kms in the Chumur region containing the Tible Mane (stupa) holy to Tibetans, for instance, Stobdan points out that its control is “critical” for the safety of the Leh-Manali road. And, in an extended geographic context, why the PLA is “desperate” to grab the Lukung Lake area to stage operations from to cut off Indian access to the Chip Chap plains, the Aksai Chin in the east and the Shayok Valley to the north, and how this will create a new LAC bracketed by the Indus and Shayok rivers. Gaining control thus of the southern side of the Karakoram range China, he explains, can then reach the Siachen Glacier from Depsang and cover “the Tashkurgan junction from where the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) crosses into Gilgit-Baltistan”. It will weaken India’s proximity to, and leverage over, CPEC, the Indian military’s hold on Siachen and, according to Stobdan, permit the diversion of the waters of the Shayok, Galwan and Chang-Chenmo rivers to Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin.
[Army Chief General MM Naravane in Ladakh]
China’s “occupy, build-up, intimidate, occupy some more, build-up”-policy begun in the early 1950s and proceeding apace has hollowed out India’s paper claims. More brazenly, Beijing is justifying PLA actions on the basis that India is constructing roads, bridges and airfields on its side! If the Modi government fails to implement a policy of absolute reciprocal actions, such as filling vacant spaces beyond Indian claim-lines with armed encampments, allowing the Indian army to blow-up offending Chinese infrastructure and, by way of retribution, ambushing passing PLA troops, and relies only on endless and futile negotiations, then India should be prepared for a map thoroughly changed by China.
[An Indian soldier stopping a PLA soldier — a mobile pic hurriedly snapped]
The Press reported that on Saturday May 23 the Army Chief, MM Naravane, briefed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh about the state of affairs in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control he visited in the days previous. That the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat attended this briefing suggests the situation is more worrisome than the army has let on.
Indeed in a short interview carried by Indian Express May 14, (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/army-chief-mm-naravane-downplays-india-china-border-skirmishes-in-ladakh-and-sikkim/) Naravane was complacent, pooh-poohing the violently intrusive tack the PLA has taken in asserting China’s territorial rights to the detriment of India’s claims. “All such incidents are managed by established mechanisms where-in local formations from both sides resolve issues mutually as per established protocols and strategic guidelines given by the PM after the Wuhan and Mallaparam summits,” he averred. He clarified, helpfully, that such confrontations arise due to the unresolved “differing perceptions of the alignment of boundaries”. To tamp down on speculation regarding the potential for such incidents to snowball into active hostilities, he added that the Chinese aggression in the Pangong Lake region of eastern Ladakh and on the Sikkim border in the Naku La section (on May 5-6) are not “co-related nor do they have any connection with other global or local activities”. In other words, that these were one-off incidences with no connecting policy skin and that the Indian media would do well not to play them up.
However, on May 13 newspapers had reported serious injuries to a Colonel and a Major in the Pangong Tso environs because they were clubbed by the intruding Chinese troops with a new version of a medieval weapon — nail-studded wooden batons — that were being swung freely and with intention to do harm. In short, it was not latest in the series of mildly frictive pushing and shoving matches (as at Dok La in 2017) that have to-date typified Sino-Indian border interactions.
Apparently, General Naravane and the Modi government do not consider the use against senior Indian field officers of long nail-studded wooden clubs by Chinese troops an escalation nor perceive such incidents to be other than of little account because their public statements seem to be drafted by the worst of the panda-huggers in the Ministry of External Affairs. The best possible spin on this is that Army HQrs have imbibed a bit too much of the Wuhan and Mallapuram spirits brewed up by Modi than is good for India’s security, thereby indicating that they cannot be relied upon to call a spade a shovel where China and LAC are concerned, let alone to respond heftily in kind. Not for the forward deployed Indian units then the retaliatory joys of cracking open a few senior Chinese officers’ heads with a policy of ambush and hammer.
A weak-kneed Indian government has long been suspected as infecting the Indian military with its preference for shambolic gestures instead. So, two Su-30s were dispatched from the Leh air base to patrol the skies around the Pangong Lake located at 5,000 metre altitude to do what good is anyone’s guess. Because a Sino-Indian agreement to peacefully manage the LAC bars combat aircraft from flying within 10 kms of it. If an aerial gesture had to be made, why did the PMO (which has to clear any and every proactive measure or meaningful action and reaction on the 3,800 km-long China border) not deploy an armed helicopter or two for low-level flying the PLA troops could see to deter them from physically belabouring Indian soldiers in the cruel manner they did? Helicopters are permitted by the same accord to fly within one kilometre of LAC. In any case, the minimum response to such PLA atrocities should have seen Naravane decree that, along with normal infantry weapons, every Indian soldier be armed with a heavily weighted baseball-type bat with sharp protruding metal spikes he can pull out and smash PLA troopers’ faces with with at the first hint of trouble at close quarters. This, of course, hasn’t happened.
Indeed, Indian army brass have taken great care to mention that these border ruckuses also involve Indian troops, thereby in effect equating Indian soldiers guarding the peace on LAC and the Chinese troops disrupting it, perhaps, because they expect the Indian jawans to stand still while getting whacked in their faces. In fact, the over-conciliatory tone adopted by Naravane with subdued action in train may now be the military’s norm. This even when PLA troops seem at liberty, when not wielding their 5.8 mm QBZ-95 assault rifle, to clobber Indian soldiers with metal spiked clubs. The Indian political and military leadership alike take comfort, ironically, from the short duration of these faceoffs, little realizing that such PLA actions can, when not meant to intimidate, instantly lead to unanticipated but planned follow-up actions. Absent the sort of dense military use infrastructure buildup on the Chinese side of LAC and beyond into Indian territory, the Indian forces, will find such moves hard to resist.
Ponder, for the nonce, the PLA’s modus operandi. The Pangong Lake terrain features 8 hilly features, referred to as “fingers”. The western side of the lakefront is claimed by India, with Delhi stating that the LAC, running alongside these fingers, “co-terminates” with Finger 8. China, on the other hand, asserts its rights to almost all of the lake barring the 45 km lakefront held by India. By Delhi’s reckoning, Finger 2 lies wholly within Indian territory, except PLA built a 5 km motorable road in this area in 1998 when the Indian army was busy evicting the Pakistan army’s Northern Light Infantry from its redoubts in the Kargil heights, and which road the Chinese have patrolled with light vehicles ever since. There’s similar construction, for instance, in the Finger 4 area. In other words, even as China has constructed such roads, the Indian army and government contend that no such infrastructure has come up! The better, presumably, to deny that any violation of the LAC has taken place at all!
Does this not mean that anytime the PLA aggressively stakes its interest in a piece of contested territory, Indian army and government all but readily concede it? So, the likely future is for a slow territorial aggrandizement by China — an exercise in which the Indian army and government are and will, in equal parts, be complicit and for which they are culpable.
That leads us to the issue of why it is that Beijing decided to stir up trouble in the first place along the entire LAC, including the Central Sector, with armed interventions even in and around Barahoti, which until now was considered “settled” border, meaning about which neither side had any problems? There are two sets of reasons — one military-political, the other internal.
“It has come to our attention that some political forces in the US are taking China-US relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War,” declared Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi last evening at a press conference in Beijing. The possibility of a Cold War of the kind that brought down the Soviet Union in the early-’90s and which the Xi Jinping regime believes Trump’s America can unleash, is very much on Zhongnanhai’s mind. The vilification campaign against China as the locus genesis of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the closing off of America to Chinese travelers and most exports, and the sanctioning of Chinese high-tech companies (Huawei, et al) is perceived by Trump as only the opening shot in this war. The undertaking by the World Health Organization to examine the coronavirus spread and to assign responsibility for it, will provide Washington with the ammunition to begin orchestrating a much wider, more telling, international political criticism and effort to quarantine and globally sideline China by cutting off its revenue stream, market access, and strategic reach.
In just the first two months of 2020 China’s exports, according to the South China Morning Post, dropped by 17.2% with that country for the first time since 2009 experiencing a trade deficit of US$7.09 billion, compared to the surplus of US$41.45 billion over the same period last year. This could be a prelude to a plummeting of the Chinese economy, a process that could accelerate should Beijing reject the demands by disparate countries of sub-Saharan Africa and even states like Pakistan to write off infrastructure projects-related debt totaling hundreds of billions of dollars that have have so far been racked up. In that case China stands to lose both goodwill and markets and still be saddled with unserviced debt that Beijing can do nothing about short of wiping it off its slate at heavy cost to itself.
Along with a downward spiraling economy, there’s the military angle. The US Navy has increased its freedom of navigation patrols through the waters of the South China Sea at a time when Vietnam and Malaysia at the two ends of the Southeast Asian littoral, far from backing down, are actively protecting their maritime assets and brown water and blue water territories. And as if to worsen the situation from the optics as well as the substantive ends, Taiwan has resoundingly re-elected Tsai Ing-Wen to, in effect, sound a death knell for the “one country, two systems” conceit Beijing has nursed all these years. “We hope that this election result”, said President Tsai, “can give the Chinese government an accurate message: the Taiwanese people reject ‘one country two systems’. We value our democratic lifestyle, and we defend our sovereignty.” Complicating the situation some more for China, Tsai has promised help to Hong Kong. Taiwan will, she said in a Facebook post, “even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong’s people with necessary assistance”. In the last four months, there has been a 150% increase in immigrants to Taiwan from Hong Kong.
The murmurings inside PLA circles about forcefully stopping the Independent Taiwan wagon in its tracks, now that it might pick up speed, by invading that fortified island-nation is mired in serious doubts about whether the Chinese military, despite the out-sized growth in its capabilities, can pull it off. Worse, the relative pimple of a problem — Hong Kong, is proving nettlesome; its people long used to democratic rights and freedoms are resisting Beijing’s attempts at curbing them. It prompted Beijing to simply end that erstwhile British colony’s status as an entity separate from China — no pretense here about two systems, etc. The President for life, Xi Jinping, suddenly finds his dilemma to be like the proverbial frog’s in the warming bowl of water — unable to jump out because China still benefits all round from propping up the current international system, but facing far too many challenges to do nothing.
With the welcoming world order China exploited since Dengxiaoping’s time in the late 1970s collapsing around it, and Taipei and the Hong Kong people throwing down the gauntlet, Xi no doubt feels uneasy and, therefore, senses he has to do something. More so because internally there are sections within his support base in the PLA and the Communist Party which are inclined to blame Xi, in the instance of Taiwan and Hong Kong, for doing nothing and doing something a little late respectively, and on the other hand, for needlessly goading America into action by disregarding Deng’s aphorism about “hiding your strength, biding your time” by openly flexing China’s military and technological muscles guaranteed, even without an impulsively bellicose Trump in the White House, to get the US all riled up and ready to get at China’s throat.
So, PLA felt compelled to let off steam safely and a calculating Beijing to allow it, but against whom? Hong Kong is in the bag — small change, Taiwan cannot be invaded, Japan cannot be run out of the Senkaku Islands, Russia cannot be pushed around, Vietnam cannot be browbeaten, and taking on the US is surely to end China’s dream run. That leaves the usual target — the weak-willed, strategically dim-witted, India to pick on. But this too is a balancing act. Beijing has to calibrate the hostilities in a way so as to not precipitate a war and lose a huge market that grows more precious by the loss of markets elsewhere, but nevertheless to show up a big India and America’s friend as a country without a fight in it, and to hold out this non-confrontation as an episode for other Asian states watching the show to learn from.
In the circumstances, what should a self-respecting India do, assuming such an avatar emerges by magic?
Well, Delhi can follow what I have been advocating over the last 20-odd years. In no particular order (1) ask Beijing to shut the f…k up on Kashmir, and take to wagging an admonishing finger at Beijing on every forum now that it has tethered the freedom loving Hong Kongese to the Chinese Communist totalitarian yoke; (2) publicly initiate negotiations with Taipei to upgrade the extant trade and consular relations into a full fledged diplomatic relationship with the sovereign state of Taiwan, and use Taiwan’s manifest superiority in high-technology to upgrade India’s manufacturing base, and industrial and military wherewithal — a perfect riposte to Beijing’s recently raking up the Sikkim status issue; the “virtual participation” in President Tsai’s investiture ceremony by BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan ought to be a precursor event; (3) officially bury China’s spurious “one country, two systems” policy by withdrawing support for it with respect to Taiwan, Hong Kong and also Tibet, the last on the legally sound basis, I have long advocated, of Tibet not being genuinely “autonomous” in any way and hence no part of China as Delhi had originally recognized it, thereafter India should spearhead a worldwide “free Tibet” Movement; (4) openly support the Uyghur cause and use the OIC to mobilize the Islamic opposition to China’s systematic denigration of the native Muslims there and for turning Xinjiang into a vast prison camp for the natives; (5) cutoff imports of all goods from China, and having done that negotiate small incremental increases in access to the Indian market in return for strict reciprocity in trade and commerce combined with a heavily punitive regime to prevent small and big time traders within India from transacting any goods from China, and the formalization of LAC as formal border; (6) as current chairman presiding over WHO, use the underway scrutiny of China on the Covid-19 issue to skewer China and pillory it as an opaque and irresponsible state not worthy of respect from the international community; (7) for God’s sake, use the precedent of China’s secretly transferring nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan to pay back Beijing in the same coin, even if 40 years too late, by onpassing the very same technologies, or better still, the nuclear warheaded Brahmos cruise missile, to any state on China’s periphery desiring the ultimate means of militarily keeping Beijing quiet. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, are you listening?!, and (8) by way of meta-strategic arrangements, minimize China’s global salience by weaponizing BRICS by excising China from it and getting Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa (BRIS) into a loose and informal security coalition; and to complement it by sewing up a similar coalition to India’s east — the ‘Mod Quad’ — the Quadrilateral of India, Japan, Australia, and a group of rich and capable Southeast Asian countries minus the unreliable United States. It is an organic security scheme that will permanently box in China politically, militarily and economically with a marginal, extra-territorial, role for the US should it want one.
What India will actually do owing to a long habit of slavish thinking and a self-abnegatory mindset is this: It will continue doing what it is doing — trying simultaneously to curry favour with both Beijing and Washington — a high theme of the late K. Subrahmanyam’s supposedly superlative thinking Modi subscribes to and is now bureaucratically furthered by his son, S. Jaishankar as MEA minister. It is a policy previous governments, for reasons that are incomprehensible, have been entranced by and which Modi feels will serve him as well. But he does not see, as Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh did not in their time at the helm, about what will, in fact, transpire. In attempting to be too clever by half, India will end up getting sucker-punched by both. But to be laid low thus requires India to be a sucker, and that is what India has time and again proven to be. And a sucker, as WC Fields reminded us, never gets an even break.
The announcement by Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman that there would be a “ban” on imports of armaments was music to my ears and meant that something I have long been advocating had finally come to pass. This was so until she qualified her remark by adding that the Defence Ministry would produce a negative list of weapons systems whose imports are barred and that there’d be deadlines for each of these items from when this ban will come into effect. So an escape hatch has been left open for the armed services to continue sourcing their high-value hardware/software requirements and keeping them out of this list. Should the Services fail to convince the defence ministry on this, they will no doubt endeavour to extend the deadlines so that most of the arms import transactions in the pipeline come in under the wire.
The point is not that reasons cannot be adduced for this or that military product to not be on this list. But rather that such a course of action will be used by the armed services habituated to “buying foreign” to persist with this habit. As a result, even a modicum of self-sufficiency will be hard to achieve. Because it is certain the Services HQrs will fight tooth and nail to ensure that their main weapons platforms — main battle tanks, combat aircraft, diesel submarines, helicopters and ballistic missile defence systems and the like, inclusive of their associated electronics, and systems and sub-systems, remain outside the negative list. It could, in effect, leave the country still forking out enormous amounts of hard currency to foreign suppliers even as the process to make India self-reliant stays unachieved.
One can only fervently hope that the Modi government will be rude and ruthless in first enlarging the list of defence items that cannot anymore be bought from foreign vendors and, simultaneously, nullifying or at least drastically pruning the underway deals.
Given the capabilities especially in the private sector — navy’s Project 75i cannot, in the context of nuclear submarine building wherewithal in-country, be permitted to import other than the design and certain highly specialized technologies, such as mast optronics from competing submarine builders (Rubin Bureau of Russia or DCN of France or ThyssenKrupp Marine of Germany); there’s absolutely no need for importing self-propelled and towed artillery, or tanks when there’s the Arjun MBT to refine and design-wise down-scale to obtain a 30-ton light tank for Tibetan plateau use prospectively by the offensive mountain corps; and even less point to flying in foreign combat aircraft to fill the IAF’s MMRCA fleet when there are Tejas derivatives, such as the AMCA to fast forward. For sure, there’s need for foreign assistance in re-working the Kaveri jet engine and there’ll be no dearth of companies competing for India’s custom. But that doesn’t mean the country has to buy a combat aircraft with it. Which is to say that the procurement principle the defence ministry should follow is to buy the specific technology India is deficient in, not the whole damned weapons system package that gets us nothing and in the bargain loses us our purse!
Moreover, with the private sector leading the charge the country is primed to realize inside of 5-7 years Prime Minister Modi’s goal of ‘atm nirbharta’ in weaponry if he is serious about it. But this will require the Indian military and government, as I keep iterating, to trust in Indian talent and invest in Indian programmes to deliver the most sophisticated military goods.
The danger to attaining the above goal is in Sitharaman’s announcement of the other defence industry-related reform, namely, the raising of FDI limit to 74%. The expectation apparently is that foreign arms manufacturers allowed to set up shop freely and with no prior authorization, will jump at the opportunity. Not so fast, Speedy! There would be no problem and such ventures would be welcome if foreign defence companies set up their arms production plants here, and benefit from labour cost advantages, using India as a manufacturing hub mainly for exports. They may be induced to do that only if GOI also allows them guaranteed sales in India. This could lead to foreign vendors setting up factories to dump a whole bunch of obsolete or fast obsolescing weapons/platforms by assembling them here for the Indian armed services, thereby pushing off into the indefinite future the possibility of the Indian military becoming technologically in-date and consequential.
Thus, Lockheed, for instance, which has already tied up with Tata to produce in India the F-21 (the vintage F-16 by another numeric) will come in fast and try and seal a deal with the IAF. From the Washington end Trump can be relied on to do the pushing which our main man, Modi, is unlikely to resist, he being only too eager to please Trump at every turn. (Refer the PM’s expressing his gratitude yesterday to Trump for his promise to send, unbidden, some excess ventilators the US has no use for possibly because these Chinese-produced items have been found to be defective!)
But there are larger issues here that remained unaddressed by Sitharaman. 70% equity and controlling shares is all very well, but before foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers take up the offer, won’t they insist, as regards labour, on hire and fire practices prevailing in the West and elsewhere so they don’t ever get stuck with a low productivity workforce they can’t be rid off? And won’t these foreign firms also insist on ‘one window’ clearance for all permits, local level up, so they aren’t mired in red tape nor compelled to function at the sufferance of defence production babus as Indian companies are forced to do? And further, will the potential investors not demand that the land acquisition be simplified and facilitated which will need the centre and the state governments to be on the same page? The Finance Minister said nothing about any of these things. Result: There’ll be some uptick in foreign interest but no rush into India from foreign quarters, unless they too get the sort of consideration that Lockheed is banking on.
Revamping the land and labour laws, rules and regulations, is a prerequisite for the country becoming a workshop to the world. The Modi regime has done next to nothing in the last 6 years in these respects, other than floating the ‘Make in India’ rhetoric, but still wants India to become a manufacturing station servicing global needs. So much for building a house roof down!
Whether by coincidence or design, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two most recent speeches — first on the National Panchayat Day and the second, the TV address yesterday which, incidentally, was the third one on the coronavirus crisis and the first in terms of promising a comprehensive economic package, had a common theme. It was self-reliance. “The global contagion has …taught us”, he said April 24, “a very important lesson; that we have to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. It has taught us that we should not look for solutions outside the country” and added that the fact that “we should not depend on others for fulfilling our needs is centuries old…”
Sure, he then veered off, as the occasion demanded, into suggesting that villages should become self-sufficient in their needs raising, in the process, the Luddite nightmare that Mahatma Gandhi — who had strange ideas and did even stranger things — had conjured up when he talked of India as a collection of “village republics”!!
In the address last evening there was considerable confusion — which is increasingly the hallmark of the PM’s public utterances. His khichdi speech mixed self-reliance with global welfare and with India making a place for itself in “the global supply chain” before turning 180 degrees and urging the strengthening of “the local supply chain” and the Indian people needing to trust and buy Indian products as a first step towards making them “global brands”. Modi concluded by saying that “Self-reliance leads to happiness, satisfaction and empowerment” and how “Our responsibility to make the 21st century, the century of India will be fulfilled by the pledge of self-reliant India.” He ended with an exhortation: “Now we have to move forward with a new resolve and determination. When ethics are filled with duty, the culmination of diligence, the capital of skills, then who can stop India from becoming self-reliant?”
Who, indeed? Unless it is the government itself.
Coroniavirus vaccine is fine. Supply-chain aspirations are good. It is a pity though Modi did not in his speeches once touch on the one sphere, that of armaments where India absolutely has to become self-reliant to maintain its sovereignty which has been sliced away over the last 60-odd years due to the military’s relentless hardware buys from abroad for which the politicians, bureaucrats, DPSUs and Ordnance factories and the armed services’ brass are almost equally to blame. It is a vicious circle any of the numerous PMs in power could have broken, but did not.
So, Indian politicians’ blathering on and on about self- reliance is a bit rich and counter-pointed most glaringly in the country’s almost total, abject and shameful dependence on foreign armaments. This last, moreover, is at the cost of indigenous effort, talent, and capability richly available if the government only looks for it outside the waste and corruption-ridden defence public sector units (DPSUs) and Ordnance factories. To put these latter wretched, money guzzling, government-owned defence ministry-run agencies, maintaining whose health at whatever cost is the defence production department’s sole remit, in-charge of the task to achieve arms self-sufficiency is to take the axe to national interest. It is to put a partially blind man at the steering wheel of a bus and expect he will take us to the destination, when the surprise will be if India gets to the gate without mishap.
After almost surrendering the telecommunications future to the PLA outfit, Huawei, and China, the government, prompted by organizations such as SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator), is finally permitting Indian private sector high-tech achievers to enter the field of 5G and potentially even 6G systems. SITARA is headed by an unusual former Indian diplomat, Smita Pushottam; unusual because the Indian Foreign Service usually breeds foreign arms lovers. Similar telecom sector type thrust will have to be given by the Modi regime in defence, aerospace, and electronics sectors generally, lest national security continue to be willfully compromised. There is more than critical mass of Indian companies with skills and competences in these fields to free the country from the “commissions and considerations in kind”- racket within the portals of government that lubricates the present procurement system.
The danger though is that Modi, who is his own and only adviser, will decide to buy antiquated fighters (F-16-F-21) and such and compel Indian industry to produce this trash item just so his ‘Make in India’ programme is not seen as an out and out fiasco.
The only consolation is the treasury will be emptied out with 10% of the GDP or Rs 20 lakh crore ($260 billion) staked by Modi to revive a moribund economy, with industrial output down by 16.7% and sliding downwards, and an annual growth rate estimated at best to be no more than 1%-2% this year and at the worst decline to negative growth in this fiscal.
In the event, now may be the time, if he is really serious about self-reliance, for Modi to announce an end to all purchase of armaments, and aerospace systems and sub-systems, and high-value electronics components, as I have been advocating, and for his government to stop dilly-dallying [detailed in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)] and put up the money for establishing a high value microchip fabrication facility to drive the technology sector. It will mean, by way of a beginning, the long overdue dismantling of the extant procurement processes and systems in the defence ministry and the departments of Space and of Electronics.
We may do well to recall as a cautionary tale the country’s sorry condition in the electronics field being the result of the historic blunder committed by the late MGK Menon-led electronics commission in the 1970s, which advised the Indian government to concentrate on developing software capability while ignoring development in-country of computer hardware capability. It allowed companies like TCS, Infosys, et al to grow and prosper, of course, and all to the good, but did not help India become comprehensively independent in high-technology. Whence the awful state the country is in with Huawei and China lording over us in the telecom sphere, as does every half-way industrialized state supplying India where armaments are concerned.
In the defence arena the indigenous capabilities that produced the Tejas LCA, the nuclear-powered submarine, and the Arjun MBT as the principal technology programmes can be enabled to seed design-to-delivery projects for future advanced manned and unmanned combat aircraft, conventional diesel submarines, and various infantry combat vehicles, including a light tank derivative (for Tibetan plateau use) for the mountain corps, for instance. This is the time for Modi to take such disruptive measures and bring the armed services forcefully in line and ensure the success of his government’s “atm nirbharta” policy.
But, as I conclude in my latest book — ‘Staggering Forward’ Modi may not be the leader to take hard decisions to realize technological autonomy because, among other reasons, he is too besotted by the US and the West to not sustain the entrenched import culture inside the government which benefits them, his rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.
India has feasted diplomatically on Pakistan’s complicity in terrorist acts over the past two decades. There was a credible enough case made for the UN Financial Assistance Task Force (FATF) to put Pakistan on its sanctions’ ‘grey list’ owing to Islamabad’s well-known role in mobilising Islamist militants from West Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to replicate the Taliban success in Afghanistan in Jammu and Kashmir.
The troubles began for Pakistan with the 9/11 strike in 2001, propelling to the forefront terrorism and Islamic extremists as existential threats to international order. Islamabad’s use of jihadis began to draw censure and, in the wake of the 26/11 seaborne attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based terrorists in 2008, sealed that country’s standing as a sponsor of terrorism, legitimating India’s retaliatory actions. For Pakistan, the political and economic costs began to outweigh the politico-military gains from using terrorism to wage asymmetric warfare. Once the pariah status took hold, foreign countries became wary of dealing with Pakistan, a Pakistani passport became a liability, foreign direct investment dried up, its economy plummeted, exacerbating, in the process, societal faultlines. Even the Gulf countries, hitherto staunch supporters, began to distance themselves.
This allowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pitch India as a partner of choice for these states, consolidate its position as supplier of cheap labour and safe destination for Arab petro-dollar investment. The warming of ties also permitted these Arab states to leaven their autocratic reputation by associating with a democratic India. The muted response of the United Arab Emirates to the abrogation of Article 370 and Saudi Arabia’s agreeing with Delhi that it was an “internal matter” crowned India’s West Asia policy, handing PM Modi his only real foreign policy success.
And then the corona pandemic struck. For the first time, Islamabad saw a clear way to not only blunt India’s charge of fostering terrorism but to push Delhi on the back foot. This they did by conflating the actions of local authorities to corral attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi as potential COVID-19 spreaders with three unconnected issues—alleged human rights abuses in J&K, ill treatment of Muslims under the BJP dispensations in Uttar Pradesh and other states, and the Citizenship Amendment Act, which triggered nationwide protests and was described by Islamabad as a “pogrom” against Muslims.
It was this storm of supposedly anti-Muslim measures that burst on the Indian government, something Islamabad gleefully capitalised on and Islamic countries could not ignore. Pakistan, in any case, was working since August last year to erode the support for India in the Islamic bloc. In February-end this year, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged India to end violence against Muslims, and Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan asked Delhi “to stop the massacre” of Muslims, a phrase repeated by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, on March 5. Following the April 28 release of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report recommending that the state department designate India as a country of ‘particular concern’, Kuwait condemned the “violence” against Indian Muslims, an emboldened Gulf Cooperation Council may follow suit, and Arab activists are using social media to excoriate the Indian government for fuelling “Islamophobia”.
India is in a pickle, its policy of equipoise between Sunni Gulf states as source of energy and remittances (worth $80 billion annually) and Shia Iran as pivot, and its plan for a south-north road and rail grid out of Chabahar port affording access to Afghanistan and Central Asia while helping the Indian Navy outflank its Chinese counterpart in Gwadar collapsing under the weight of the growing disillusionment of Islamic countries with India. This may also hurt Indian strategic interests in Southeast Asia, especially in Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia. With Al Qaeda and the Islamic State weakening and terrorism off centre-stage, international relations are returning to their old moorings where human rights matter. Which is why Pakistan now has “organised cruelties against Indian Muslims” to bludgeon India with every time Delhi cries “terrorism”.
[ERJ-145 — one of Embraer Company’s bestselling medium haul passenger aircraft]
Twitter has been justifiably agog with the news of Dr RK Tyagi, former Chairman, HAL, writing to minister for civil aviation Hardip Puri, urging him quickly to get the Indian government to bid for control of the Embraer Company of Brazil for as little as $5 billion, Boeing having withdrawn from its 80% stake in it worth $4.2 billion. This Brazilian firm specializes, among other things, in producing various bestselling passenger aircraft (such as 30-110 passenger carrying E2 and ERJ-145 series of single engine, single aisle, transporters) which can also converted to maritime reconnaissance, aerial early warning, cargo, and VVIP flight missions. In fact there are already a number of these aircraft flying in India. Just to provide perspective: India has failed to manufacture any such plane despite a number of underway projects over the past 30 years to design and produce them. Acquiring Embraer will thus vault India into the front ranks of aircraft producers.
In his letter dated 27th April 2020 to Puri, Tyagi mentions that the projected demand by 2035 in India for these types of aircraft is between 350 to 500. So it makes ample economic sense to grab Embraer at this time, and act fast to do so before “other other players, potentially China, enter the scene and pitch for the Embraer stake”. He adds that “Apart from the possibility for phased manufacturing in India, there is also the potential to attract OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) of aircraft engines, wheels and braking and landing gears, avionics, etc to set up MRO (Maintenance and Repair Organizations)/manufacturing in India since the scale and size of the business are potentially sustainable. It will also add to indigenous design and engineering skills.”
Tyagi recommends that (1) “the extant opportunity be [expeditiously] seized”, (2) “An interim Expression of Interest” be “communicated to the Government of Brazil to bid time”, and (3) “India actively considers acquiring a 51% stake into Embraer either through a SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) created by equity participation by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited acting alone or in partnership with the private sector.” Private sector participation by such Indian firms as L&T and/or Mahindra, or Godrej Aerospace makes ample sense in terms of spreading the risk and distributing the benefits, such as transfer of technology and skills, of this acquisition. Indeed, Indian twitterites have been besides themselves enumerating the immense possibilities of such a deal. Such as producing the Tejas LCA in Embraer production facilities to sell in the promising Latin American market.
In case, his acquisition idea finds favour with the Modi government, Tyagi suggests constituting “a small team of policy/industry experts”, and ends his letter with a warning: “This may be once in a lifetime opportunity for us” and hence, by implication, not to be missed. It is copied to defence minister Rajnath Singh, PK Mishra, principal private secretary to the PM, and Amitabh Kant, ceo, Niti Ayog.
What are the chances this proposal for securing controlling shares in Embraer will be entertained by the Modi government, and these four notables — Messrs Puri, Singh, Mishra and Kant will succeed in speedily getting the Prime Minister’s and, more important, Finance Ministry’s approval and release of the necessary funds, and that in the meantime MEA is tasked to discuss the topic to the Bolsonaro government in Brazil and prepare the politico-economic ground for such Indian investment, and to seek his help in keeping out other potential bidders, especially China? President Jair Bolsonaro, after all, was wined, dined and feted as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade this year and will have warm memories of his Delhi sojourn and, if properly approached, would be receptive.
One wishes though that the Modi regime had by now articulated a strategic vision such as the one proposed in my ‘Staggering Forward’ book of a smaller geostrategic grouping of BRIS (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa) derived from the purely trade and economically oriented BRICS. An Indian majority stake in Embraer would fit nicely in a BRIS schemata. Any which way, this deal justified by the Indian government, the right touch may be provided by Modi broaching this topic directly and personally to Bolsonaro in a phone call, leaving their respective government functionaries to work out the details.
So what’s the proverbial fly in the ointment? Well, Puri, a former diplomat, Mishra and Kant are all civil servants used to working in a certain leisurely bureaucratic style and pondering procedural hurdles at length, rather than getting on with it and showing some urgency in cutting through the red tape. The mind boggles at the potential of this transaction and how Embraer in the Indian fold would turbocharge Modi’s so far idling ‘Make in India’ policy and programme, generate huge employment, and keep the immense Indian wealth that has to-date been frittered away in arms imports, within the country.
Is all this enough for these durbans (gatekeepers) to Modi to get their political master to act without losing time? And if adequately briefed, will Modi have the foresight to pilot the Embraer company acquisition through the bureaucratic thicket that is the Government of India? Time will soon tell or, as is more likely, when newspapers report that China has already grabbed Embraer even as Delhi is still at the starting gate mulling over the matter!
[Trump and Angela Merkl in smooch mode; Modi looks on]
With every passing oped of his, it becomes more difficult to take Ram Madhav, General Secretary of the ruling BJP and sometime RSS pracharak, seriously. The upside, however, is these pieces provide no end of amusement. One can see just how desperate Madhav is to impress Narendra Modi with his flattery and supposed profundity (as reflected in quotes from here and there). His articles are a baffling mix of disjointedness and incoherence, spiked with random mentions of people, bits of history, and recent developments. Taken together they make no sense. For instance, his latest — “India can collaborate with the US and Germany to mould a new world order” [https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/coronavirus-global-lockdown-exit-strategy-ram-madhav-6385391/].
In this piece may be found references to Trump, Modi’s “democratic activism” — whatever that is (because there is no explanation), coronavirus, Niall Ferguson, Hitler, nationalism, ultra-nationalism, World War Two, Mao, Dengxiaoping, China, modern day Germany, and God knows what else, arrayed almost in bullet-points with no connecting tissue and constituting a melange that does not support his conclusion, which is that “In the unfolding new world order, India, along with countries like America and Germany, can play a pivotal role in building a world based on ‘human-centric development cooperation’ as suggested by Modi. It is time for a new Atlantic Charter: Environment, healthcare, technology and democratic liberalism can be its foundations.”
For a geopolitical grouping to amount to much, it has to be underpinned by geographic logic and power balancing imperatives. Consider any strategy or alliance for tactical or strategic reasons, for short-term gain or for the long haul, and one discovers two factors at work — geographic considerations and the desire to balance power against the dominant or would-be dominant state. Both these factors aligning is when a coalition or geopolitical strategy achieves success. 16th Century onwards, Britain practiced its ‘continental strategy’ of preventing any single continental power from attaining dominance. In pursuit of this strategy, Britain enforced a naval blockade of Napoleonic France in 1804, responding to which Napoleon enforced a ban in 1806 on European powers trading with Britain. Otto von Bismarck, who forcibly amalgamated the Germanic states in Central Europe into a single powerful entity, created an alliance system crowned by the 1882 ‘Triple Alliance’ featuring Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy to isolate chief rival, France. Imperial Russia, France, and Britain building on the 1894 Franco-Russian accord forged the 1904 ‘Triple Entente’ to hem in an ambitious Germany. Britain and Japan turned treaty allies in the first 2 decades of the 20th Century ostensibly to fight off Imperial Russia in Asia but in actuality to protect their colonial interests in China and Korea. In the throes of revolution, Russia signed the 1918 Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the German-led bloc of Central European powers to stabilize its borders. Some 20 years later, in August 1939, a month before the onset of the Second World war, Germany and Soviet Russia signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord to carve up Poland. Post-1945, the so-called “Atlantic Charter” (that Madhav bungs in for no good reason in his piece) resulted in NATO, reacting to which the USSR formed the Warsaw Pact consolidating, in the process, the US and Soviet spheres of influence in Europe. To firm up Communist solidarity and the control of the bulk of the Eurasian landmass, the Soviet Union closed in with Mao’s China to present a solid front to the West generally, and to the US and its allies in the Pacific specifically.
By what geopolitical or geostrategic metric and in what conceivable way does a grouping in the present day of a receding America, a much reduced Central European state, Germany, with no great independent military capability to speak of, and India, a country that has over time relentlessly marginalized itself to a point where it does not even pull its weight in its own backyard, leave alone assert itself as the primary rimland power in Asia, in a position to shape the world order as envisaged by Madhav? There’s, moreover, obvious natural affinity of race, culture, religion, etc., between the US and Germany, an affinity in no way shared by either of these countries with India.
Just how much of an interloper India is in a US-European concert is depicted starkly in the pic above where Modi and, by extension, India stand forlornly, watching the American and German leaders whoop it up even though German Chancellor Angela Merkl can barely conceal her contempt for Trump and thinks the US an unreliable ally, and Trump has labelled Merkl’s policies “insane” and has threatened to withdraw military support for Germany. There is nevertheless much there in the long term, Trump notwithstanding, for a new Atlantic Charter. But how can India expect to muscle in on this US-European partnership, considering there’s almost no serious overlap in the strategic interests of the US and Germany on the one hand and India on the other hand, unless one counts as common interest a peaceful global security milieu and a liberal trade regime which everybody craves, including the arch-global disruptor of the current order, China?
So the question of these three states getting together to construct a new international system does not arise. Also because there’s the inconvenient fact of what it is the three countries bring to the table. The US comes in with unmatched military and economic power, Germany pitches in as the European economic behemoth able to swing the European Union behind it. In comparison, Modi and India can boast of little more than the former’s flatulent ‘vishwa guru’ conceit (that Madhav predictably waxes on). Delhi, with a failing Indian economy and constricted strategic vision and policies and, therefore, limited military clout, cannot even get its immediate neighbours to support it.
In the circumstances, pray, what can India contribute to ‘human-centric development cooperation’? The US and Germany, having achieved by their own effort high living standards, have excelled in human centric development; in comparison India has stumbled through 70-odd years of socialist development that Modi in his time in office has done nothing institutionally to correct, other than ring in cosmetic changes in the functioning of a still corrupt, inefficient, wasteful, and ineffective apparatus of government that persists from socialist times but produces very little governance. So, does Madhav’s “human-centric development cooperation” not seem like a plea for alms, an artful dressing up of the beggar’s bowl?
Wanting to capitalize on the imagery involving the PM, on Modi’s flying around hither and thither, visiting every country under the sun, and conferring with the high and mighty in international meets — the sort of activity the corona pandemic has shut down, Madhav conjures up, if only for the sake of op-eds, alliances out of thin air, fueled by nothing more, it’d appear, than passing whimsy! Damn good reason to deny him the role he apparently seeks for himself as some sort of intellectual vanguard, God forbid, for the PMO and the BJP government, unless Modi wants to further trivialize himself and India in the eyes of hardened professionals crafting foreign policies elsewhere in the world.
[Indonesian Navy officers at the jetty in Surabaya to welcome INS Rana, Nov 2018]
Hard for one’s admiration for China’s single-minded drive to at all times advance its strategic interests come rain or shine or the corona virus, to not grow by leaps and bounds. Nothing diverts Beijing and the Chinese military in particular from flexing its muscle, asserting its rights and claims, and seeking to frighten the local opposition to get out of its way in a region it intends to dominate absolutely. Even as that country is fighting the COVID menace successfully — and why not? It created the corona bio-weapon, lost control over it, regained it, mounted an integrated scientific effort to tame it and will likely be the first to patent a vaccine and make oodles of money out of its sales worldwide — the PLA Navy did not forget its mission.
Two new “districts” were announced by Beijing a few days back to administer several rocky outcroppings that are being fashioned into man-made islands with dredged up sand, etc. in the disputed but appropriately named Mischief Reef area which Beijing claims in its entirety. Around the same time and a little to the west, a Chinese survey ship accompanied by an armed Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel contested a Malaysian ship drilling for valuable seabed minerals within Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Simultaneously, a large Vietnamese boat fishing offshore was rammed by a CCG corvette. But, last week when three US warships (America with a F-35B complement onboard, missile cruiser Bunker Hill, and missile destroyer Barry) in an expeditionary task group (detached from the carrier task force headed by the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which lies anchored mid-Pacific in Guam owing to a coronavirus infected crew) turned up in the South China Sea in what is described as “security and stability operations”. And it exercised with an Australian warship (HMAS Parmatta), prompting Beijing sanctimoniously to urge the US and Australia to please “not disturb the peace” in the region! That’s chutzpah for you!
Beijing has turned such acts of brazen territorial annexation mixed with a wagging of fingers at out-of-area powers daring to register their presence, into high statecraft. These Chinese actions are carried out so smoothly and with an attitude of such utmost conviction and routine-ness, hardly any one notices they are irregular, illegal and contrary to international norms and leave the poor littoral states with nothing to do than protest in vain.
So the militaries of the countries that matter in the Indo-Pacific are not doing nothing, haven’t locked down themselves into inactivity. What about the Indian armed forces though, what are they up to?
The army, admirably, has done well in the anti-COVID-19 fight, putting up all manner of facilities for sequestering corona-infected people, making available its medical staff, etc. As the senior and the largest of the uniformed services, the army, however, has serious problems as regards its personnel. Training courses have been cancelled, the transfers of officers postponed, and to minimize the exposure to the C-virus annual leave-taking has been delayed. Officers nominated to attend the Staff College at Wellington and various higher command courses — stepping stones to promotion, etc. but unable now to do so will be hugely affected, their upward progress and the process suddenly disrupted. The Military Secretary in Army HQrs tasked with the career management of officers will, perhaps, for the first time in the army’s history earn his keep, as he struggles to come up with metrics for promotion that are fair and, importantly, are seen to be fair. The new scheme may end up inadvertently victimizing a few officers or even an entire cohort with the push from below, from the next year’s batch of officers in training courses and so on. This to say, the promotion ladder will become steeper still for these unfortunates.
Then there’s the other problem with the stand-still arrangement in place. Can officers, JCOs, NCOs and jawans in presently forward-based units be kept in place beyond the usual 2-year rotational stints, and can the lower ranks be denied home leave, and with what effect on their morale and the fighting quality of the unit? Further, the army will need to compulsorily isolate everyone returning to forward units from leave for 14-days. This will mean that at any given time all the forward units will be under-strength in terms of the personnel on leave and those held in the wards prior to re-induction and hence unable to serve on the frontline.
Nevertheless, to show it is no slouch at fingering Pakistan — the only and the easiest way it seems to get into the good books of the Narendra Modi government, the army has been busy keeping the western border live, or that’s what Pakistani newspapers report. No period has been as busy as the present, complains Pak army’s DG, ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) to its Press in terms of Indian artillery firings, small cross-LoC ops, sniper shootings, etc. The front with China, on the other hand, is ho-hum peaceable with all parties, including China and PLA having a stake in keeping things quiet on the LAC in the north and northeast. This last suits the Indian army well because it lacks the wherewithal, other than for defensive actions including, presumably, pushing-shoving matches a’la Dok La 2017. No chance here of cross-LAC artillery duels, snipers picking off targets of opportunity, and small team incursions to beat up on straying, unsuspecting PLA soldiers.
The Indian Air Force strives hard to offer no provocation to China. Even so there’s the occasional news report of an Indian MiG-29 or Su-30 going down with no clue as to why the fighter plane did so, or what happened. It is always possible with sorties out of Tezpur and other satellite fields launched to familiarize Indian pilots with the mountainous terrain and to get them to operate in some comfort that PLA rockets, guns, missiles slaved to surveillance, tracking and targeting radars have struck Indian combat aircraft. Not, mind you, that IAF has ever acted on this premise and suspicion and responded accordingly. All its vim and venom seems reserved for the western front.
The Indian Navy has reported several cases of corona-hit naval personnel. Social distancing and other measures while being practiced ashore are impractical in the confined spaces of surface combatants and, more so, submarines. COVID apart, the navy can’t lose sight of its operational tasks. At any given time, there is at least one flotilla sailing in the blue water. The trouble is most such short Indian naval deployments are off Aden and in the Gulf region generally, with the seas east of the Malacca, Lumbok and Sunda Straits, by comparison, being ignored even though it is there the navy can do the most strategic good. All the political rhetoric of meeting the Chinese threat head on, preferably collectively, and MILAN and bilateral exercises, such as the November 2018 Op Samudra Shakti with the Indonesian Navy off Surabaya notwithstanding, Indian flotillas showing flag in the South China Sea are a relative rarity. Sure, an exercise was conducted in May 2018 with Vietnam and, under a new cooperation scheme, another a year later in April 2019 in Cam Ranh Bay. But one hopes COVID isn’t the excuse for not having a third such exercise very soon this year.
Mutual unfamiliarity may require more time for preparation and planning of joint exercises. But this fact alone reveals that neither the Indian government nor the Indian Navy have acted with any sense of urgency in investing in close relations, besides the Vietnam and Singapore navies, with the Southeast Asian littoral navies, and linking up with them at the institutional level. In fact, the underway training programmes with Vietnam, such as joint exercises, training submarine crews and inducting the supersonic Brahmos cruise missiles, could be the template for intense naval cooperation with the other Southeast Asian states as well. These could be supplemented by the Malabar exercises (with US, Japanese navies) in the area and joint “sail throughs” in the South China Sea by warships from several countries. Indian, Japanese, American and Philippine ships did this in May 2019.
Brahmos, I have long argued, is the patented Chinese warship killer and the decisive weapon that uniquely will have a power multiplier effect for India when dispersed to friendly Southeast Asian countries in China’s backyard. Because then the entire South China Sea will be become hazardous for China’s most powerful South Sea Fleet as well as its so-called ‘secret’ fleet meant for the Indian Ocean, both headquartered in the Sanya naval base on Hainan Island. This requires the Indian government and naval brass to prioritize, as I have been pleading with the highest in the land for the last 25 years or so, to expeditiously equip all of the littoral and island nation navies with the Brahmos. Indeed, Brahmos-armed Indonesian, Philippine, Malaysian surface combatants and shore batteries along with their Vietnamese counterparts could, between them, compel the much touted Hainan-based fleets to stay locked up in Sanya and, in case they ventured into deeper waters, to carve ’em up.
The value of the Brahmos with Southeast Asian nations is a strategic prong Delhi for incomprehensible reasons has been unconscionably slow to appreciate. The other two prongs are megaton yield thermonuclear forces (discussed at length in my books) and the regularization of the Indian naval presence in the South China Sea with a flotilla formally and permanently deployed in-area with ships and crews rotated out of basing arrangements in Singapore, Cam Ranh Bay, Subic Bay (Philippines) and Sabang (Indonesia) as part of the new geostrategic grouping — the “Modified Quadrilateral” or “Mod Quad” of India, Japan, group of Southeast Asian states, and Australia that India should put together (detailed in my latest book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition). Having Indian warships on South China Sea station showing the flag 24/7 365 days, and sporting the fighting attitude that Admiral DK Joshi, when he was CNS, hinted at when he declared that any attempt by the Chinese Navy to do anything untoward will be met with force, will alone convince Beijing not to trifle with India.
Moreover, only with the above described three-pronged trishul in hand will India and Modi’s “Mamallapuram spirit” (ex-his summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in December 2019) acquire potency. The rest is so much gas that Delhi usually vents and is of little account.
Slow news week and month to-date (and months to follow?) are inescapable with the world under corona lock down conditions. There’s need for some laughs or at least diversion from what one’s doing — re-reading classics (Herman Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War) and watching television shows one didn’t find time for (6-part BBC series from the Nineties of John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with the incomparable Alec Guinness playing George Smiley, the counter-intelligence MI5 head ferreting out a longtime Russian spy in the British secret service). It means transiting from the sublime to the ridiculous. Let’s do so any way and deal with the latest instance of foreign policy-related tripping by Ram Madhav, RSS pracharak and General Secretary of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Like his earlier literary efforts, this too is unfailingly sophomoric.
In an op/ed published today (https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/covid-19-and-the-contours-of-a-new-world-order-analysis/story-DUqursm0t8sunJl1gaBJmO.html), Madhav grandly pronounces the end of US’ current “America first” type of nationalism — and by extension the ‘India first’ kind of thinking that Prime Minister Narendra Modi once swore by, and the rise of a “more integrationist” “post-Covid-19” world. As evidence, he refers to America turning to China, India and South Korea for hydoxychloroquine and medical equipment (masks, ventilators, etc.). It is a simpletonish take on international developments that mistakes powerful countries making decisions to serve their national purpose of the moment, such as obtaining from abroad this or that item unavailable or in short supply at home, for a geopolitical trend. It certainly does not make for a growingly interdependent world for God’s sake! To top it, Madhav thinks that a country with a nationalist approach and looking to advance its national interests is also, ipso facto, “isolationist”! Really?
Undeterred by the prospect of seeming deranged and rendering the PM’s endeavours grandiose, he likens Modi facing the corona crisis, his so far failed attempts at rejuvenating the economy, and his over-modest initiative to involve other South Asian states in mustering a collective response to this disease to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s confronting the Great Depression of the 1930s, beating Hitler and, after the Second World War, building the international system anew! How such an Indian effort, even if eventually successful, that stumbled at the first (Kashmir) hurdle, can be equated with the US and Allies defeating the Axis powers and building post War “global institutions”, etc. may boggle the mind of some of us but does not faze Madhav any because he next calls on Modi “to don the Rooseveltian mantle and take the lead” in shaping a new post-covid order!
Madhav raises Modi’s sights still higher in the next paragraph, urging him to look farther back in history and reprise for, what he plainly believes is an expectant world, US President Woodrow Wilson’s role in the First World War and realize the ideals he voiced of “liberal internationalism, democracy, non-intervention, collective security and humanitarian cooperation” to which, he says, Modi “has shown his commitment”. If these were the Sixties one would be tempted, using the idiom of those days, to wonder “what it is that he [Madhav] is smoking!”
The fact is there are no common contextual factors from that era for Modi to work his new Wilsonian magic with. Further, Madhav may do well to heed the fate that befell Wilson’s pet project — the League of Nations, the precursor of the equally hapless United Nations of our day: It ended in a shambles, beginning with his own legislature (the US Congress) rejecting America’s membership in it, and even more Wilson’s guiding principle: “Open covenants openly arrived at”. Because, quite simply, that’s not how the international system of sovereign states worked then or works now, a 100 years later. Ethics and morality are distinguished mainly by their absence in practice, if not in rhetoric, and the meanest, narrowest, interpretation of the national interest is all that drives foreign policies.
Madhav’s oped suggests his reading is limited to newspapers and periodicals, that he picks up on names — Joseph Nye, Yuval Harari, and Parag Khanna — in intellectual fashion, and whom he quotes by way of inaptly constructing the case he does. But because he seems fascinated by it and lest he again draw any serious parallels, may be, he should bone up on the history of Wilsonian idealism at the core of which was protecting and advancing the US national interest.
By way of fundamentals, to believe that India and Modi today are in the same position as the US and Wilson were in 1919 and the Treaty of Versailles when the US became the predominant global power, or America and Roosevelt (and Harry Truman) were in 1945 when the US consolidated its numero uno status, is beyond silliness and to make a laughingstock of India and Modi. Feeding a leader’s ambition is one thing, fueling his megalomania is something else altogether. Modi, by all indications may get his ego regularly massaged by Madhav, foreign minister S. Jaishankar and their ilk. But the PM, one hopes, is more of a realist than he lets on, or these servitors around him, believe. But what if the latter have read Modi right?
The 3-week country lock down Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced will have run its course by April 15. He is having a teleconference today with the chief ministers of all the states to decide on follow-up measures. The governments of Punjab and Odisha have already jumped the gun. Influenced by the experience of other countries and driven by a sense of abundant caution, Amarinder Singh and Naveen Patnaik have decreed that their states will continue to be locked down until the month end. This is a reasonable first step that the PM too will, in all likelihood, announce whenever next he addresses the nation. Especially because an ICMR study has concluded that India would have had some 8.2 lakh COVID-19 positive cases by April 15 had it not been for the nationwide lockdown. (Curiously, per a news report, the Health Ministry denies there is any such study!)
India is still in the early stage of the pandemic in most part because of the lack of diagnostic testing on an adequately large scale. Hence, a representative sample is not available with the government to build a contagion spread model on, to draw an India-specific COVID curve with, and otherwise to alight on a set of preventive actions to flatten it. India’s response to-date has been typically hybrid, taking a little from here, a bit from there, which is fine. But what are these other models?
South Korea has been the most successful and now touts the manner in which it has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis as its principal means of soft power. It mapped and tracked the movement of the disease through its human carriers, was absolutely transparent about its methods, persuaded its people to observe strict norms of personal and public conduct, activated wide-area surveillance, and speedily tested a very large number of people. What aspect of the South Korean model is beyond India’s ken? Why, the discipline of the people, of course! Unless there are police vans roaming around enforcing the curfew, as is the case in Delhi, warning people to stay indoors, or else, the success the country has so far had would be missing. But it also means a somewhat oppressive milieu and, willy-nilly, suspension of individual freedoms. This last is precisely what’s held against the Chinese model.
The authoritarian system in China simply closed off the danger areas, lopped off what little freedom the people enjoyed, and imposed a compulsory screening, identification, isolation and treatment system nation-wide. Even if the Indian government has no democratic qualms, it cannot emulate this model because it simply does not have the policing wherewithal or the harshly punitive but disciplined system of collective order, and zero capability of the kind China has routinized to track through a mobile apps the movement of almost all of its people remotely exposed to the virus. The British model first tried out and then quickly discarded was based on the Darwinian principle of letting the most susceptible and vulnerable, particularly the aged, to succumb to the virus and die in order to conserve resources to keep alive a younger demographic. This is grisly and for obvious reasons a non-starter. In Israel, borders have been closed to people from any country identified as with the virus. A variation of this is already current in India except, even after the lock down announcement, airlines flying in from all over disgorged passengers with a sieve-like testing regime manned by the predictably inefficient health staffers at airports. So the afflicted as well as the asymptomatic carriers were allowed to fan out all over the country to ensure the disease reached pandemic proportions.
What next? Because Modi seems to take his cues from America, this may be of interest. The reputable periodical ‘The Scientific American’ reported about a recent American Enterprise Institute (a think tank) study that offers a four-phase “road map to reopening.” The first phase involves, it says, “slowing the spread of new infections with physical distancing measures, such as closing schools and having people work from home. In the second step, individual states can reopen when they have the capacity to identify, test and isolate most people with COVID-19 and their close contacts—but some distancing will still be required. In the third, remaining restrictions can be lifted when an effective therapy or vaccine becomes available or when data show widespread immunity. The final stage, after the current pandemic is over, will be to invest heavily in research and health care to prepare for the next one.”
Using the metrics in this report, India is clearly in the first phase. It is also perfectly plain that the non-BJP-ruled states are marching to the beat of their own drum and, as in the case of Punjab and Odisha extending the lockdown, are ahead of the Central government. Apparently, what we are witnessing here is what’s happening in the US where the state and local governments are doing what they think is best for the people under their jurisdictions. Except in Washington a completely impulsive and wayward President, Donald Trump, is needlessly mucking up things with his ill-informed takes on the disease and its spread. Here a more deliberate Modi is advancing by small steps.
Considering that the state governments are closer to the ground reality which may differ hugely from state to state in this vast country, may be what Modi should do is leave it to the political dispensations in the states to decide how they want exactly to proceed in terms of timelines and programmatic details as long as generally a standardized protocol (that all agree on) for phased elimination of COVID-19 is followed.
On April 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed on twitter that he “Had an extensive telephone conversation with President @realDonaldTrump. We had a good discussion, and agreed to deploy the full strength of the India-US partnership to fight COVID-19.” The PM apparently considers it a matter of great honour to be conferring with the American head of state on almost anything, and loses no time in letting this be publicly known. The reason Trump had called was to ask Modi to expeditiously release for export to the United States hydroxychloroquine that the Indian government may have stocked up on. In response, the PM reportedly told Trump that his government will consider his request but first examine the consequences of releasing this drug for sale to the US.
Trump is convinced this anti-malaria drug has a future as an anti-corona medicine. He has also to remedy a situation that may see his political goose being cooked because he had initially dismissed the C-virus as a scare conjured up by the Liberal establishment opposed to him. His medical advisers, however, are unanimous in warning that this chemical compound is unproven as solution for COVID-19, and that it is highly toxic when not used under strictest supervision. Whether Americans, despite being adequately warned, ingest this drug as a prophylactic on the basis of their President’s advice and die in vast numbers, is US’ concern. What India has to worry about is whether Delhi will ship off this medicine to the US, leaving India high and dry if hydroxychloroquine is discovered, on the off-chance, to actually be a panacea for the corona crisis. With respect to corona, India is still at the low end of the COVID-19 curve largely because of a near complete lack of specialized mass testing. For all any one knows, the corona may have already afflicted five or ten times as many Indians as the 4,000 patients under care. Five lakh testing kits are only this week arriving, ironically, from China. Even so, in the context of the 1.3 billion population, the disease, it may be fair to conclude, is still in its nascent phase with herd-contagion and spread in the country still to take-off and when it does infections may peak in the next two months or so. Thus, prudence suggests Modi should be cautious, not go overboard in emptying out the country’s stock of hydroxychloroquine for America’s benefit.
Except the option of not sending supplies of this drug to the US is now denied Modi who, in any case, has shown himself to be a little too fearful of alienating the US and otherwise too eager to please Washington. This tendency is what the US and Trump have to-date exploited. Two days after his conversation with Modi, Trump disclosed to the Press just what transpired in that phone call to the Indian leader. It turns out that far from pleading with Modi, Trump had demanded India forthwith sell to the US its holdings of the anti-malarial drug, or face punitive action. “I spoke to [Modi] Sunday morning, called him, and I said, we’d appreciate you allowing our supply to come out”, said Trump. “If [Modi] doesn’t allow it to come out. That would be OK. But of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?” And retaliation, he hinted, would be that old staple — tightening the screws in the ongoing bilateral trade deal negotiations.
Consider Trump’s proprietorial reference to “allowing our supply to come out”. Does this mean that the US government through its embassy and/or via American pharma companies, their subsidiaries or middlemen agencies have already bought off a lot of India’s hydroxychloroquine stockpile, and having done so are only awaiting the Modi government’s approval for air-freighting it to America? Whether or not this quinine-containing drug is the answer for COVID-19, India will need it, besides malaria, to treat ailments like rheumatoid arthritis, etc. and so keeping a biggish stock of it to meet domestic need makes sense. In any case, it is India’s sovereign right, by way of husbanding its own resources to tackle a pandemic to negate any commercial contracts that spirit away important drugs from the country. The question is will Modi exercise this right, or succumb to American pressure?
Meanwhile, because of America’s marked dependence on China for pharmaceutical and medical products Beijing has Washington over the barrel. Indeed, as a March 4 commentary in Xinhua,the official Chinese news agency, put it, China can send the U.S. to “the hell of the novel coronavirus pandemic” by banning exports of all medical supplies.
It is not just Trump, but US’ attitude vis a vis India generally, that is really at issue here. I have been warning (in my numerous books and in writings over the past two decades) about Washington seeking to imprint US interests and concerns on India’s policies, starting in the new Century with the 2008 civilian nuclear deal and, in the Modi era, with the foundational accords (LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA) that have transformed India into a subsidiary ally. It is a goal successive Indian governments (under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Modi) have helped Washington realize. These regimes have acted on the flawed premise that an aspiring India can ride to great power status, as I keep harping, by kowtowing to extant great powers — US and China, in the main. It has only earned India kicks up its backside, but Delhi has not been disabused of this view. Then again, if our leaders display no self-respect, it is hardly to be wondered that India will continue to be treated with utter contempt which, incidentally is now reserved, as many West European states find, exclusively for America’s allies and friends.
The worm is, however, turning in Europe at least. Emmanuel Macron in France is leading the charge on shaping an autonomous European identity, policies and even a European military freed from the impedimenta of treaty ties to the US. Germany, the economic giant of Europe under Angela Merkl too has finally decided that enough is enough. The apparent breaking point has been reached with the Trump Administration “confiscating” 200,000 Thailand-made masks ordered by Germany, and arm twisting a German pharma research company reportedly on the cusp of a corona vaccine breakthrough to surrender exclusive rights to it to US companies. It moved the German Home Minister, Andreas Geisel, to equate such actions with “piracy” and to add that “This is no way to to treat transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, we shouldn’t resort to the tactics of the Wild West.”
With treaty allies like Germany being treated with such insensitivity, India can expect only worse. But the Indian government doesn’t get it, perhaps, because Modi (like his predecessors in office) instead of being driven by ‘India First’ imperatives, is casting about, as always, for a safety line from the US which, however, works and has always worked solely on the ‘America First’ principle.
[The recent Markaz Nizamuddin Meet of the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi]
Time to dispassionately lay the blame for the single, most dangerous, event responsible for the Coronavirus spread throughout the country — the annual meeting hosted by the Markaz Nizamuddin of the Tablighi Jamaat led by the numskull of a Maulana, Saad Kandhalvi. The blame is shared by the Central and Delhi governments and by the various police entities which means, of course, that no senior bureaucrat or police officer or any agency will ever be held responsible for the fiasco. Finger pointing at everybody else which’s, in fact, the norm in these situations, is already proceeding apace.
So, let’s start by looking at the Central government. That the COVID-19 was spreading radially outwards and very fast from the Chinese city of Wuhan had become definitively known by the first week of January. It was so taken note of and flagged within the Indian government. If most visas to the foreign attendees of the big Tablighi showcase Meet were issued after January first week, as seems likely, then both the Home Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs — the twin-issuing authorities should be hauled up. The MEA did not alert the Modi government about the demand for visas by foreign followers of the Tablighi Jamaat at a time of the corona pandemic. The Home Ministry, the ultimate authority in visa approvals, was likewise blissfully inattentive.
That so big a “religious”, possibly combustible, event was in the works would have been known, should have been known, to the Delhi Police a good 4-6 months before it actually happened. Why? Because the Nizamuddin area police station is bang next to the mosque where the meeting had been called. Even assuming the information about the virus and its spread was first available to the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government in Delhi and the Nizamuddin police station in-charge only after the Prime Minister announced his 3-week countrywide lock down March 26, the local authorities, concerned about the potentially troublesome Tablighi Meet, ought to have taken normal precautionary measures. Such as, in consultation with, or in spite of, the Tablighi leader, either calling it off or postponing it.
Given the political sensitivity about the activity of organizations such as the Tablighi Jamaat, the Delhi Police controlled directly by Modi’s political intimate and the country’s Home Minister Amit Shah, ought to have instructed Delhi Police to be at the ready, deployed Intelligence officers, operating undercover, to report on the inflammatory address by Maulana Saad, and for arrangement to be made for his prompt arrest in case anything provocative was uttered by him, and otherwise posted rapid action police forces in the area to deter troublemakers and clamp down on violence if it erupted. The inaugural session where Kandhalvi mouthed all manner of socially irresponsible, even incendiary, stuff, occurred but none of these above actions were taken.
The Maulana’s virtual fatwa to the milling thousands at the Meet to ignore the official lock down because, in any case, this virus was punishment called down by Allah for the people’s sins which, if it did nothing else, enhanced the negative impressions of Islam in the society at-large and fired up the majoritarian animus against Indian Muslims. However, owing to a completely unprepared Delhi Police who acted as if they had no inkling of anything, no immediate arrest was made, and he was allowed to go “underground”.
Far, far worse from the COVID-19 crisis point of view, between the Health Ministry at the Centre under Dr Harsh Vardhan, a Member of Parliament from Delhi, who should have known and done better, and the AAP government’s Health Department, they made an awful hash of things. In the main, both abjectly failed to impose a complete quarantine of 2 weeks on the entire Markaz Nizammuddin congregation (to detect infection and isolate the infectors and infectees of whom there reportedly were many). It permitted the lot of the Tablighi followers to walk about freely in the larger Nizammudin area and leisurely to return to their home states and countries, thereby helping the pandemic to spread everywhere. The slate of decisions not taken and of missed actions are particularly horrific and appalling in light of the Prime Minister’s announcement around that time of a countrywide lock down.
The AAP government is taking refuge in the fact that while it may order Delhi Police to do this and that, under the split law & order system in Union Territories, the Delhi Police doesn’t heed its orders. This is correct in theory but begs the question: Did the Kejriwal regime actually issue any orders banning the Tablighi event, failing which to order the arrest of Kandhalvi after he spouted patent nonsense, and to forcefully, if necessary, quarantine the attendees — transporting them en masse to, say, camps set up by the army in Delhi’s vicinity? Apparently not. So both the Central and Delhi governments are in the dock for the law & order-cum-public health debacle that has ensued.
This has larger foreign policy implications. Which country, South Asian or other, will take Modi government’s programme involving a reach out on the corona pandemic, seriously?
And, finally, what to make of the Prime Minister’s televised address to the nation this morning urging the people to shine a light at 9 PM for nine minutes on Sunday, March 5, when everybody was expecting some guidance on whether the current lock down will be extended, and how his government means to cope and what the citizenry is supposed to do at the end of 3-weeks? The media talked of the likelihood of Modi broaching the subject of a staggered lock down to get at least some level of economic activity in the country off and running. Alas, of this there was not a mention but we are being asked to follow up the public beating of thalis, and generally making noise in appreciation of medical personnel, et al on the corona frontline, with now lighting up diyas and waving lit up mobile phones.
There’s a sneaking and well-merited fear that the Modi government quite simply has no good and substantive ideas, coming up with only hollow symbolic gestures of a kind the Prime Minister loves. Thank God, he at least warned the millions of educated illiterates populating our cities against milling around waving battery-run torches on Sunday, as they did when beating thalis!!
Hopefully, his next televised address will be less froth and foam and more beer!
[ A massive crowd of out-of-state daily wagers and contract workers in the National Capital Region waiting in Ghaziabad for buses to take them to their homes in UP, Bihar, Jarkhand, etc.]
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set up a secret task force of experts that media has so far not gotten wind of to advise him on the ways and means of dealing with the corona virus and of riding out the looming country-wide health crisis. In its last meeting the task force is understood to have conveyed the unvarnished truth to Modi, about the oncoming calamitous spread of the virus, courtesy the herd or community contagion that has now taken hold. Current trend-tracking suggests a doubling of corona infectees every three days.
The task force’s bleak assessment is because of two reasons. Firstly, because the central and state governments made no preparations whatsoever to enforce the 3-week lock down before Modi announced it Tuesday, March 26. With no social safety net — no free food public kitchens, and no provision for weekly subsistence payments in the Modi regime’s $23 billion economic package disclosed by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week, millions of daily wagers and contract workers making up the bulk of the country’s labour force in the large metropolitan areas, such as Delhi, decided to hightail it back to their hometowns and villages mostly in BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradedsh, Rajasthan, UP) states. They took to the road because the government had done nothing to induce them to stay back in the cities or to forcefully prevent them from doing so.
Obviously, not anticipating this inevitable reverse migration, no countermeasures were at hand to prevent such mass movement. This has pretty much defeated the purpose of the national lock down. Because the C-virus will now be carried by the virus infected and asymptomatic masses of people from the cities to the countryside, which had so far escaped the contagion. Desperate actions were indeed taken by certain state governments suddenly waking up to the dangers, such as the UP government officials hosing down the migrants on the highways (as if they were so much cattle). This was akin to shutting the stable door after the horses had bolted, and will do little to stem the geometric rate of spread of the virus.
In the emerging conditions, it is inevitable that the Prime Minister will be compelled to extend the lock down in the country by several more weeks, even months. The economic impact of this is hard to imagine. May be Modi should begin replacing his rhetoric about defeating the virus in a short (3-week) war by soberly advising his fellow countrymen to gird themselves for the really long fight ahead.
The other possible reason for the task force’s dim view of the virus spreading is because of the obvious infrastructure deficiencies in the health sector that cannot quickly be made up especially as regards available hospital beds and, importantly, ventilators. Just how big these deficits are may be gleaned from the statistics in a short but telling Brookings India report — ‘COVID-19: Is India’s health infrastructure equipped to handle an epidemic?’, dated March 24 by Prachi Singh, Shamika Ravi and Sikim Chakraborty. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/03/24/is-indias-health-infrastructure-equipped-to-handle-an-epidemic/)
It shows the extent of the country’s unpreparedness in dealing with the C-virus. For instance, per National Health Profile–2019 that the report quotes, there are some 7,13,986 total government hospital beds in the country presently, amounting to 0.55 beds per 1000 population. Beds available for the vulnerable elderly population (aged 60 years plus) is 5.18 beds per 1000 population.
Many states, the report says, feature fewer beds per 1000 population than the national average. Among them are Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam and Manipur — 12 states accounting for 70% of India’s total population in India with Bihar being the worst in this respect with only 0.11 beds available per 1000 population. Some states are better — West Bengal (2.25 government beds per 1000), Sikkim (2.34 government beds per 1000), Delhi (1.05 beds per 1000 population), Kerala (1.05 beds per 1000) and Tamil Nadu (1.1 beds per 1000). Peninsular states also do better with regard to bed availability for the elderly population — Kerala (7.4), Tamil Nadu (7.8), Karnataka (8.6), even as the BIMARU states, as usual, are the laggards.
How do India’s numbers re: hospital beds, for instance, compare with those in other countries? Predictably, not at all well. Using data from Stat News (at (https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/10/simple-math-alarming-answers-covid-19/) India’s 0.55 beds per 1000 people compares with 2.8 beds per 1000 people in the US, 4.3 beds in China, and a very satisfactory 12 beds per 1000 in South Korea and Japan, the reason why the last two countries have all but stamped out the virus.
Regarding ventilators, with 5%-10% of total patients estimated to require critical care with ventilator support, some 110,000-220,000 ventilators will be needed if the worst case is realized of 2.2 million Corona patients. Of the total 7,13,986 government beds, some 5%-8% or 35,699-57,119 are ICU beds. The report assumes that if 50% of these ICU beds have ventilators, the actual number of ventilators in the country may be between 17,850 to 25,556 ventilators. If all ICU beds are assumed to be equipped with ventilators that makes for a maximum of some 57,000 ventilators.
It is a pity there’s no law in India like the Defence Production Act in the US empowering the President of the day to order industrial companies to drop whatever they are doing and diverting their production processes and lines to rolling out the specialized equipments, such as ventilators, required in crises. Thus, President Trump has instructed General Electric to begin mass producing them. Without any such prompt from the Indian government, many large Indian firms, such as Mahindra, have taken the initiative to join forces with smaller health equipment manufacturers, to gear up its factories to output 10,000 ventilator units per week. Other companies too should now be encouraged by the Modi government to follow suit with promise to buy all units so manufactured, because the demand for them is likely soon to spike and continue to remain at a high level. Unless the Indian industry in the private sector takes the lead, the C-virus will fell more Indians than any war or natural and manmade disaster the country has to-date faced, perhaps on the scale of 2 to 3 million dead in the Great Bengal Famine so heartlessly engineered by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1943.
To expect the public sector units, directly under Modi, in this situation to show the get-go drive to manufacture such equipments on a mass scale and on a war footing may be to expect the impossible. Is that why Modi has so far desisted from calling on the PSUs do do their bit?
In terms of “yeh karenge, woh karenge” sort of declamations that Indian politicians now and again spout, it wasn’t exceptional. Except it was pregnant with promise that a solution would, in fact, be found for the corona pandemic inside of three weeks. Is the target of 21 days anywhere near achievable considering that the finest doctors and researchers the world over believe that a genuine vaccine is some 10-18 months away. Given that the PM has great confidence in Indians who have attained professional success in America, may be he should heed the words of Dr. Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. Jha told CNN (Prime Time, March 26) that “We can bend this curve but not by giving people false hope.”
If Modi had evoked the Kurukshetra battle — the centrepiece of the Hindu epic Mahabharata — solely to rouse the country and the masses into preparing meaningfully for an epic battle against a particularly difficult adversary — a virus!, which may have been his objective, then he would have been deserving of huge praise. The enormity of the challenge would have by this means been brilliantly communicated to, and immediately connected with, millions of people living in population-wise bulging metros and urban areas generally and in the vast countryside who are better versed in Hindu epics than informed about the efforts underway globally and in the country to find an antidote. It’d have been an inspired use of quasi-religious imagery on the same level of significance as Bangladesh’s successful use of the Koran and the Muslim clergy to propagate the idea of small families and lessen the rate of population growth.
Instead, Modi, in effect, presented himself to the people as a fully armed Arjun in his war chariot racing to fell the enemy and declare victory when, actually, he is grossly under-armed for the fray ahead. His arsenal features a disastrous Indian public sector in the health field with poorly run public hospitals that spread diseases more than they contain them, and an enterprising but un-utilized private sector, and nary any evidence anywhere that the government has mounted, or is thinking of mounting, a concerted multi-pronged public-private effort. Such effort simultaneously to increase testing for the c-virus on a massive basis, sequester those affected in numerous, widely located, quarantine camps, and on a warfooting deploying all the assets and resources of the state in a desperate race to find an antivirus solution, is nowhere in evidence.
In the event, the 21 days is at most an “aspirational” target, of a type like US President Donald Trump’s recent declaration that a carona virus antidote would become available by Easter (April 12). But three weeks of social distancing may not cut it, even though Modi — if taken at his word — expects the nation to return to normal, and industry and social and financial services sectors, back to business as usual. There will be shortages of ventilators in particular — an item in great demand in all affected countries. In that case, there will be a slugfest between countries to buy as many of these units as can be cornered from any source anywhere in the world. In a contest India may not be in a position to win with richer countries willing to pay much higher unit prices than India can afford. A National Task Force set up only today will be coming in fairly late in the game and, for a start, will be preoccupied with acquiring ventilators and other personal protection equipment. The 30,000-40,000 ventilators the Health Secretary says the government is indenting for will meet only a miniscule demand should the pandemic assume daunting proportions. Is there indigenous industrial capability that can urgently kick in to make up the deficit in ventilators? Doubtful, considering it will take 9-14 months for companies to get the manufacturing jigs, etc., and assuming a standard design (from wherever it is secured) can be readily accessed by these Indian firms.
Sure, GOI cannot close down India indefinitely. But being unrealistic about resolution timelines only pushes everything into the realm of quackery and fake anti-corona medicines peddled on the Net while leaving the deeper dilemmas of economic shutdown unaddressed. And all this even as cities are emptying of contract/daily wage labourers, who are streaming back to their distant villages, with those staying on along with their families being left without livelihood and wondering where their next meal is coming from. In this situation for the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to announce the capitalisation of a spate of welfare schemes and direct transfer programmes of money, etc. is very good. But such policy diversions assume that the bulk of the population is so covered, which clearly is not the case. So even as the government and industry struggle to come up with large-scale economic remedies for the “wretched of the earth” (Franz Fanon’s phrase for the abjectly poor) that deliver in the short term, problems of the here and now still demand immediate answers.
In the prevailing circumstances, the Army seems to be the only organized entity that can act as saviour, and in its “aid to the civil” role produce outcomes no other government agency remotely can. The Chief of the Army Staff General MM Naravane said as much in his interview published in today’s Indian Express (https://indianexpress.com/article/coronavirus/india-army-chief-general-mm-naravane-fighting-covid-19-6333188/). “The Indian Army”, he said, “has certain inherent capability to rise up to various emergency situations by virtue of organisational structure and training. And in keeping with that, the Indian Army is planning and preparing to fight COVID-19.” In contrast, moreover, to Modi’s characteristically religion-tinted riff on the pandemic, the COAS did some plainspeak. “Speaking in military language, I would say”, the General averred, “that at present COVID-19 is in the preparatory stage of impact in India and we are making concerted efforts to prevent COVID-19 from establishing a firm base.”
Further, anticipating that the Army will be called on to shoulder the anti-carona operations, he revealed his instructions to Command headquarters to (1) increase the capacity for surveillance/isolation of the carona-affected at military hospitals at various levels, (2) be “ready to set up a 45-bed isolation facility and create 10 bed ICU facility exclusively for COVID-19 at six hours’ notice”, (3) keep 30% of field hospitals “on standby for constructing COVID hospitals in COVID hotspots”, and (4) mobilize “Responsive and agile Quick Reaction Medical Teams (QRMTs)” at “six hours’ notice to meet the requirements of the hospitals/ civil administration.”
Such preparations to meet a probable an onrushing medical catastrophe is as it should be for a national army. Its shining record of effectively and efficiently tackling all manner of natural and man-made disasters (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, major accidents) when juxtaposed against the usually floundering civilian apparatus of state should infuse the citizenry with confidence that army will get things done even in the worst-case when government gives up.
Hence, my suggestion: Why not task the army to run, in western parlance, “soup kitchens” for the poor and the hungry in cities and towns under curfew (predictably foolishly and mindlessly implemented by the lathi-happy local police)? Reaching prepared food to the poorest and the hungriest people particularly in urban areas is priority, and army will be found to be more than up to this task. Unit kitchens feed hundreds of troops at a time. Of course, the governments at every level will have to ensure a steady supply of grains and vegetables and cooking oil to the army cooks to make this feeding mission a success. Isn’t this a far better solution to keep the bellies full of the people that find themselves suddenly unemployed in cities and towns, or is Sitharaman’s allocation of 5 free additional kilos of grain and one additional kilo of pulses to each of those registered in various government schemes, better?
This is a jag from the carona topic, but a long term and sustainable solution to eliminate hunger in the nation is a necessity, especially as a buffer to those most vulnerable in pandemics like the one we find ourselves in. A proven, tested and operating model is provided by the enormously popular and successful “Amma’s canteens” in Tamil Nadu that the late chief minister, Jayalalitha, founded and is still remembered for. It offers good food for a pittance. The pittance here equals self-respect because even the poorest can proudly claim they paid for the food they consumed. What’s necessary is national scaling of this “kitchen” model.
But for the corona crisis at hand, army-run kitchens are best.
Sure, India will somehow manage, live through this pandemic in the manner it has always weathered crises. But one wishes for some show of efficiency by government agencies. This in no way absolves Modi of his inapt use of the Mahabharat metaphor for the country’s troubles with the c-virus because it ill prepares the people for the possibly humungous health crisis and tragedy ahead.
Meanwhile, how is China, our main foe, coping? Very well, apparently. Having let the C-virus as an out-of-control biological weapon or a genuinely natural mutation, who knows, first take hold in Wuhan in mid-2019, which Beijing deliberately misreported to the UN World Health Organization as simple flu, it used its well oiled system to coerce its 1.3 billion people into a quarantine, even as it sought a solution in its labs. This three-pronged approach worked. The virus has plateaued out at a very low level of virus activity, Chinese labs are in the forefront of patenting a vaccine, and it has enabled China to get back on its feet and off and running once again.
Ever attentive to its strategic interests, the Xi Jinping regime is now on the offensive, meaning to turn the C-virus to its advantage. At the UN Security Council, China vetoed an Estonian initiative to discuss the carona virus pandemic, because one of its talking points was the need for all members to strictly observe “transparency” which China did not do by misleading the world about the virus that was afoot. Next, at the virtual G-20 summit (March 26), rather than mouth banalities about the need for international cooperation, etc., Xi demanded that to get the global economy going once again that all countries lower tariffs which, incidentally, will, in the present situation, almost exclusively drive up Chinese exports and benefit Chinese industry.
Then there’s India. The one great opportunity Modi created to fetch strategic dividend misfired for the reasons apprehended in an earlier post — insufficient monies (just $10 million) deployed by Delhi to help out our neighbours, forcing them to look to China for financial succour. Also, the Indian government, not wanting to miss a chance to lower Pakistan a peg or two, fell promptly into the Kashmir hole thoughtfully dug for it by Islamabad at the video summit of SAARC countries called by Modi. Wouldn’t India’s larger interests have been better served if Delhi had simply ignored the predictable Pakistani demand to ease up conditions in J&K and offered the Imran Khan government medical help and cooperation to defeat the corona virus as part of a collective South Asian campaign?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated perhaps the most significant foreign policy move of his government to-date: He called a video-summit February 15 of the heads of government of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations to discuss how together to deal with the Caronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic now sweeping through rest of Asia, Europe and the world and entering the extended subcontinental region in strength. Presidents Ibrahim Solih of the Maldives, Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, and Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Lotay Tshering of Bhutan and KP Sharma of Nepal, reacted with alacrity to this surprising and entirely unexpected show of Indian leadership. It showed just how fertile the ground is for India to assume stewardship of the region not by the usual means of bluster and strong arm methods that have long marred India’s relations with its closest neighbours, but by displaying genuine willingness to listen to their concerns, accommodating them, and helping them help themselves.
Indeed, so swift and positive was the response of the other South Asian states that, after the initial hesitation even the Tehreek-e-Insaf party regime in Pakistan felt compelled to fall in line and join the proposed video conference. But in keeping with the current tenor of bilateral ties, Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to derate the event by having his assistant for health, Zafar Mirza, represent him and get the latter to sideline the Modi initiative by insisting that (1) restoring status quo ante in Kashmir is necessary for the success of the Modi initiative, and (2) the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu, not Delhi, spearhead the anti-Corona virus campaign. But no damage was done in part because of what the Indian PM promised.
An expansive Modi offered testing kits and rapid response Indian medical teams of specialist doctors and technicians for deployment anywhere in the region at the request of any country, “online training capsules” for emergency teams these countries may care to constitute, the “integrated disease surveillance portal” software that India has developed to detect and trace the movement of virus carriers, and a forum for public health experts and medical researchers to confer with each other, share information and data, and mount collaborative research projects to find an antidote, which objective has been furthered by the success of the National Institute of Virology, Pune, in isolating the caronavirus gene, which process can be quickly shared with labs and agencies in the region. Of course, the kooks on the fringes peddling gaumutra (cow urine) as remedy should be no part of these exchanges! Cooperation on the Caronavirus will set India up as the regional benefactor, a role which if Delhi plays it right can be parlayed into something strategically impressive.
Implicitly and most importantly, Modi accepted that India as the largest economy and with the biggest expert manpower pool, would be subsidizing and sustaining this effort. This aspect should be amplified by our embassies to the governments in the region. However, his announcement of just $10 million as India’s contribution to the emergency fund for SAARC countries to draw from was an anti-climax. It was too small a sum to impress anybody, or to address the real worries of the economic impact of the pandemic that several participating leaders voiced.
Solih, for instance, revealed how in the past month or so tourism, Maldives’ sole source of revenue, had suffered a 20% drop and was excepted to plunge another 15% shortly. Rajpaksa likewise referred to the severe decline in tourist traffic from Europe and pleaded for “a mechanism to assist our economies to tide over the very difficult period.” Clearly, $10 million is laughably inadequate for SAARC to do anything of note, considering the other South Asian states are too poor and hard hit by the economic downturn to proportionately ante up funds. By way of providing perspective, the Egyptian government has committed $6.7 billion to tackle the danger from COVID-19. That’s the scale of monies required for India to make a mark in South Asia. But why is it imperative that India do so?
Primarily because it is a God-sent opportunity for Delhi to reverse India’s strategic slide into near irrelevance in the 21st Century, and realize its policy priority of cultivating warm and intimate relations with the neighbouring states based on their plugging into the Indian economy and taking their social, political and cultural bearings from India to which they are all organically linked. This is actually easier done than said because proclaiming this as India’s policy aim and intent would, in this age of sensitive nationalism, instantly turn off these countries, get their gander up!
The anti-Carona effort is the wedge in the door that needs to be quickly widened with offers of public and private sector investment in industry and infrastructure, help in setting up transportation and communication networks, in the facilitation of increased trade, of Indian-made armaments, and of credit lines for these purposes. Pakistan’s reluctant participation in the collective anti-Carona effort can be translated into formal and informal dialogues to resolve outstanding disputes. Sir Creek, Siachen, and even Kashmir may be nettlesome issues but their resolution is possible if Islamabad is offered a mega economic and trade deal it cannot refuse. In this context, the abrogation of Article 370 is in no way an obstacle because it mirrors the status accorded the so-called “Azad Kashmir” by Islamabad. The whole can be rendered doubly attractive specifically to GHQ, Rawalpindi, if conjoined to substantive military steps taken unilaterally by Delhi, such as the removal of all Indian short range nuclear-warheaded missiles from the western border, and the rationalizing of army’s three strike corps into a single composite armoured-mechanized corps plus several independent armoured brigades.
It is moves I have long advocated as being able to conclusively prove India’s peaceful intent and bonafides and to seed mutual trust — the essential foundation for normalcy in relations with Pakistan. Good India-Pakistan relations would presage a pacified South Asia, which is a must for India to step up as a great power and credible counterpoise to China in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf region, in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Surely, keeping the larger national good in mind, this is big enough prize and motivation for Modi to sidestep his ingrained anti-Pakistanism, and to convert his Carona initiative by the above means into hard strategic leverage and a raised status for India.
Most countries that matter or think they matter have a fairly standard template for foreign policy, which is to advance the national interest by advantageously managing the existing tiered balance of power system within the region, the continent, and the world at-large. The single best encapsulation in recent times of, or label for, such policy in the Indian context is “strategic autonomy”.
Jawaharlal Nehru conceived of nonalignment, a movement of Third World states, as global balancer and adroitly managed the often conflicting expectations of the US/West and USSR and had the country benefit from the competing attentions of the super powers of the day using the means of moral suasion. It worked only because in the aftermath of the nuclear horrors inflicted on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Washington was on the moral defensive and the Communist regime of the Soviet Union, with no such inhibitions but motivated by hard-headed geopolitics, saw the gain from playing to India’s moral pretensions and showing empathy for Third World causes (anti-imperialism, anti-racism, etc).
Indira Gandhi, in trying to hold off potential US interference in India’s plan’s to enter the lists on the side of an independent Bangladesh in 1971, signed for tactical effect the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in August of that year. It checkmated Messrs Nixon & Kissinger and their attempts at militarily pressuring Delhi into laying off East Pakistan, but led the then Moscow supremo, Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, to believe he had succeeded in getting India to acquiesce in his scheme for Asian security that minimized America’s trans-Pacific role. The Brezhnev plan didn’t work out but the Soviet Union didn’t turn sour because an India trying to maintain its distance from both Washington and Moscow was Moscow’s next best option.
From the Seventies to the end of the Cold War in the mid-1990s India bobbled this power game the best it could until Narasimha Rao’s needlessly desperate move to gain traction with the US, the supposed victor in the 50-year super power face-off, resulted in a policy of bettering relations on Washington’s terms. In the event, he began sliding the policy towards the United States and in so doing ignored the basic axiom of international affairs, namely, that however a period of strife ends there’s always, for a country with India’s geostrategic heft, new regional and global power balances to negotiate and any imbalance to correct.
It is a natural policy direction that not only stayed ignored during the first BJP and the two terms of Congress rule, but was consolidated with Atal Bihari Vajpayee labeling India and the US “natural allies” and the forging of Next Steps in Strategic Partnership. Manmohan Singh followed up by signing the strategic and sovereignty-wise horrendous 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US formally reducing India to the status of America’s junior partner. It was a deal, one needs to be repeatedly reminded, cobbled together by the then Joint Secretary (Americas) S. Jaishankar, who was amply rewarded for his troubles with appointments as ambassador successively to China, the US, as Foreign Secretary and now Foreign Minister! All this was done, mind you, for the most part under the elastic rubric of making India “strategically autonomous”!
The surprising twist to this tawdry tale in which the Manmohan Singh government, for all intents and purposes, compromised the country’s sovereignty by surrendering its right to resume underground nuclear testing, thereby consigning India to the position of a second rate power and a US dependency because by so doing Delhi implicitly handed over the strategic security role against China to Washington, is that the so-called successor “nationalist” BJP dispensation of Narendra Modi sealed this country’s inferior standing. Modi has done so by weakening relations with Russia and Iran on Washington’s say so, seeking to buy American friendship with inane military hardware purchases and by transferring Indian brain power to the US with unending pleas for larger H1B visa quota. This, instead of transforming India’s economy by zeroing out the role of government in it, giving free rein to local ingenuity and entrepreneurship, investing fully in Indian talent and high-value technology programmes in the private sector, privatizing public sector units in all sectors, and easing labour laws and investment rules, announcing tax holidays, to induce foreign companies to set up export-oriented manufacturing units here and generate employment by the millions — something Modi should have accomplished in his first few months in office that he is yet to realize in his 6th year as PM. What we have in this respect are assurances from Modi that all’s well and exhortations to corporate leaders to do better, which looks suspiciously like a captain of a sinking ship, instead of plugging the hole, urging the passengers to ignore the rising waters.
Manmohan Singh, besides selling the nuclear deal to the Indian people on the patently fraudulent basis that it would somehow miraculously produce “20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020”, also had his MEA explain this turn of policy to over-befriend the US as one that disdained the practices of the 19th Century balance of power system! In trying to clarify his foreign policy that sticks to Manmohan Singh’s policy path, Prime Minister Modi, speaking at a conclave in Delhi on 7th March, thoroughly muddied the rhetoric and explanation.
“There was an era [“when might was right”] where India was neutral but the parameter was being equidistant from all”, the PM asserted. “India today is also neutral but we are friends equally with all…We were neutral earlier and we are neutral today as well but that is not due to distance but due to the parameter of friendship.” “Some tried a nonalignment strategy too. Then an era came when relations were made on the basis of utility. But today’s era is of a world which is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. Still the world is not able to come on one stage for a global agenda — removing poverty, fighting terrorism or addressing climate change. The whole world awaits this but this is not happening”, he added. He further opined that the 21st century while full of possibilities is lacking what he said was a “common global voice.” According to Modi, the main question facing the world is whether to survive by adjusting to the changed circumstances or to carve out our own path.
To ostensibly provide political cover for his universally beneficial foreign policy but not one that gains much for India in particular, he fell back on a quote by the Mahatma. “Mahatma Gandhi used to say he wants India’s progress so that the entire world can gain from the same”, he said. “In this one line lies India’s idea of globalisation and the mantra of collaboration ahead.” Whew!!
Deconstructing this articulation of India’s foreign policy is actually a simple task if one sees the words and phrases for what they are, a jumble conveying little other than the sheer confusion at the heart of it. For instance, being neutral or maintaining neutrality is apparently the central pillar of Modi’s thinking. The variable distinguishing the present policy of neutrality from past policies of neutrality is “friendship” with all, rather than “equidistance” from all.
Setting aside the legal implications of strict neutrality under international law — which, in any case, is definitely not what the PM intends to adhere to, equidistance in Modi’s mind precludes friendship with all when, in fact, friendship undergirds the ability of a country to maintain equidistance between contesting parties! And equally, evidencing equidistance in policies will motivate all powers to put out more for India. In the event, this distinction is at best spurious, and at worst makes no sense. Speaking agnostically, Modi’s policy is different from, say, Nehru’s nonalignment chiefly in the newly coined policy “parameter” of “friendship” that justifies closeness to America at the expense of friendship with other powers (Russia, Iran).
With the US deemed a “natural partner” — an upgrade from Vajpayee’s “natural ally”? — at the ‘Namaste Trump’ do in Motera, Ahmedabad, this formulation of friendship makes no bones about the policy tilt towards the US. This is so, per Modi, because “There is so much that we share: Shared Values & Ideals, Shared Spirit of Enterprise & Innovation, Shared Opportunities & Challenges, Shared Hopes & Aspirations”. Such a view presumes that these shared attributes and values at all matter in the harsh world of international relations and in a system of nation states where considerations of national interest alone prevail. To the extent that Modi believes that shared ideals dictate policies of countries is the degree to which he makes India vulnerable to targeted and cynical exploitation by big powers who are intent on furthering their narrow national interest.
Almost as soon as Trump departed these shores, the Modi government got a whiff of what the situation is and how it may actually pan out for India in the future. The anti-Citizenship Amendment Act riots in Delhi triggered considerable ire in Islamic countries and drew pointed criticism from the United Nations and from official agencies in the bastions of democracy — the US and Western Europe that Modi has sought to cultivate and curry favours from. However, entirely unmindful of the real factors impinging on policy making in most countries, the foreign minister S. Jaishankar, sounding like His Master’s Voice, reacted huffily. Rounding on the BJP regime’s favourite whipping boy — Pakistan, the UN Human Rights Commission, he thundered, “skirts around cross-border terrorism as if it has nothing to do with country next door.” Asked if India was losing friends, the minister-minion airily replied that “may be we are getting to know who our real friends are” which statement, if taken literally, would categorize the UN, US, UK, Iran and every other country and group that has expressed dismay at the treatment of Indian Muslims as not “real friends”. In which case, how will Modi, Jaishankar et al account for their policy of unconditional friendship with the US? And for their advocacy for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council seat for India? Worse, the foreign minister in a non-sequiter-ish fashion proceeded to conflate the concern of Indian Muslims and their lacking documents to prove their citizenship, which is at the heart of the opposition to the proposed National Register of Citizens that will follow in the wake of the CAA, with Parliament’s “right to set the terms of naturalization and citizenship”. It set up a straw man for him to publicly demolish!
All this is particularly problematic in the context of Modi’s jettisoning the “utility” value in deciding which country to get close to. In effect, it means he is pursuing a policy of pleasing Washington or Beijing even if it fetches no real, practical or substantive benefit to India, is at the cost of the national interest and security, and of the country losing its historic role as system balancer which role, were it to be retained by Delhi, will assure India maximum leverage. Given Modi’s patented stake in cultivating American presidents — Obama first and now Trump, rationalizing his policy of “friendship” seems strained when placed alongside Trump’s and Washington’s traditionally realpolitik-inspired attitude to America’s friends and the outside world in which exploiting Modi’s weakness — susceptibility to flattery and for grandstanding, for example, becomes the norm. As regards the other issue, in the face of unfolding de-globalisation — rising tariff barriers and restrictive trade practices, the PM’s outlook on an “interconnected, interrelated and interdependent” world seems quaint. But there will be consequences if such ideas are permitted to drive policies. More and more countries will dump cheap goods and old technologies in India which, in turn, will kill off indigenous effort and enterprise and any chances of the country being at the cutting edge in anything.
In striving, moreover, to fill the post of a “global voice”, which he claims is currently vacant, Modi is prepared to have India “adjust” to changing circumstances rather than, in his own words, have the country carve out its own particular path as rest of the states in the world are doing. Combined with the PM’s policy of fawning over America, China and the big powers generally, India is in for a rough ride. Especially troubling is the fact that with the captain of the ship seemingly bent on thus handing over the control of the steering wheel to extra-territorial entities, what will eventuate is an irreversible development.
And finally, there is unintended irony in Modi’s evoking Mahatma Gandhi. The world will indeed gain from India’s progress. But India will only progress if it hunkers down to take care of its own business by itself rather than trying to shoulder the problems of everyone else and by riding some great power’s coat tails. It is the sort of thing the Prime Minister may wish to ponder.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hoped to bask in the Trumpian glow during and after the US President’s short visit that was never geared from the start to be more than a publicity stunt at best. Instead he found the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters raining on his parade.
The occasion for serious Modi-Trump jaw-jaw disappeared once Delhi held fast to a few sticking points, particularly ‘no US dairy exports’ to India. But having announced a trade deal as precondition for his trip, Trump had the option to call-off the trip and miss out an opportunity to super-hyperbolically boast about “millions” of Indians gathered to greet him. This last was intolerable even if in Trump’s arithmetic the 95,000 collected at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad equals millions. The visit itself sort of unfolded herky-jerkily — with no one taking any of it seriously except the excitable Indian print and electronic/ television media who are ever the willing handmaidens to whosoever is in power at the moment, and who dutifully and full-throatedly sang hosannas to Modi and Trump, trying desperately to make the whole event appear to be more than a gigantic photo-op that it was.
A development, potentially damaging of Modi’s reputation and India’s image as an easy going tolerant country, was taking shape. An entirely peaceful sit-down campaign was gathering momentum a dozen kilometers from South Block in the lead-up to Trump’s visit. Considering that their demand was for a withdrawal of CAA, which the Modi government had peremptorily rejected, any realistic assessment by the Home Ministry with numerous intel and police agencies under command, would have reasonably concluded that, if the priority was to at all cost prevent the communal situation from blowing up just when the Western media was in the country in strength and Modi and Trump were sitting down for a bit of mutual backslapping, that a few things needed to be ensured. Namely, that (1) the protest be allowed to continue undisturbed to buff up the country’s democratic credentials and, in line with this intent (2) absolutely no one and nothing be permitted to disturb an inherently tense situation from getting out of hand, and (3) armed Delhi Police, with para-military forces as backup, be instructed, to take into custody known murderous thugs and mischief-mongers, and maintain peace and order with increased armed police presence and deterrent patrols.
What was allowed to happen by the Modi government was exactly the opposite. The deep-down resolve to “teach” Muslims a lesson apparently overtook good strategic sense and young BJP leaders on the make — Anurag Thakur, Kapil Mishra, et al felt encouraged to mouth off incendiary nonsense which was matched by hotheads on the other side, in particular Waris Pathan, Maharashtra MLA of the All India Majis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), the Hyderabad city party, who in a fit of unvarnished idiocy on Feb 20 mouthed inflammatory stuff like “Time has now come for us to unite and achieve freedom. Remember we are 15 crore but can dominate over 100 crores”, which was promptly dubbed a Jinnah-type war cry, and the fat was on the fire. How Asaduddin Owaisi, the immaculate barrister heading AIMIM, whom I hold in the highest regard for his emphasis on Constitutional rectitude, could allow his lieutenants to make such utterances in combustible circumstances is beyond understanding.
Whether such statements offer a clear chronology of events that led to the carnage is not the point. What is is that such fiery speeches offered apriori and/or ex-post facto sanction to both sides to go beserk, putting lone Muslims (like the one in the pic above) and Hindus caught in the wrong locality in serious jeopardy, facing death by bludgeoning.
Modi’s off-handish advice to keep peace did nothing to stay the rioters from their job. It reminded many of Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots where too he periodically issued statements urging peace but apparently did not simply order the police to stop the mayhem, or else. So the violence continued for a couple of days until the powers that be decided the Muslims were sufficiently chastised. But then the Delhi riots were a repeat of the 1984 holocaust against the Sikhs when the then Congress party govt under Rajiv Gandhi saw the terrible mob actions as just retribution for Indira Gandhi’s assassination. What’s the difference? None. But it does emphatically suggest that Delhi Police being a creature of the central govt of the day, will do nothing the home minister doesn’t want done.
This circles back to Modi’s ability to think strategically. Didn’t he know that with Trump coming, there was every likelihood of the CAA protest cascading into a public relations disaster for himself personally and for the nation he leads if the situation was permitted by acts of omission or commission to go astray? Even if he considered this a remote possibility, should he not have warned his party colleagues to do nothing untoward and his sword-arm, Amit Shah, to see to it that nothing bad transpired, at least not during Trump’s short trip? So the question arises: if the Prime Minister is unable to gauge his own personal future interests correctly and take appropriate prophylactic and preemptive measures, can he think strategically to shore up and advance the national strategic interests?
As mentioned in the previous post, the anti-democratic behaviour of his govt has now become grist for the Western press, and hence for the American government and politicians. If Modi had hoped to gain further traction in Washington, he can safely lay those hopes to rest. The US Commission on International Religious Freedoms has already slammed Delhi, Bernie Sanders too has jumped in, questioning the $3 billion deal for military hardware, and UN has decried the human rights excesses. Ere long there will be US Congressional hearings where those representing the anti-CAA faction will be invited to depose, which activity Modi’s chum, Trump, can’t terminate at will. This is only the beginning and should the Democrats displace Trump, Modi will be in bad odour once again in Washington, and India in the doghouse.
One of the themes I analyzed at length in my last book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’ was precisely this, that Modi will not be able to realize his strategic objective of getting India to emerge as a principal rival to China on the Asian, leave alone the world, stage if he also creates an illiberal state and society at home. It is a lesson the Prime Minister, unless he is entirely disconnected from reality, will learn because History is a hard teacher.
[Modi’s conch-shell welcome to a befuddled looking-Trump in Ahmedabad]
Donald J Trump’s 2-day state visit has unfolded, as predicted. It has been a media show crowned with 100,000 people cramming Motera stadium, the sort of media coverage-drawing event that both principals — Indian PM Narendra Modi and the US President crave and revel in. Trump laid it on thick at Motera — bunging in mention of a whole bunch of disparate popular Indian cultural icons — Diwali, Bollywood, “Soochin Tendolkar”, “Sordor” Patel, “Vivekanamandana…”etc., an address, a retired Indian diplomat called “masterful”. (https://epaper.mailtoday.in/2568554/Mail-Today/Mail-Today-February-25-2020#page/18/2) He must have been watching coverage of a more serious event somewhere!
Pakistan-sourced terrorism has been Modi’s premier foreign policy plank during his 6 years in office (based on the time and effort PMO and MEA have expended on this issue). So, he must have been taken aback when Trump, in auto-correct mode, twinned his claim about America and India being frontline states in the fight against terrorism with a reassurance to Pakistan that America had “a good relationship” with it. How Modi can draw comfort from this forked statement is not clear. But what is is that he means to ride Trump’s coattails to the end for all it is worth, even if the ride lasts only another 9 months because it will be the end of the line should the Democratic Party candidate (likely Biden or Sanders) next occupy the White House. And even if it means signing up for a load of armaments with huge price tags but (many of them, such as the National Advanced Surface- to-Air Missile system — a reworking of the air-to-air Sidewinder missile) of immensely doubtful value.
The piling on of an odd assortment air defence systems (Prithvi interceptors, S-400, Akash, NASAMs, Barak-8) in “layered” missile defence will work as well as not having any such defence at all! That’s how ineffective each of the allegedly “anti-missile” system (as different from their anti-aircraft capability) is individually and, in an integrated architecture, collectively. It speaks volumes about the smooth-talking success achieved by foreign arms companies pushed by their governments and, at the same time, the cupidity and gullibility of Indian leaders and the generalist babu-infested Ministry of Defence and MEA who know squat about national security, and even less about actual defence. But that’s another story!! It reveals the passive defensive-minded pathology lacing India’s procurement policy that will yet be the death of India as a self-respecting power.
But what really happened in the Modi-Trump discussions at Hyderabad House this morning? When talking of the “terrorism” issue, which also presumably included an exchange on Pakistan-sourced cross-border terrorism, Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla referred to the “restricted and confidential” nature of the talks for not disclosing details. It is a dead giveaway that, notwithstanding Trump’s press conference where he was more voluble in backing Modi and India, the discussion didn’t go the way Modi and MEA expected, and that Trump would have nothing to do with punitive measures beyond those agreed on at the Financial Assistance Task Force forum and, sotto voce, that Washington would happily extend the June-2020 deadline if Islamabad continued to be helpful in facilitating battlefield peace with the Quetta-based Haqqani Network and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Just wait and see — this is exactly how the situation will pan out mid-year. And despite repeated brush-offs by Delhi, Trump once again set himself up as mediator on Kashmir.
In the meantime, Modi’s ploy of loosening Trump’s views on Pakistan-sourced terrorism and trade, etc. by pacifying Trump with arms purchases amounting to a $9 billion gain for the US defence industry as Shringla announced proudly, and with buys of American energy — oil, shale oil and gas, and urging Indian capitalists to invest “billions and billions of dollars in the US” (Trump’s words) and generating hundreds of thousands of jobs in America, has not diluted Trump’s attitude to India an iota. On trade, for instance, Shringla implied as much in his press conference when he talked of a one-sided transactional scheme being par for the course. This he did by differentiating between the trade “package” dealing with tariffs in current transactions and the “big deal” that Trump had sought to permit mutual concessions on a bilateral agreement basis. But either way, as Trump emphasized in his press conference, the US would always force its advantage. So, how has Modi’s coddling of the US in any way helped India? What has India got or gained?
The trade talks have stalled on a number of friction points. From India’s perspective these are, in the main, the low level of US technology transfer, and the joint R&D projects to develop “critical technologies” that the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative promised, which is still at the talking stage. If anybody in MEA and PMO is waiting for such programs to fructify soon or ever and is listening, you are advised to not hold your breath. It won’t happen.
Trouble is Modi cannot wish away the existing chasm between India’s and US interests. Short of Modi gifting Washington what remains of this country’s foreign policy integrity in order to get a pat on the back and a torrent of flattery from Trump — to wit, his speech at Motera, the differences simply cannot be bridged. In this respect, Shringla struggled to explain how the “comprehensive strategic global partnership” that’s supposed to have been initiated by the Trump-Modi duo is different from the less wordy “global strategic partnership” it apparently replaced. He talked of the former in terms of greater understanding and commitment on a wider array of subjects — none of which is reflected in the outcomes of the Trump trip that the Indian FS described, for reasons unknown, as “extraordinary”. Especially because the trip indicates that while Trump held on to his positions, Modi eroded the country’s bargaining leverage by ceding ground virtually on all fronts except in allowing unhindered, unlimited, exports to India of American dairy products.
But that’s because — and this is not hard to speculate — doing so would imperil the burgeoning milk cooperative industry, exemplified by the success of the Amul-brand of dairy items on home turf. It is one thing for Modi to ask India to be treated as a developing state in America’s Generalized System of [trade] Preferences, from which slate India was yanked in the runup to the presidential trip — so much for Trump’s love for India and his desire to expand and enlarge the relationship! Quite another thing to undermine the dairy business in Gujarat and fatally weaken Modi’s and BJP’s grip on their political base in home province. Yea, all politics is local.
The only slight and manifest convergence was regards halting China’s CPEC-kind of infrastructure projects all round the Indian Ocean basin, the East African littoral, and in Central Asia. Whence the two sides agreed on the need for “transparency” in “connectivity” projects about their financial viability, debt load, etc. Not that this will do much good because the US does not dare take ‘pangas’ with China and Beijing knows it.
It’s unclear what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said to US President Donald Trump when the former called the White House on 11 February. Reportedly what sealed the presidential trip to India was Modi’s promise that some 5–7 million people would be lining the route from Ahmedabad airport to the new stadium in Motera to greet him.
Ahmedabad is the largest city of Gujarat, the state where Modi ruled as chief minister for over a decade. For a showman like Trump, the prospect of dawn-to-dusk US television coverage rich in colourful imagery featuring millions of Indians attesting his international popularity and exotic locales like the Taj Mahal must have been too intoxicating to turn down, especially in a year in which he is seeking re-election.
Optics is clearly the driver of this visit.
Yet in getting Trump to visit India, Modi may have exaggerated the crowds that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be able to muster. What may transpire is a repeat of Trump crowing that his 2017 presidential inauguration attracted ‘the largest crowd ever’, despite cameras showing otherwise. The President may claim ’millions’ welcomed him in India, when evidence might only reveal a few thousand waving flags held by school children and public employees instructed to line the roads negotiated by the Trump motorcade.
Before Modi’s phone call, Trump had publicly made the India trip conditional on a ‘real trade deal’. But Trump relented despite the lack of any substantial trade agreement.
The Modi government stuck to its stand that exports of US dairy goods to India require the US government to certify that these products were not sourced from animals fed with feeds produced from ‘internal organs, blood meal or tissues of ruminants’. This rules out most US dairy items. This deliberate complication of the certification process is another way of ‘protecting’ the 80 million Indian rural households involved in the dairy industry whose interests no government in Delhi can ignore.
Still, India is expected to agree to a face-saving deal in return for its retaining beneficiary status in the US Generalized System of Preferences. India may reduce tariffs on certain niche agricultural products such as cherries and blueberries and on other items like Harley Davidson motorcycles that Trump is so hung up on. But only a small dent will likely be made in the US trade deficit with India (running at US$16.9 billion in 2018–2019) as a result of the Trump trip.
The US failure to pressure India on dairy exports shows the limits of US coercive policies on trade. But it also mirrors the closing down of the US H1B visa channel that Modi pleaded with Trump to keep open. It may convince Trump to further twist Modi’s arm to buy vintage military hardware that the Indian armed forces are unwilling to acquire, such as the venerable F-16 fighter aircraft in service with the Pakistan Air Force for the past 40 years but refurbished with new avionics and numeral designation (F-21).
Washington’s case is that manufacturing the 1970s vintage combat plane in India under license would be open sesame to more advanced military technology deals in the future. But it has failed to convince India because modern combat aircraft and other military technologies are readily available from Russia, France and Sweden. A consolation contract is in the works for the sale of 24 SH-60 Seahawk helicopters worth nearly US$2 billion from the United States to India.
The F-16 symbolises US reluctance to transfer high-value technology. Its reluctance was also highlighted by the 2012 Defence Technology and Trade Initiative that was meant to facilitate collaboration in cutting-edge military technology development but has not resulted in a single project to date.
For Modi to throw Trump a bone and consent to F-16 production as a flagship venture in his stillborn ‘Make in India’ program would risk ridicule and weaken his political standing. It would further fuel an opposition drive against his government that is already buoyed by the BJP’s successive electoral defeats in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Delhi. It may prompt Modi to move slowly on Trump’s request to remove the case-by-case approval for US forces to use Indian military facilities under the 2018 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). Another reason is that Modi is simultaneously cultivating relations with China.
In lieu of invigorating LEMOA, Modi may agree to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to share geospatial information via digitised maps for accurate terminal guidance of projectiles. BECA will complete the set of three ‘foundational accords’ that the United States has been hankering for, the other two being LEMOA and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement.
Modi and Trump are alike in that they are both narcissistic, autocratic and hate to lose. Trump’s India trip may put both of them to the test. Neither will want to be seen as backing down or accepting accords contrary to India First and America First rhetoric for fear of domestic backlash. Personal bonhomie between Modi and Trump is real but it cannot plaster over the deep India–US differences in trade and technology or in geostrategic interests and calculations.
While the national interests of India and the United States overlap a little, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald J. Trump are personally in sync. This last is, perhaps, because they are alike — self-centered, autocratic, and relentless in playing to their political bases. So drama attends on any cooperation they can muster, especially in the foreign policy field because differing geographies dictate divergent approaches, tactics and strategies.
Dealing with the mercurial Trump is like traipsing through a minefield. He threatens termination of trade and US military presence abroad to get his way. He perceives India as a soft target and is ranging on it, complaining about unbalanced trade, Indian software companies exploiting the H1B visa regime, Delhi’s delay in activating the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement that will permit US forces to use Indian bases, and about India’s reluctance to manufacture under license the 1970s vintage F-16 fighter aircraft outfitted with new doo-dahs and designation (F-21). Trump’s bargaining method is to insist the other side meet his demands or face pain. It has fetched him success with NATO allies (anteing up $400 billion in additional defence spending) and China (removing $75 billion in tariffs).
To prevent Trump tilting against India, Modi’s strategy is one of placating the US with periodic buys of non-lethal, defensive, capital military hardware – P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft and C-17 and C-130J transport planes, Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk anti-submarine warfare helicopters (a contract for 24 of these rotary wing aircraft may be signed to mollify Trump), or outdated weapons systems (M-777 howitzer) that don’t occasion controversy abroad or scrutiny in the US Congress. However, far from softening Trump’s attitude, it has strengthened his belief that he can keep pushing because Delhi has nothing to pushback with – a view Modi apparently concurs in. How else to explain that in the last four years vis a vis the US there has been no give and take, just give and more give on India’s part?
Toting up the pluses and minuses and weighing the outcomes, a dispassionate assessment shows meagre returns on Modi’s policy. On Pakistan-sourced terrorism – the PM’s signature tune, the US has limited itself to making anti-terrorism noises at the Financial Assistance Task Force and other forums amounting to ineffectual posturing because it is not followed up by hard pressure on Pakistan and China. This pressure the US won’t impose because it needs a helpful Islamabad to extricate itself militarily from Afghanistan. For the same reason, Delhi’s longstanding request for “raw intelligence” on Pakistan-based terrorist gangs has been denied, with only “processed”, meaning appropriately diluted, possibly doctored, information being onpassed to Indian agencies.
Further, despite Modi’s pleas, Trump is closing down the H1B visa regime, virtually eliminating the comparative low labour cost advantage of the $181 billion Indian software industry, and is pressing India to lift restrictions on US agricultural commodities and dairy products. With respect to the Indian government’s perennial hope of collaborating in advanced military technology development, the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative set up for the purpose has not resulted in even a single project. Delhi fails to appreciate that America won’t transfer in-date technology for love or money or disturb the military balance in South Asia it helps sustain.
And what of the shared geostrategic objective? The US is determined to avoid armed conflict with China at all cost. In practical terms, therefore, for India there’s little beyond arms sales and simple military exercises. The annual Malabar naval exercise, for example, graduated to joint fleet air arm maneuvers only in 2019, its 24th year. But huge diplomatic energy is expended in the “dialogue” process – frequent Modi-Trump meetings, 2×2 summits, etc.. If dialogueing mattered all that much, the Indo-US “strategic partnership” would be flying.
High time India explored an alternative security coalition organic to Asia of “rimland” states and offshore countries to strategically hamstring China. Such as a modified Quadrilateral involving the littoral and maritime assets-rich India, Japan, Australia and a Southeast Asian group of Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, an arrangement that would minimize an unreliable America’s role.
[A truncated version of this article with the title “Buying peace with useless arms” is published in The Week, issue dated March 1, 2020]
Heart sank when soon after his appointment as the first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat talked of the CDS in India working to a different tune than its counterparts elsewhere especially with his hint that he would adopt a collegial mode of decisionmaking with the Services’ Chiefs of Staff. This suggested a familiar mode of operations where the Service Chiefs would exercise their veto whenever their service interest was “compromized”.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to find General Rawat, moving very fast to embed the CDS system in the system of systems, announce three seminal developments. That these are three issues I have elaborated and analyzed at length, and fiercely advocated over the years, most recently in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), is particularly gratifying and indicates how ideas, through a process of osmosis, get injected into policy deliberations and get to the implementation stage.
Firstly, is the imperative of inter se prioritization; Rawat has made it the CDS’ prerogative. Deciding between the three Services’ expenditure priorities was always icky business given that the Defence Ministry shied away from its responsibility for choosing the programmes to fund from among competing demands and military requirements. Interestingly, Rawat has by way of curtain raiser selected, correctly, to emphasize the Indian Navy’s sea denial mission, i.e., submarines, over the sea control role performed by the aircraft carrier. And he has nixed the third carrier in favour of the Project 75i submarine and the nuclear powered hunter-killer subs, which together will cost the country a pretty penny. And this is in the face of an aviator, Admiral Karambir Singh, heading the navy. It speaks as much for the CNS’ foresight as Rawat’s long view and both need to be commended. The real test of Rawat’s design for an integrated military will be if he successfully pushes for the rationalization of the armoured-mechanized component of the land forces to obtain a single composite strike corps supported by several independent armoured brigades with the surplus manpower and war materiel from the demobilized two strike corps shifted to outfitting two additional offensive mountain corps for a total of three such formations for the China front.
Second, Rawat’s (and presumably Modi government’s) expressed need is for external bases. Such bases in the extended Indian Ocean region are absolutely necessary to ensure that China’s presence is always at India’s sufferance, meaning that India can keep out the Chinese Navy from “India’s lake” if that, at any time, serves its purposes. Have elaborated on the need for India to have forward presence in the oceanic proximal expanse — in North and South Agalega (in Mauritius), northern Mozambique (where India has a radar station), on Gan Island in the Maldives, Chahbahar in Iran, Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Na Thrang in central Vietnam, and to explore with Philippines basing options at Clark’s air force and Subic Bay, and to permanently deploy a naval flotilla in the South China Sea constantly patrolling those waters, rather than bulk up the Andaman Command. Further, Rawat also hinted at beefing up the military-use infrastructure in that area, like lengthening the tarmac in Campbell’s Bay to take Su-30MKIs which should be accorded priority. Because once the base infrastructure and prepositioned stores and fuel depots are up, rotating naval surface combatants and strike aircraft will be easy.
And finally he talked of a “Peninsular Command” as a theatre command headed by a naval C-in-C, realizing in the process the geography-dictated notion of a unitary military operational space that I have long advocated. This is to follow the air defence command he means to establish by 2021 and five other theatre commands that are to be set up by 2022. This will streamline military planning, operations and operational logistics and thin down the manpower now positioned in 19 odd top heavy commands.
It is a pity Rawat has not so far been persuaded by the larger national benefits accruing from compulsory military service for the youth segment. It will not only help tackle the impossibly difficult pensions problem — which will not be resolved by raising the retirement age for several categories of skilled personnel that he has argued for. What will, other than compulsory service, is the army reverting to 7 years colour service with no pension but a handy monetary reward (of rupees one crore or more). Compare this with the permanent drain on the exchequer owing to pensions for the lifetime of soldiers that may be for as many as 40 years after retiring from service. There’s, in the event, no escape from the deluge of military pensions other than by the means mentioned above. The sooner Rawat gets down to accepting it the better it will be for the country. It will essentially require our shortsighted politicians to not look on the armed services, the army in particular (and, even more, the para-military forces) , as easy employment generators.
[Bharat Forge’s 155mm 52 calibre artillery displayed at Defexpo 2020]
Defexpo 2020 ended its run at the swanky new exhibition ground, created especially for the purpose by the UP government in Lucknow, drew praise. A UP minister declared it a great success on the basis that some 200 MOUs were signed compared to just 40 during the previous version of the Expo held in Chennai in 2018. The minister needs to dunk his head in a bucket of iced water to wake him up to reality. MOUs mean next to nothing. Literally thousands of MOUs have been signed in the last decade, but the foreign direct investment in defence ventures is still almost zero.
But those who participated — and there were more than 200 of the most important Indian and international companies that displayed their wares or tried to cut deals for them, complained that having built the tremendous fair ground infrastructure, the Adityanath regime fouled up in a crucial area — in providing powerful telecommunications coverage to facilitate bulk data transmission for instantaneous displays on screens, laptops and especially smart phones which defence industry representatives these days use to conduct business. With no smart phones working — the telecom service coverage being nonexistent around the trade fairground or so spotty as to be useless any way, the Defexpo was a disaster. As a throwback to paper usage, interested customers demanded brochures, physical documents, and the like that have long since become passe’ and which no self-respecting company rep lugs around anymore! In short, Defexpo 2020 was a communications fiasco. It could have been averted by the UP government installing a bunch of microwave comms towers all round the defexpo grounds.
Strange that no media outlet reported on this astonishing snafu! This even though print and electronic media were present in strength what with prime minister Narendra Modi, defence minister Rajnath Singh and UP chief minister Adityanath attending along with their retinues of PMO, Defence Ministry and Department of Defence Production babus and other hangers-on.
What was, however, a success was the confidence in evidence of Indian private sector military hardware producers who exhibited extraordinarily advanced, streamlined and sophisticated products. Foreign experts and company reps were impressed particularly with the sleek gun systems — Bharat Forge’s 155 mm 52 calibre long range gun, and this company’s ultra-light weight howitzer weighing a ton compared to the next lightest, which is a 3-4 tonner! The price too is something no foreign gun supplier can match — Rs 15-20 crore per piece for the 155 mm gun versus Rs 50-55 crores for an imported gun. A former Israeli general called it the “best gun of its kind in the world!” The Bharat Forge ultra-light weight howitzer with soft recoil technology, ideal for mountain ops, was likewise available to the army when the Modi government opted several years back for the American M-777 howitzer instead in a “government-to-government” deal. In other words, Modi chose to please Washington than put teeth in his own “Make in India” programme upped by Bharat Forge to the much higher value “Made in India” — design to delivery. It cost the country multiples for an old gun system when the locally designed, developed, tested and proven new generation piece was available for the taking.
The other product line that drew oohs and aahs from foreign visitors was, surprisingly, the stall of Adani Defence & Aerospace featuring a range of 7.62 mm assault rifles, machine guns and light machine guns manufactured in a unit in Gwalior set up with 49% equity partner — the Israeli company IWI. This unit has been established to meet current and future Indian demands, and for export. This was such strikingly modern stuff it left many an expert observer goggle-eyed. Obviously, the Adani majority partnership helped the defence ministry plonk for an initial order of 41,000 Adani assault rifles, an item the public sector Ishapore ordnance factory has struggled mightily for years to design and develop.
So the army’s need for two of the biggest and most basic goods — artillery of all kinds in mobile and towed mode can be locally met with the Bharat Forge guns that together with L&T’s K-109 Vajra form a formidable battery, and the military’s requirements of basic infantry weapons by the Adani assault rifles, etc.
If the army means what it says about going increasingly indigenous, a third item — the tank too can be fully home supplied. The Avadi DPSU produces the Arjuna main battle tank which the Indian government, if it was serious about its professions about advancing the Indian defence industry factory, should designate as the only equipment to outfit the country’s armoured formations (with the Russian T-72s/90s under phase out) and restrict the purchase of tanks to the Arjun MBT.
That will leave the field clear for an Indian light tank developed by mounting the Bharat Forge 105mm gun on a light tank chassis that Mahindra, with its expertise in armoured combat vehicles that also impressed at the Lucknow Defexpo, can easily design and produce. What will thus obtain is a 45 ton light tank to equip the first two Divisions of the mountain offensive corps under raising, with two more mountain corps hopefully in the offing, to adequately meet the contingent Chinese threat ex-PLA-occupied Tibet. Kirloskar can perhaps be roped in to design and develop a high torque engine for this light tank to operate optimally in the thin air at Himalayan heights. It is the sort of consortium approach, coupling the different competences of Indian firms that Bharat Forge, Mahindra, and Kirloskar can pioneer in the private sector.
Such consortia can, moreover, offer capital weapons platforms outputted within contracted time frames and cost parameters in deals that the imports-besotted defence ministry simply cannot refuse, and the defence public sector units are inherently incapable of matching.
The new standard for career advancement in MEA is now clearly laid down: the success achieved by Narendra Modi’s mass interface with NRIs on foreign tours, particularly to Western countries (US, UK, Australia, et al) and which events, featuring host country notables, are seen by the PM as affirming his personal worth and standing in the world. The ambassadors lucky enough to be posted to countries where they were asked to manage these circuses have been uniformly rewarded. Modi’s interaction with “students” of the Tsinghua University in Beijing mightily helped S. Jaishankar to occupy the Washington ambassador’s post the latter craved and which, in turn, and with a little help from friends in the US government, eased his passage into the Foreign Secretary’ chair. Likewise, Navtej Sarna, who as High Commissioner to the UK impressed Modi by pulling off the massive assemblage of NRIs at Wembley Stadium with British PM David Cameron in attendance in November 2015 was promptly dispatched to the US as ambassador to work the NRI crowd there, which efforts eventuated in the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston last year, benefiting his successor Harsh Vardhan Shringla now promoted as Foreign Secretary. True, Rajiv Gandhi installed his favourite PK Kaul, ex-IAS, former cabinet secretary, and paid-up member of the “Kashmiri mafia” that surrounded his mother Indira Gandhi, as ambassador to the US in 1986. But success in arranging big events with a lot of hoopla has only now become a unique standard for promotion to FS-ship. As far as IFS officers are concerned, they have to be in the right place to cash in. That and pure luck with the timing of the PM’s tours!
But why this digression on the MEA promotions policy when the topic is the restructuring of MEA? No reason at all except to put down a marker (because by itself the topic of which diplomats make it to the top and why doesn’t deserve a separate post)!
An administrative shakeup or a reshaping of the decision making schematic is usually undertaken by a government when it finds the previous system failing to deliver. With substantive success in the external realm ranging from thin to scarce in the past 6 years, the Prime Minister, hoping for better results, has approved this restructuring to turn things around. But because in the Modi dispensation Modi alone matters, the contribution by careerist babus, including the incumbent external affairs minister, is limited to filling in the details of policies laid down by the PM. This fact won’t alter with the changes that have been rung in. What will is the process with more people involved in it. The restructuring may just muddy it up some more. How?
Well, the new scheme supposedly emulates the decision making system in corporations with “verticals” in well defined issue areas — cultural diplomacy, trade & economic diplomacy, policy planning & research, Africa, Europe, Indo-Pacific, international conferences, development partnership administration, new and emerging strategic technologies (NEST), etc. But look more closely and this rejigging exercise that has been in the works for some time now, appears to seek to remedy a problem faced mostly by senior ambassador-rank echelon whose members, at the additional secretary-level, found themselves with time on their hands and very little to do. But this was like elsewhere in the rest of the Government of India where Joint Secretaries run the show. The Joint Secretary-level officers are the sword arm with Secretaries being the public face, taking credit for things going right and the blame for things going wrong usually being carried by Joint Secretaries. The Additional Secretaries (ASs) in the middle in this setup end up twiddling their thumbs.
So, essentially the new MEA scheme is make work for ASs. They are being asked to “direct”, be directors of, the policy verticals which means what exactly, especially in the context of Jaishankar’s ambitious idea — taken from the American system — of placing mid-level diplomats in various line ministries — defence, trade and commerce, economic affairs, etc.? This raises questions about the basic problem even the unstructured MEA, with little presence outside its own ambit, confronted, namely, the remarkably small numbers of diplomats in service, just 930 or so. This is so small a figure, it barely surpasses the size (850) of the Singapore foreign service or that of New Zealand (885), a country with a population of 4.8 million (a figure equaling the population of just South Delhi!). Compared to Japan’s diplomatic corps in excess of 6,000 officers and, even more, China’s with 7,500 diplomats, and America’s 14,000, India’s foreign service is so dwarfed it is laughable to consider India and these latter countries as being in the same game. And yet the Indian government expects that somehow — perhaps by some tantra or magic, this small number of personnel available to MEA will be able to produce the outcomes their gigantic counterparts in Japan, China, and the US do. This is madness.
The Modi regime can restructure MEA all it wants, can experiment with this or that, but short of actually enlarging the Foreign Service ten-fold for a start, the results will still be the same — pitiable. That the annual intake into IFS tops off at 35 officers tells it own sad story. Then there’s the problem of entrant level quality. Civil services generally, and the IFS is no exception, have over forty years now stopped attracting the best and the brightest in the country with college graduates, who choose not to go abroad, understandably gravitating towards business schools and entrant level corporate salaries many times that earned by newbie babus and, even more, by the huge responsibility they are asked to shoulder in the very early stages of their careers with commensurate rewards and advancement of career prospects to follow. Other than transnationals, with more and more Indian companies having presence in foreign countries, senior positions abroad are almost a matter of course. So why would any bright, right thinking, young adult want to be a diplomat when he can do so much better in the private sector and hop, skip and jump to high positions — something simply not possible in government service wedded principally to the seniority principle, with merit and performance as secondary factors? Tumhara time ayega. Tees saal baad, ayega!
Of course, GOI has always had the option of increasing the size of the Indian Foreign Service. This it hasn’t done because of severe opposition from the Service itself as it wants to retain its “elite” status, which is equated by it to remaining small-sized. Why no government has thrust the IFS enlargement decision down the throat of the Foreign Office regardless is a mystery even though the fact of a small and fairly ineffective diplomatic presence being a foreign policy liability has long been acknowledged by the government. Sure, such enlargement plans would require a very large entrant intake and correspondingly large training institutions, such as the Foreign Service Institute, etc.
In the event, collateral entry in massive numbers is the short-term and medium-term answer. To-date the only conspicuous posting in this stream is of a politically connected journalist (who after a stint as media man to President Kovind) was appointed AS in MEA to polish up the Modi government’s public relations (PR). Whether he succeeded in his remit (of improving the perceptions of the Modi regime) is uncertain, but he is now being asked to help promote the country’s cultural diplomacy fronted by ICCR (Indian Council of Cultural Relations). Except, like Policy Planning, ICCR has been good only for providing the Foreign Office with parking slots for officers who wanted to stay on in Delhi pending appointments to better diplomatic stations (than the ones allotted them)! So much for cultural diplomacy.
PR is relatively easy stuff. Not sure if any collateral entrant has been accommodated in any really important position within MEA. This brings up the crucial matter of why manifestly successful persons from the high flying technology sectors or from trade and industry would want to enter MEA using this channel? What job satisfaction could they expect to derive in a situation where IFS(A) officers will be lording it over them and who will, at every turn, try to show them down? After all, one of the reasons the collateral entry scheme has not really taken off is owing to the resistance of the IFS(A) cadre which fears losing ground to technically sound, problem-solving minded, business managers, engineers, and the like, who would do a great job of bringing development assistance projects under the Development Partnership Assistance programmes in Afghanistan, Africa, the immediate neighbourhood, and Central Asia in time and within costs, and who have proved their druthers outside the confines of government and experienced real world problems and solved them (in contrast to UPSC selectees who have known nothing other than serving in government). One can see why such people would be perceived by careerists as threat whose influx in large numbers and regularization in service is to be prevented by any means and at all cost. The intention of IFS officers is to preserve their seniority, perquisites and promotion prospects which, of course, will be disturbed by the collaterals should they want to make a career of it, as some of them might, whence the determination to keep out the interlopers, failing which to minimize their flow into MEA and, in any case, to deny them a receptive and helpful eco-system lest they show success in endeavours where they failed.
The fixing of seniority, etc to ease IFS’ ill will towards collateral entrants have not been addressed by the Department of Personnel & Training or the GOI. It is easier to reconcile the lateral entry of 60-odd officers from other services who have joined the MEA because the presumptive condition is that these other service-wallahs will after short stints or eventually return to their respective cadres, services and ministries, hence, will not mar the promotion prospects of the IFS(A) officers, and therefore can be tolerated.
The seriously troubling matter facing GOI is regarding the collateral entrants. How to get top drawer talent, especially from the technology sectors (artificial intelligence, cyber, bio-engineering, genetically modified foods, quantum computing, robotics, experimental physics, etc.), in particular, into MEA to man the NEST vertical, for instance. There may be the occasional IIT-ian or engineer in the ranks of the IFS but it is unlikely these officers, given the pace of transformative technological change, will have kept up with the cutting edge in their engineering/scientific fields. This renders them as a cohort just as useless as the generalists bulking up the IFS in assessing technology trends, the country’s proven strength in these and allied spheres, etc., and puts them at as much disadvantage when negotiating with, say, Chinese and American diplomats specializing in these fields, as their generalist colleagues. It is the sheer disparity of knowledge and competence that will do in India’s national interest. And what India will end up with is a regular production of unequal treaties that MEA will get GOI to sign on. Realistically, the country will be faced with serial iteration of the 2008 “civilian nuclear cooperation” deal with the US-type of transactions that gut India’s sovereignty and the national interest.
Jaishankar, Modi’s pointman in MEA, will not resolve these issues because as an IFS(A) veteran he will do nothing to hurt his cadre. The MEA collateral entry scheme will, in the event, continue to attract only pliant journalists, media commentators, thinktankers, and such other generalists, who have failed to make a mark. Consequently, MEA is destined to remain grossly undermanned and institutionally incapable of carrying out an activist and comprehensive diplomacy on a global scale of the scale and intensity Modi has apparently in mind.
It is almost de rigueur for a newly appointed military Chief of Staff to ritually make certain statements, for instance, about the supposed readiness of his armed service to fight a “two-front war”. General Manoj M. Naravane, however, displayed a disarming confidence in making them. Asked how he planned to do so, he said the “dual task formations” would switch between confronting Pakistan in the west and taking on China in the north and northeast. “In case of simultaneous threat from both directions,” he elaborated, “there would always be a primary front [where] the bulk of our forces and resources will be concentrated [while] on the other front, we will adopt a more deterrent posture.” Trouble is, the military considers Pakistan the primary threat and accordingly invests in, and deploys, its resources.
A real two-front war-fighting capacity would require India to have unlimited financial resources to afford a comprehensively capable military, self-sufficiency in arms, and the industrial muscle for surge production of all military hardware, nuts and screws up, to quickly fill voids in military stores and lost equipment. But for an army with reportedly only 10 days of ammunition expended at intense rates of fire, Naravane’s is a remarkably sanguine assessment based on flawed assumptions. Namely, that war with China will be limited and unfold linearly and along expected lines, that the terrains in, and weaponry and skill sets required for, the two fronts are similar, and that Indian troops are versatile enough to fight the Pakistan army in Kashmir one day and be airlifted to tackle the Chinese army in the Himalayas the next.
Such views are propagated essentially to preserve and legitimate the existing dated and dysfunctional force structure. Combat arms within this structure constitute vested, often clashing, bureaucratic interests that have reached a modus vivendi they do not want disturbed. Thus, modernising and maintaining three-armoured strike corps with heavy tanks as spear head account for a large chunk (19 to 26 per cent) of the defence budget and, owing to funding constraints, is at the expense of three desperately needed specialised offensive mountain corps. Stuck in plains/desert warfare concepts, shifting resources to, say, Russian T-14 light tank-equipped mountain corps able to take the fight to China on the Tibetan Plateau is opposed even if it means ineffectively working the T-72s from their redoubts on the high-altitude northern Sikkim plains where, on any given morning, 40 per cent of them are unable to cold start.
“Fighter mafias” run major air forces, including the Indian Air Force. In IAF, they phased out the bomber component in the 1970s after the medium Canberra bomber ended service. Short and medium range combat aircraft, however, have been bought pell-mell from every imaginable foreign source. It has obtained, in the process, a fleet without any strategic reach or clout, and so diverse it is nightmarish to upkeep in peacetime, what to speak of in war. In fact, Soviet Union’s offer in 1971 of the Tu-22 Backfire strategic bomber, which would have been a ready delivery system for the Indian nuclear bomb tested and acquired three years later, was spurned and MiG-23BN selected instead. Since the mid-1990s, the Russian advanced intercontinental range Tu-160 Blackjack bomber available for the asking has likewise been ignored. Indeed, dog in the manger-like IAF even prevented the Indian Navy from securing the Tu-22 and the strategic bombing role it had discarded, leaving the country with aircraft optimally usable only against Pakistan.
So, India finds itself in the sorry situation of “cavalry generals” and fighter jocks inflating the negligible threat from Pakistan, skewing the government’s procurement and other military priorities, and using the two-front war scenario to justify this system that has obtained for the country a severely limited, financially ruinous war-fighting capability, increased vulnerability to China and imperilled national security. Such distribution of military attention and resources may suit the government of the day. Whether it serves the national interest is another matter.
This is what someone high-up in the S Jaishankar-led Ministry of External Affairs admitted to a newspaper after the unpreventable debacle at the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on January 23: “It was a bit surprising the way US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and even Japan, all of them favoured Pakistan. There is a strong case against Pakistan, as has been since it was put on the grey list, it it was geopolitics at play…seems the changing geopolitical environment helped Pakistan.” (https://indianexpress.com/article/pakistan/changing-equations-in-region-help-pakistan-get-relief-at-fatf-meet-6232408/). That by end-2020 Pakistan will be well out of FATF is also something that has been all but communicated to Islamabad, this even though it has so far complied with only 7 of the 27 conditions but has been “deemed” by FATF, for reasons not clarified, as having met 17 of them.
What is astonishing is that seasoned Indian diplomats, with Jaishankar in the van, are surprised that geopolitics is why so many of the Western countries and Japan that the Modi government has assiduously courted over the past 6 years have turned on Delhi and are now parroting the Chinese view that Pakistan should be rewarded for taking some actions to limit its support for anti-India terrorist gangs (LeT, JeM) active in Kashmir, to curtail the funds channeled to them and to close down the ISI-sourced terrorist money laundering operation generally. It shows just how clued MEA is to the verities of international relations! It is embarrassing the depths to which Indian diplomacy has plunged.
What is geopolitically obvious to every country in the world is apparently invisible to the Modi regime — that Pakistan having made itself pivotal to a solution in Afghanistan is now in a position to dictate how it wants to be treated where the niggling matter of its use of terrorism against India is concerned. Modi, Jaishankar, et al really believe that to the US and the West (with Japan as honorary member) the Pakistan army’s deployment of the LeT and JeM cadres in J&K is more important than Islamabad’s utility to them as the sole conduit to the Taliban! America, of course, sets the agenda with the European states and Japan following it like lemmings. The context is that Trump (like Modi), with little by way of success in his foreign policy bag but facing impeachment and a re-election process, desperately needs to show that it was his Administration that disengaged the US military from its fruitless and expensive thrashings about in Afghanistan — to date costing the US over a trillion dollars! However, to advance this aim Pakistan’s help is crucial.
Islamabad has long recognized the leverage it, therefore, has with the US as long as Afghanistan remains on the boil. But its leaders have often lacked the nerve to play the leverage game, which deficiency is now corrected. The result is that like its mentor China (on nonproliferation), Pakistan is glorying in its position on Afghanistan as a stoker of the problem and as an unavoidable part of any eventual solution which will be delayed as much as is earthly possible by ISI whatever the nature of Imran’s promises of assistance to Trump. That the Imran Khan government is preparing to play this high stakes game at this stage is not little due to the PM appointing as his Special Assistant for national security, Moeed Yusuf, a Washington thinktanker well versed both in geopolitics and regarding Washington’s pressure points, who hitherto had offered clinical counsel through his op-eds in Pakistani newspaper. We can expect more such adroit diplomatic maneuvering by Pakistan and success, and egg on the face of India’s leaden-footed diplomacy.
It is the Indian government’s willful policy blindness to Pakistan’s geostrategic significance to Washington, among other things, as lever to keep India in place and to extort the decisions it desires from Delhi, even in the absence of any US military embroilment in Afghanistan, that makes Modi’s search for “decisive” US-qua-FATF action against Pakistan at once futile and even tragic. Other than revealing the longstanding brain-freeze of the Indian government (that predated Modi regime) when dealing with the US and the West, on the one hand, and China on the other, the fact that it cannot even read the reality correctly, is sobering considering that it can so easily change, obtain and control a new reality were the country’s foreign and military policies not so instinctively and habitually subservient and skewed.
We know why Delhi kowtows to the US and the West (green card, and other considerations in kind, for progeny and relatives of diplomats and senior civil servants manning the Indian policy apparatus), but why does Modi genuflect before China even as Beijing repeatedly kicks it in the face, with FATF being only the latest instance? Hard to make sense of Modi’s bending backwards to make Xi happy unless it is his deep sense of inferiority and hopelessness that he projects — as Indian leaders before him have done — about India’s will and ability to stand up and hit back and, therefore, deciding preemptively to give up, not be in the big power game at all. It is the diplomatic version of the coronavirus sourced from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the site of the Modi-Xi summit and the “Wuhan spirit” that the Indian PM has evoked ever since.
There’s always the thoroughly compromised Jaishankar to offer explanations and rationales, and whose utterances, a former senior foreign service colleague of his dismisses as mere “justifications” of Modi’s policy tilt of the moment.
[Fountain Ink, a monthly published from Chennai, asked 10 persons in public life and, in its words, “from different stations with varied experience [to briefly answer a set of questions about] what time has wrought, how each relates to time and goings-on, of what gnaws at them even if their own individual lives are on an even keel and what inspires them.” The responses were collated and published in a piece entitled “The Story of us”, in this periodical’s January issue, at https://fountainink.in/reportage/many-eyes-many-stories. My take is reproduced below.
As a think-tanker, I have tried my damndest to influence Indian foreign and military policies specifically and the national security policy generally, with my contrarian hard power-realpolitik views. This I have attempted to do over the last 35-odd years via appointments in government and constitutional bodies (as member of the 1st National Security Advisory Board, and as adviser, defence expenditure, to the 10th Finance Commission), through books and writings, consultations with political leaders and with armed services’ chiefs and their senior advisers, and through lectures at the National War College, Army War College, Naval War College, College of Air Warfare, College of Military Engineering, College of Defence Management, and other senior military training forums, by participating in seminars and conferences, and by reaching directly to the people via public lectures, videographed talks on the net, and the less frequent TV news shows and newspaper op-eds.
Despite the severe flux in global power politics and the international correlation of forces the essential inertness of the Indian government’s thinking and policies (through the decade) was simply astonishing.
India’s inert foreign policy is the bane of this country and prevents it from exercising its prerogatives and becoming a great power. Consider that Indian policy switched from leaning on the Soviet Union during the Cold War decades to tilting in the new millennium towards America. It started with the Narasimha Rao regime and continued unaltered in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi governments, notwithstanding the ideological differences between the left-of-centre Congress party and the right-of-centre BJP.
The trouble is whatever their rhetoric, no leader or political party seems convinced about India’s big power bona fides, but seems united in seeing the country as a secondary, subservient, power that can only rise without giving offence to rivals (China) and on the backs of friendly great powers. Whence India’s “creeper vine” foreign policy, which is geared to winding India around some big power as support in order to rise like the creeper vine that needs a pole, a tree, or a lattice to climb.
It is a tragedy starkly illustrated by the persistent scandal of importing arms, making foreign defence industries wealthy and affording supplier states diplomatic leverage, rather than trusting in indigenous talent and capabilities, which are abundant and of high worth and readily available especially in the private sector. So, as far as I am concerned, it has all been lose, lose, for India, ensuring the country remains in the new century what it has been for long—a middling power of little real consequence.
It has been frustrating to see piddling states like North Korea and even Pakistan display the guts and gumption to be disruptive—which is what I have long argued India should be to earn the world’s respect, instead of what it has been doing—acting “responsible”, pleading to join clubs (UNSC) and cartels (MTCR, NSG) on their terms, treated with disdain, and getting sidelined and kicked in the shins for its troubles.
I have become more impatient, not less, with age, impatient for India to amount to something in my lifetime which, sadly, won’t happen.
On the personal level, it is pleasing to see my many books and views that have consistently advocated ways to make India a great power by pursuing this status the old fashioned way—by unwillingness to compromise on expansively defined national interests, by the wise use of national resources and, in Bismarck’s famous phrase, by blood and steel, being appreciated in policy establishments and strategic enclaves at home and abroad.
Unfortunately, starting with Nehru our leaders have sought great power the easy way—as entitlement, by popular international acclaim, and by pushing abstract goals, like India becoming a vishwa guru (whatever that means)!
The vibe I get from the decade is of little meaningful change in India’s national security policies and plans. India seems to be steadfastly marching in place and getting nowhere fast. As the Queen said to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there.
As an Edmund Burkean conservative, the hopes and expectations I had for a diminished role of government in national life and in the lives of the people (that Narendra Modi promised) have not panned out. As a realist strategist, I am appalled at how diligently our leaders and the government have frittered national resources and squandered opportunities to raise India’s stock as an independent nodal power and China’s premier rival in Asia and the world.
Despite just about everything going wrong and the country stagnating, I still have absolute conviction that India will make good, become a great power in spite of the government, not because of it. In fact, the political class and the government are, I have come to believe, the biggest liability for the nation, a millstone round the country’s neck, relentlessly dragging it down.
[Aruna Sundararajan, ex-IAS, former Telecom Secretary: Being feted for what, exactly?]
It is no exaggeration to say that almost the entire senior echelon of managers — technical and generalist — manning the state apparatus — ranging from the technocratic elite in the Department of Atomic Energy, DRDO, etc., Joint Secretary-rank officers on up of the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign Service and allied services, to senior military personnel, constitute a Fifth Column, a cabal of insiders, determined on tripping the country up at every turn as it struggles to rise, make a mark, in the world. The tragedy is they do this because of their godawful belief that they are doing right by India! With Government insiders like these, India does not need enemies.
Right now we are seeing just how, with the help of telecom ministry officials and other insiders, the Chinese are set to win a contract for 5G telecommunications system, even as these insiders have tamped down brutally on a bevy of indigenous private sector companies who have earned commercial success and are tech-innovation leaders, having obtained international patents and Intellectual Property Rights in the most advanced and edgy communications hardware and software spheres that constitute 6G!!!, and who are only pleading for a fair chance and an even field to compete with Huawei, which will be denied them. This is, no thanks, to the role of this 5th column comprising latter day Mir Jaffers, seths of Murshidabad who bankrolled Clive’s successful campaign at Plassey, and Mir Sadiqs (the original Gudu Khan who as Mir Sadiq became prime minister in Tipu Sultan’s government and betrayed his king; opening the gate on the Kaveri River of the Seringapatnam fort to the East India Company army of Indian mercenaries laying siege, leading to the annexation of the ‘Carnatic’ in May 1799 after the 4th Anglo-Mysore War).
It is the same cabal that has made India abjectly dependent on foreign arms suppliers, all but killing off the homegrown Tejas light combat aircraft, its derivative the advanced medium combat aircraft, and the Arjuna main battle tank.
Re: Indian government’s love for Chinese 5G. It is a denouement, notwithstanding, massive evidence available from all over the world that Huawei is a cyberwar front for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and allowing Huawei 5G and related hardware in any manner or form and even by way of the peripheral systems route into India, would be to essentially “open the gate” to the enemy. This development, moreover, is despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative prompted by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s championing of indigenous 6G technology that derailed the decision made several months back by Department of Telecommunications (then headed by Aruna Sundararajan, IAS) to sign the 5G contract with Huawei.
The consolation is there are still the proverbial handful who oppose Huawei from the inside, but apparently without much effect. There’s Dr VK Saraswat, Member of Niti Ayog and former Science Adviser to the Defence Minister and head of DRDO, whose frustration runneth over. To wit, his take on the soon to be underway 5G trials conducted by DOT-National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC) and the “dangers of allowing Huawei to participate in them.”
“Government should appreciate the fact”, wrote Saraswat in a January 6 note to Smita Purshottam, who retired as ambassador to Switzerland and is an uncommon IFS officer in that she passionately promotes indigenous technology and chairs the non-profit SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator, https://www.sitara.org.in) doing yeoman work to prevent India getting swamped by imported tech, “that once HUAWEI participates in the trials [it] would lead the show and we will not be in a position to bring out the features which could be the hidden security risk as HUAWEI will field the sanitised version [to which] our surveillance teams will not have access to all the layers of hardware and software.” “Once they lead the trials and come [up] trumps technologically which is most likely then Indian [private sector] service provider[s] will have strong reason to overlook the indigenous solution and pitch for HUAWEI” he added. “To save the situation” he recommends that “a very strong team of [Indian] cyber security experts be constituted to go through the fielded software, including the source code, and [that the] hardware be cleared by critical criterion testing team. “[Unless this is done] I am afraid”, Saraswat concludes, “that we are in trouble.” This advice has so far not been taken by the Modi government.
But why would private sector telecom service providers prefer Huawai? Because it is the cheapest. And how is it the cheapest? Because of China’s built-in financial support as subsidies to capital goods exporters. And because of Huawei’s special connection to PLA leading to Xi Jinping making clear to Modi the last two times they met that the success of Huawei 5G in India would be the metric by which bilateral relations will be judged. Huawei is able to sell its 5G cheap because, according to Purshottam, the Chinese companies underbid “by as much as 70% [to] drive our companies out.” “The history of Indian telecom [in 3G and 4G]”, she writes, is to “allow Huawei and other Chinese companies a foothold, they underbid and takeover” the market, a cycle that is set to be repeated with 5G.
With Huawei 5G in, PLA cyber warriors will be sitting pretty and in a position to eavesdrop on all communications, including the most secret by penetrating the nuclear command and control links and the military network, generally and, when required, to disrupt at will all Indian economic and banking activity by making electronic financial transactions go haywire. It is the jeopardy the Chinese 5G will get India into that moved Purshottam to write a letter on 5 January to retired Lieutenant General Rajesh Pant, who has taken over as chief of the National Cyber Coordination Centre. Purshottam does some plain speaking. Because it is important, this letter is reproduced in full below:
“I am writing to you in great concern regarding the decision to allow Huawei to participate in 5G trials. We were under the impression that Government of India was fully aware of the security concerns resulting from the presence of any Chinese or even foreign company in sensitive 5G networks. It is therefore not understood on what basis this decision has been taken. Governments around the world have banned Huawei and Chinese telecom equipment vendors, because of China’s extensive cyber-espionage activities and also because China’s proclaimed Military Doctrine centres on Information Warfare and the control of information networks. They have already seized control of many telecommunications networks in India.
“5G will enormously increase the danger to Indian national security with Chinese control of this advanced telecommunications network. 5G will enable Artificial Intelligence to run without hindrance, collecting and weaponizing Data gathered from Indian activities. There are umpteen military applications of these synergized technologies with China leading in digitisation and intelligentization of Warfare. The Chinese aim to become Number One in 5G and AI.
“We are opening ourselves up to enormous security risks akin to the Himalayan blunder of 1962. At least we were able to recover from it but we will never recover if we allow Chinese control of our telecommunications networks. This is a terminal decision which will adversely impact the lives of the Indian people and their security for decades to come.
“There is a budget proposal to fund indigenous development of 5G technologies. This should be expedited as India has many capable indigenous companies with 5G technologies. 5G is not one technology but a composite of many. Many Indian companies possess the know-how in these areas. They need Government support to develop the missing technologies and also assurances regarding markets.
“There is no demand except from the vendors for 5G technology as yet in India. Our industry hasn’t reached that level, and compromising our national Security so that some kids can download faster movies is not a viable trade-off. We must develop our own technology.
“We request you to ensure India’s National Security and convene an all India meeting of Industry and Government so as to reconsider this decision and ban Chinese companies from India’s networks. 5G must be deployed with indigenous equipment. The task must not be given to agencies which have betrayed India’s interests in the past, or frittered away taxpayers’ money on foreign consultancies. The funding should be given to a specially created entity along the lines of the Delhi Metro involving security and defence forces, Industry and Government. This is too critical to be given to agencies which have no proven record of successful execution of indigenisation or Make in India. History will not forgive us for taking a wrong decision on this vital, critical issue. The advice of experts close to the Chinese Government must not be heeded.”
The irony is that among those Purshottam refers to as “experts close to the Chinese Government” is Arogyaswami Paulraj, former Indian Navy officer, who designed and developed the APSOH sonar which became the Fleet sonar of the Indian Navy, founded CDAC, etc, left for Stanford University in 1990 and there invented MIMO (Mulitiple input, multiple output) technology that has revolutionized telecommunications, holds 80 patents, founded several cutting edge tech companies, including Aruba networks that marries Artificial Intelligence elements to WiFi networks for data analytics, sold these companies and got immensely rich. Entirely inattentive to national security concerns, Paulraj contends that Chinese 5G is the fastest route for India economically to come up to speed in the telecom sector. As to why India needs to be in the 5G forefront when the potential capacities of existing 3G and 4G systems remain unused, Paulraj does not say. Several questions arise: With the US banning Huawei 5G why is Paulraj pushing it on India? What does he get out of doing so? And what are his connections to China?
But because in Modi’s world anybody with an American stamp of “success” cannot be wrong, Paulraj’s counsel is gospel. Or, as a SITARA member MJ Shankar Raman,who owns the Sahasra Solutions software company, heard one of the top insiders say, “We should not be too nationalistic and foolish.”
The assassination by a killer drone of Iran’s Pas Daran (Revolutionary Guards) chief, Major General Qassem Soleimani, on the express orders of the US President Donald J. Trump is the sort of historical blunder that will rank with President George W Bush’s initiation of war against Iraq in 2001 to takeout President Saddam Hussein on the blatantly false charge of Baghdad readying nuclear weapons. The Bush decision set fire to West Asia, and completely destabilized an already volatile region that Saddam had kept a lid on by strongarm measures.
Saddam was the hinge on which West Asian peace rested. He had for several previous decades somehow managed to balance the interests of the sunni and shia communities in Iraq, and maintain order, often by bloody means, something both the Saudi led sunni bloc and the Iran-headed shia bloc grudgingly acknowledged. That order was upended. Now Trump’s murder of Soleimani is likely to start a spiral of violence and targeted strikes against American military presence and US economic interests in the Gulf, in Iraq where shias predominate, and generally in the extended area stretching from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Hormuz to Central Asia in the north, Pakistan in the east, and Syria and the Levant in the west. As it is, the Iraqi parliament is on the verge of voting for a resolution asking the US to get out of Iraq.
Hugely respected in the region as much for his political acumen and military expertise as for his understanding of the religio-ethnic dynamic in greater West Asia, Soleimani founded the al-Quds force for action in Iraq after the US military intervention there. Deployed against what Tehran considers the greatest danger to Islam — the US-Israeli combine, and also to fight the spurious caliphate of the murderous al-Baghdadi, the al-Quds force and the Kurdish paramilitary force, Peshmerga, were primarily responsible for reducing the Islamic State to nothing, which actions were discreetly supported by Saudi Arabia — the ostensible guardian of Mecca. The real reason why the people by and large held Soleimani in high regard was because of his physical courage; he led from the front.
It is very possible that with Pakistan getting dragged into the melee with likely attacks on US targets mounted by Iran-backed elements in that country, India will be asked by Washington to not only share intelligence — and in case Pakistan becomes too hot for the US forces to stage military missions out of, to permit American military units to operate out of Indian air force and army bases along the border with Pakistan. In Jaishankar-Rajnath Singh’s recent 2×2 summit with the Pompeo-Esper duo in Washington, the American side was eager particularly to activate the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that will allow the US military the use of Indian facilities for, among other things, anti-Iran operations.
Permission under LEMOA will be demanded by the US because, with the general elections coming up, Trump will be compelled for political reasons to up the ante — meeting an Iranian counter thrust with a bigger strike — rather than to cool down the situation by making some sort of friendly gesture and even reparations to Tehran in terms of say, weakening the US-led sanctions regime. With much of Islamic Asia, including Pakistan, now unwilling to be any part of this action-reaction sequence, the only two countries on Iran’s flanks — Russia standing aside for the nonce before jumping onto Tehran’s side should America escalate with too much force — are Turkey to the west and India to the east.
Erdogan began building bridges to Iran with his visit to Tehran in January 2014 that was hailed by the Iranian foreign ministry, “As two neighbors and Muslim countries, ….enjoy[ing] many commonalities and many cooperation opportunities”. Indeed, before meeting with Trump in Washington in November last year, Erdogan had hosted a controversial Iranian diplomat who had a hand in an attack on certain Jews in Buenos Aires. So it is improbable that Ankara, which is already on the outs with the US owing to Erdogan’s purchase of the S-400 air defence system, will allow the NATO base at Incirlik to be used for air or any other activity against Iran. That leaves India exposed to US pressure.
One of Narendra Modi’s major claims of foreign policy success is his supposedly warm personal relations with Trump. It has so far fetched absolutely nothing for India and all the country has to-date witnessed is a one-way relationship where Modi keeps trying to please the US with unending concessions and deals for military hardware but receives no consideration whatsoever in return. With a confirmed America-firster — Jaishankar in MEA, moreover, the advice offered Modi is to give the US more and more even if it gets India less and less in return. His natural aptitude for hard bargaining that Modi boasted about is nowhere in evidence, at least not in terms of any substantive strategic gains and economic benefits. What benefits anybody can point to are mainly negative ones, meaning things like US restrictions on India techie movement could have been more severe, limitations on imports of Indian manufactured goods more onerous, etc.!
At the heart of the worry about India getting engaged, willy-nilly, in American initiatives hurtful to Iran, is that Modi, like most Indian politicians, is a proven sucker for praise and flattery, and Trump’s laying it on thick will be irresistible to the Indian PM. One need only recall the “Howdy, Modi!” Houston event and how elated Modi seemed when Trump rained accolades on him, to gauge the dangers ahead.
It may be best for the Modi government to, for once, do the right thing and preempt any approaches for help by Washington, by wagging its finger and asking the US and Iran to refrain from doing anything to escalate tension and, as a well wisher, to suggest to Washington that it make amends, by easing economic pressure on Tehran as prelude to negotiations for ending the long US-Iranian diplomatic impasse. It may be the way to regain for an over-US tilted India room for diplomatic manouevre, some slight self-respect and, perhaps, even an affirmation of shared interests with Iran.
[CDS General Rawat, and three Chiefs of Staff — Naravane, Karambir Singh, and Bhadauria]
A book review by me published in India Today, Dec 30, 2019 issue
Anit Mukherjee, The Absent Dialogue: Politicians, Bureaucrats, and the Military in India, Oxford University Press, 2020.
Civil-military relations in India are sensitive, tense, fraught with dread, and involve three parties – the armed services on one side and the tag team of politicians and bureaucrats on the other, tussling on eggshells. In this fandango, more effort is expended in turf battles, ego-status hassles, and furthering sectional interests than in working cooperatively to obtain speedy results. Enjoying superior position, the tag team mostly has its way, leaving the military to make do with what’s offered. Reduced almost to an afterthought, national security is not served well.
There is so much so seminally wrong with the existing system of national defence, it is hard to know where to start or whom to blame for the mess. In this book, Anit Mukherjee, a former armoured corps officer turned academic, identifies the villain — by his lights the “absence of dialogue” between the three players. But it is too pat an answer. Nevertheless, by addressing the problem of military effectiveness in terms of the lack of dialogue on weapons procurement, jointness, officer education, promotion policies and defence planning, he usefully pulls together information and insights based on interview research to highlight the ills plaguing the system that are widely known and have long been recognized as stumbling blocks. (A list of senior retired and serving military officers, bureaucrats and civilian experts who were interviewed is appended.)
A persuasive case is made that the extant state of civil-military relations is because there is no credible existential threat, “low salience [of defence] in electoral politics”, and because there is no real incentive to change. And that status quo is preferred because it preserves for the military its functional autonomy and for the babu-dominated politician-bureaucrat nexus the entirely satisfactory system of “power without accountability”. It is this context that the author fleshed out by tracing the state of civil-military relations through the tenures of the prime ministers to-date.
Jawaharlal Nehru established the system of overarching and disabling civilian control which may be democratic India’s strength and also major military weakness because generalist bureaucrats have tended to gum up the works. Civil-military relations reached heir apogee during the Indira Gandhi era when political involvement at every stage led to smooth inter-agency and inter-service coordination culminating in the successful 1971 Bangladesh war. The lesson that hands-on role by leaders is key, however, stays unlearned. The power balance tilted towards the military during the Rajiv Gandhi years when the showy army chief General K. Sundarji held sway. In the wake of controversial military operations (Brasstacks, Sri Lanka) and the Bofors scandal, the bureaucracy reasserted itself. In this milieu, disruptive institutional innovations are not countenanced.
The Committee on Defence Expenditure geared to curbing military spending did not survive the VP Singh interregnum because the armed services and the ministry of defence (MOD) bureaucrats alike found it “inconvenient”. In similar vein, a powerful Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) recommended by the Kargil Committee is unlikely to be realized with the Narendra Modi government favouring the Naresh Chandra Committee’s concept of a defanged four star CDS .
The absence of technical expertise and domain knowledge in MOD is the real scandal here, and Mukherjee dilates on it. He makes the telling point that uniformed officers are as much generalists as civil servants because the formers’ experience and professional training is so narrowly tactical they, like civilians, muddle along, unable to cope with the minutiae of technology trends, geopolitical developments, and the strategic scope and scale of effort needed for modern national security planning.
What the author misses out on is the crucial matter of political leaders shirking responsibility. Instead of setting goals, prioritizing threats and expenditure programmes and tasking bureaucrats and military to implement decisions, they rely on babus to, in effect, make them. This is the source of all the troubles, resulting in overbearing defence civilians, languid pace of decision-making, and a raft of seemingly irresolvable problems bedevilling India’s national security policy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stumble up the steps in Kanpur on December 17 was symbolic of the country staggering into the future instead of striding confidently into the third decade of the new Century. Most of India’s woes have been self-inflicted. The BharatiyaJanata Party government that came to power in 2014 promising a world of real and radical change – recall the rousing slogans “India First”, “Less government, more governance”, and “Government has no business to be in business”, has well into its second term delivered on none of them. What it has produced is a country emerging as America’s poodle and as appeaser of China – India’s primary security threat and strategic, ideological, and economic rival in Asia and, at home, a relentless drive to polarize India along communal and religious lines for petty political gain that bids fair to rent the social fabric and engender lasting turmoil.
Ironically, at the same time as the Modi regime rammed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) through Parliament, a law apparently ultra vires of the Indian Constitution (Article 14) that set off deep social tremors all over the country, the neighbouring Pakistan—Indian government’s favourite whipping boy, took the first strong steps towards liberal democracy and the rule of law. That country’s Supreme Court did the unthinkable – tried the coup de’atatist and former Pakistan Army chief, General Parvez Musharraf, for treason and sentenced him to death for violating the Constitution! Clearly, the two countries seem headed in opposite directions.
If the political situation is on the boil, India’s economic plight is alarming. Rising unemployment and a growth rate that many fear will soon subside to the socialist era “Hindu rate of growth” of 3%, means that millions of youth – the so-called “demographic dividend” that Modi earlier talked up, the bulk of them unemployable “educated illiterates” unattended by government skilling programmes, could combine with the violent street protests stirred by CAA, to render India truly ungovernable. Whether the disturbances remain on the front page or not, Modi’s cynical politics and widening resistance to it, are bound to exacerbate centre-state relations and further roil the economic prospects. This slide in India’s political and economic fortunes is mirrored by the Modi government’s failures in the external realm.
As it is, by staying with a policy sourced from Narasimha Rao’s time, and continued by subsequent Prime Ministers – Manmohan Singh and now Modi, of getting close to the United States apparently at any cost, India’s freedom of diplomatic action and ability to leverage its contingent or “issue-based” support has eroded markedly. Playing off the US against Russia, Russia against China, and US against China to benefit India, is not easy when Delhi has already revealed its cards, namely, intimacy with Washington, estranged partnership with Moscow, and wary accommodation of China.
With respect to America, Manmohan Singh mumbled (whence President George W. Bush’s half-jokey comment that he needed a translator when talking to the Indian PM). Chanting the mantra “20,000 megawatts by 2020”, he pretty much surrendered the country’s sovereignty by signing a civilian nuclear deal with the US that barred India from conducting new thermonuclear tests. 2020 is nigh, there’s no sign of the promised nuclear energy surge, but there’s the Indian strategic deterrent limited to proven fission bombs. It has put India in no position to ever challenge China’s proto-hegemony in Asia. The only way India can throw off these shackles is to resume hydrogen bomb testing and leaving it to Washington to call off the deal. This the US cannot do because geostrategically it has no other friendly state that is also hefty and can help contain China, which is striving to displace the US as the predominant power. Indian leaders it would appear have no sense of the country’s inherent strengths or of the leverage it can wield if it has a mind to.
Modi has proved that he is not the one to unshackle India. His innovation—if you can call it that is unrestrained embracing, and his deployment of arms purchases to achieve unambitious goals. Global leaders may have gotten used to his hugs and learned gamely to reciprocate. But their seeming effusiveness has not translated into enduring gains for India. His bonhomie with US President Donald J Trump has led to no give whatsoever on Washington’s part on any of the issues Modi has flagged. So every time Modi meets with Trump, he signs up for more P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft and transport planes – C-17, C-130, the staple buys. In return, for enriching the US defence industry, Modi asked for small things and got smacked in the face. He lobbied hard for a loosened H1B visa scheme to benefit Indian techies. It fetched a tightened immigration regime instead, forcing Indian companies –on the pain of loss of market — to invest in the US resulting in the reverse flow of capital and employment gain for America. Supplicating for easier entry for its manufactured export goods, Delhi was pressed to ease restrictions on imports of American dairy and meat products.
All the talk of advanced military technology collaboration and transfers from Vajpayee’s time have begotten nothing except first Barack Obama’s and now Trump’s pressuring India to go in for the antiquated F-16 fighter plane decked out with shiny bells and whistles and a new moniker — F-21, and for its production line as well to service, other than the aircraft with IAF, a non-existent market. It is a project that’s likely to be furthered under the ‘Make in India’ programme that the Indian Air Force head Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria has called a sham. It will add to the $14 billion worth of military hardware purchases from the US Modi has already committed to.
India’s relationship with America however one-sided, has complicated its ties to Moscow. A once steady friend is now openly flirting with Pakistan, promising it latest armaments, and handing over Mi-35 attack helicopters and, at the other end, forging strong military technology and manufacturing links with China. India is hit with a double whammy. Desperate to keep President Vladimir Putin in good humour, Delhi contracted for the S-400 anti-aircraft air defence system it didn’t really want but bought anyway as gap filler in India’s layered ballistic missile defence (BMD) which won’t work because there’s no technology anywhere that can fend off salvo firings by enemy states of missiles and rockets. India desperately wants the second Akula-class nuclear powered hunter-killer submarine. But Putin has tied it to other capital military deals such as the Amur-class diesel submarine for the navy’s Project 75i and, the more commendable 50 ton T-14 light tank for the army’s mountain offensive corps. With both the US and Russia angling to monopolize the Indian arms market at the expense of the indigenous weapons design, development, and manufacture programmes (such as the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, its derivative Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, Arjuna main battle tank) India’s national interest is gutted.
In bilateral trade with China of some $100 billion, India’s deficit is some $65 billion. Seduced by Xi Jinping’s promises of investment in infrastructure and of imminent resolution of the long simmering border dispute, Modi has played footsie with Beijing. During his nearly six years in office there has been no Chinese investment nor a border accord, but there has been frequent summiting and partaking of the “Wuhan spirit” and, lately, the Mamallapuram spirit, which appear to be merely exchanges of vaporous rhetoric and nothing substantive on the ground to show for it. But Beijing has no complaints. It gets to keep its beneficial trade imbalance intact, and notwithstanding every assessment claiming the PLA-funded Huawei Company’s 5-G technology as cyber Trojan Horse, it remains in the running to outfit the Indian telecommunications system.Talk of being taken for a ride! But that’s not the half of it.
China is Pakistan’s sheet anchor and makes no bones about it. Besides financing the China-Pakistan Corridor (CPEC), Beijing is the champion of Islamabad’s causes and protector of its interests in the UN and other international fora. On December 16, in the latest such initiative, it moved a resolution in the Security Council to discuss the Kashmir issue, and has prevented the Financial Assistance Task Force from sanctioning Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism. Despite China’s manifest antipathy to India, Modi has refrained from using market access to trip up the Chinese economy, or in a belated response to Beijing’s dastardly proliferation of nuclear missiles to Pakistan, from arming the states on China’s periphery and in the South China Sea with nuclear and long-range weapons to strategically straighten out Beijing.
In this decade of diplomatic shuffle, old friends with historic ties have been given the heave-ho, disrespected, and even discarded on Washington’s say so. Though central to India’s strategic plans for a presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia via the rail and road grid radiating northwards from Chabahar port that Delhi said it would fund, Iran has been treated as a pariah, the flow of Iranian oil has been drastically scaled back and energy reliance on Tehran cut from 13% to less than 2% in three years, and the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline has been shut down for good. So cheap energy has been sacrificed for the pricey nuclear power that Manmohan Singh and now Modi are determined to buy by procuring exorbitantly priced reactors from the US, Russia, and France, courtesy the 2008 nuclear deal. In a similar fit of strategic short-sightedness, India has gone slow on intense military cooperation with Japan – the one country China is apprehensive about. It has even turned down Tokyo’s offer to transfer the production line of the US-2, the finest maritime multi-role aircraft in the world.
India in the last ten years has done little of note other than beef up its image as a foolish giant of a nation, at once gullible, exploitable, spendthrift and self-abnegating, fulfilling every big power’s wish as a friend or, as China would happily attest, as an adversary.
[Rajnath Singh and Jaishankar in 2+2 meeting in Washington]
The decisive section in the Joint Statement issued Dec 19 at the end of the India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Washington related to Building an Enduring Defense and Counterterrorism Partnership. It has had some doozies in it. Clearly, the Modi government is so committed, as the Statement said, to ” a comprehensive, enduring, and mutually-beneficial defense partnership and to expand all aspects of their security and defense cooperation” that the price India will end up paying is apparently of little concern to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is like, as the Press has reported, the government’s willingness to ride out the unrest attending on the Citizenship Amendment Act for what the Modi-Amit Shah duo hopes will be long term political gains to them personally and to the Bharatiya Janata Party generally from deepening the communal-religious divide.
The section talks of realizing “the India-U.S. Major Defense Partnership (MDP)” with expanded “military-to-military cooperation” with the “new [annual] tri-service, amphibious exercise – TIGER TRIUMPH” involving the Indian Navy and, on the American side, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command, and Africa Command. Its intention is “to expand similar cooperation between their respective Armies and Air Forces” to supplement the yearly Malabar exercise. All this is no bad thing. Moreover, placing an Indian officer to liaison with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, and inviting the US military to the 2020 MILAN multilateral naval exercise to support “capacity building efforts in the Indo-Pacific” is also fine. And, there are definite gains from an agreement to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul depots in India for aircraft — but for which planes would be interesting to know. Because these aircraft would have to be in large enough numbers to make the MROs a cost-effective proposition. But OK, so far so good.
Except, all the military exercising, forging service-to-service links, and MROs are essentially cover for the two things Washington has been desperate for: (1) the implementation of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for “secure communication capabilities between the Armed Forces, including the Armies and Air Forces” and (2) the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) facilitating the exchange of “classified military information between Indian and the U.S. defense industries”. Unfortunately, ISA seems designed by Washington to prevent Russian military hardware from being manufactured here under license.
COMCASA, I have long maintained, is an ‘Open Sesame’ for the US formally to penetrate India’s most secret communications grid, including the nuclear command and control net. It can then potentially interfere — if it isn’t able to do so already without the COMCASA, with the communications between the PM (the final nuclear firing authority) and SFC in any crisis.
Paying up tens of billions of dollars to Lockheed and America for the obsolete F-16/F-21 will mean Finance Ministry telling IAF there’s no money for the Tejas LCA programme. And Lockheed is all set to shift the F-16 assembly line from Fort Worth, Texas, to wherever Tata wants to set it up in India. As Tata, VP for global relations (or something), S. Jaishankar pushed the Modi government to buy the F-16. As our esteemed foreign minister he will be saying aye in a cabinet of rubber stamps when Modi brings the F-16 contract to acquire this decrepit old plane for the IAF up for approval. Quite a racket this.
To return to my main thesis, the separate private sector defence industry geared to buying military goods phased out by the US military will be facilitated by the ISA. This is because the US companies do not want their Intellectual Property Rights compromised by having the DPSUs that have produced Russian equipment, to make their products. It stretches the imagination to know what American tech is worth hiding in a 50-yer old F-16, given that its so-called “advanced” avionic packages will come as “black box” technologies for the lifetime of the plane’s production run that Tata and the Indian secondary chain suppliers will have no hand in producing anyway.
But this is only half of our troubles. With the US insisting on sealing defence industries producing their items, Russians too will feel, prestige bound, to argue that DPSUs outputting their more modern, newer generation, Su-30 aircraft, for instance, should be insulated against tech-stealing by Americans.
Where will this end? With two completely separate US- and Russia-sourced fleets, and US oriented private sector and Russian-aligned DPSUs, the Indian military will find itself in an operational quandary if Washington and Moscow also insist — which would be the next level of their gamesmanship — that Indian air force, naval and army bases too cannot have “their” weapons platforms operating from the same bases or use a common logistics infrastructure. This is madness. And India, by trying to be too clever by half — the late K. Subrahmanyam’s special card (sought to be played by his son, Jaishankar) — is stepping right into its own carefully constructed pagal khana.
[Lt Gen Naravane, Admiral Karambir and VCAS Air Marshal Arora on Navy Day]]
There’s a lot of head-banging going on in PMO over the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) issue. With the economy plummeting and bad news marching in in battalions with another self-inflicted wound — the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo decided is worth the short term costs — escalating turmoil, including unrest in Delhi, because it would beget perennial political payoffs in terms of polarizing the electorate along religious lines every time general elections and major state level polls come into view. There’s, however, a felt need to take the people’s eye off the extant troubles and on to some “achievements” the BJP government can showcase.
One such issue on the platter is CDS, a decision that’s acquired a certain urgency if the first person to hold this post, the current army chief General Bipin Rawat, who retires end of December, is to be the man. So there’s not much time. Rawat’s “elevation” has been rumoured for a while now. This appointment would be least disruptive because he is the senior most among the current serving chiefs anyway, even though a four star CDS isn’t much of an elevation and will not prevent the coming functional friction with the three services chiefs, including the successor army chief.
There are other options the PMO may be considering that military circles are agog about. Among these is appointing the Vice Chief of the Army Staff Lieutenant General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who is the presumptive COAS, as the first CDS. It will bring the next senior army man, Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, Northern Army Commander, into the succession picture. Except the navy head Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria may baulk at serving under a junior — Naravane, as the “first among equals”. So, this too is problematic.
If the Modi regime shies away from making Rawat the first CDS, it may be politic, say many senior military officers, to appoint Admiral Karambir to the position as single source military adviser to the government. The present Chief of Naval Staff is a thorough professional, and a straight arrow. Especially helpful is the fact that Karambir is a naval aviator (helicopter pilot) and an air force brat to boot, his father being a retired Wing Commander. And so he’s a person who absolutely appreciates air power and will not shortchange the Indian Air Force, the fear of which motivated its 40-year rear-guard action against the establishment of the CDS system.
In fact, the IAF’s opposition to CDS is the cover behind which the government has advanced the idea of a 4-star CDS, and not a genuinely senior person as a (5-star) Field Marshal, something the civil bureaucracy has violently opposed and which development the political class too has felt queasy about (owing to the old fear about an all-powerful military officer staging a coup).
It will be interesting to see if Modi prefers a non-Rawat choice for CDS and who it will be.
According to NASA, space junk is a serious problem, and the figures (below) are daunting. To-date there are (1) some 500,000 pieces of space debris between 1 and 10 cm, (2) more than 21,000 pieces larger than 10 cm, and (3) more than 100 million pieces below 1 cm. Moreover, most orbital debris is within 2,000 km of the Earth’s surface, and the biggest concentrations of debris are found at 750-800 km. Only 7% of space junk is functional, and all debris is hurtling at speeds reaching 28,163 km/h (17,500 mph), putting in peril thousands of low and high orbiting satellites that are critical to the modern world. Satellites map, spot natural resources, collect weather and agriculture-related information, transmit all manner of data, and facilitate global telecommunications, not to mention their military uses (surveillance, target tracking, and weapon guidance over long distances).
There have so far been over 5,000 satellite launches, with decrepit satellites long past their use-by date orbiting uselessly and adding to the debris. “Atmospheric drag” naturally pulls the junk, like decommissioned low earth orbit satellites, into the earth’s atmosphere and burns them up on re-entry but this takes time and cannot be relied on to clear the debris fast. Other means have to be used to achieve this aim. Such as boosting the old geosynchronous satellites into higher “space graveyard” orbits in the 36,000 km belt above the earth.
Space debris problem needs addressing by all countries. So, why does an agreement on space junk that the Narendra Modi government is eager to sign with the United States dangerous for India’s national security interest?
Let’s consider the “Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices” executive order that President Trump signed in 2018, which was updated this year. It is the likely template for the accord that the Indian government is about to sign with the US. Trump’s order has 5 objectives. The first one is to control debris larger than 5mm released “during normal operations” over 25 years — with normal nowhere defined — and require spacecraft/upper stages to be designed such as to “minimize”, preferably, “eliminate”, such release. The 2nd objective to reduce debris from”accidental explosions” and mandates engineering and probability assessment methods to judge a spacecraft’s propensity for such explosions,which figure will have to be less than 1 in 1000. Moreover, energy sources within spacecraft would have to be depleted, and propellant burns and compressed gas releases designed to avoid collision and consequent explosion. The 3rd goal is to select safe flight profiles and operational configuration to prevent these from adding to the debris. The spacecraft will, in the event, have to be designed to ensure the probability of collision with debris 10 cms and larger to be no more than 1 in 1000, and that it can survive hits by microastroids and 1 cm sized debris without hurting its post-mission disposal prospects.
The 4th objective is to mitigate post-mission disposal of satellites/space structures by, in the main, enabling direct re-entry, atmospheric drag enhancement measures, maneuvering to different orbits, and by direct retrieval within 5 years of mission completion, with these disposal measures attaining 0.9 level probability. The 5th objective is regarding “constellations” of 100 or more tiny spacecraft, with each needing to have a high disposal rate (of 0.99). Further, small LEO satellites and cubesats will have to be engineered for a lifetime of 25 years.
Some of these concerns are being taken up by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) but the bulk of the problems and solutions are as the US has stated them. If it was an entirely UN initiative, there’d be some merit in joining the talks. But what negotiation exactly have ISRO’s Space Situational Awareness & Management Centre (SSAMC) and MEA conducted outside of, and within the, 2+2 context, with the counterpart US agencies before the Modi government decided to sign this agreement? As far as one can make out, there may have been an exchange of notes and some perfunctory discussion, but no real interaction between technical experts of the two countries. This would mean that India has accepted the US standards in toto. The question to then ask is whether ISRO has the advanced technological and design competence to develop upper stages/spacecraft which meet American performance criteria? And if ISRO can’t meet them, America will, presumably, wield its favourite stick to beat India with — sanctions, as an agreement violator!
Such space debris agreement may well require India to share the engineering parameters of its spacecraft as well as their mission profiles (“operational configuration”, etc. — 2nd and 3rd objectives) with Washington. That would make ISRO products and missions an open book and preemptively close off even informal cooperation with DRDO to produce heavy lift ICBMs with larger payload carrying capacity of single weapons and MIRV-ed warheads.
The more troubling aspect is why sign a bilateral agreement that limits what India can and cannot do in space, when over 50 odd countries have satellites and will not be bound by any of its strictures? India can choose to be responsible on its own account and take care to design spaceware that does not exacerbate the space debris problem, even adhering to the US norms. But there was simply no need to sign an accord that binds India hand and foot. Compare China’s pattern of international behaviour. It never signs any bilateral or multilateral agreement until almost all other nations have signed it, and then uses its reluctance to sign as diplomatic leverage to get what it wants. India is invariably the first to get on the wagon and gets screwed in terms of the lost freedom of action and space for diplomatic maneuver. But trust Delhi to never learn from the past and to keep repeating the same mistakes.
T’is winter-time and all the established media houses and media wannabees schedule their elite outreach programmes to try and make themselves relevant to policymaking and policymakers, to wit the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, etc. Just got back from a shindig arranged by WION TV network on “World Order: Talking Diplomacy” where the keynote speaker Ram Madhav, BJP General Secretary and in-house expert on foreign policy and presumably also strategy, dilated on the topic “Strategically Decisive India 2020”, which was a good reason to attend it.
Narendra Modi, he said, has added several “new dimensions” to India’s foreign policy. Elaborating further, Madhav said that the prime minister had (1) “shed romanticism” and the institutional “resistance” to engaging with other countries, which is judged by the number of visits by the PM and foreign minister; (2) adopted “practicalness”and proactiveness”; (3) de-hyphenated India and Pakistan, and compelled the countries of the world to take a “stand alone approach” to India; and, most importantly, (4) to the 5 panchamrit principles, he added, few more, namely, samman (respect and honour for Indians and India), samvad — “greater engagement with “people [abroad] who matter” that helped reshape the country’s image in the world and also involved effective “diaspora diplomacy”, “suraksha” (security for Indians and India) and “”samriddhi” — the cultural angle. As regärds the last, Madhav said Modi does not hesitate to to use Indian culture as a diplomatic tool, or as he put it, he “does not mind wearing culture on his sleeve”.
He then said — and this is a very ambitious formulation — that in the strategic realm, “India needs to have its own club”, that India’s leadership has to be asserted before it is accepted, and that the defunct SAARC and BIMSTEC type orgs won’t do because India cannot lead them. This club, he added, will have to “turn east” and India will have “to rise as leader in the Indo-Pacific”. The current international institutions, he averred, by way of filling in the background, cater to Europe and the West and not to Asia and the East. This fact, he implied, is what offered Delhi the opportunity to conceive of this club. Further, he attributed this new nomenclature of the Indo-Pacific, as replacement for Asia-Pacific, to Modi’s efforts during the Obama Administration. The question is, he observed, “How to make India central in the Indo-Pacific region”.
All these things are expected, per Madhav, to turn India into a strategically decisive country by next year!
In this region, moreover, managing China will, according the Madhav, require “skill” and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) won’t be “comprehensive without India”and hence that Delhi can afford to wait until its conditions (in the main, insistence on the 35% value add in products sourced from the RCEP member states to prevent China channeling exports of finished consumer and capital goods to India via third countries) are met. RCEP being “äll about markets” it cannot do without the vast Indian market, he maintained.
Replying to a question about the religion-based Citizens (Amendment) Bill (CAB), he made the cogent point that it was based on the 1950 Assam Expulsion Act (AEA) that Jawaharlal Nehru promulgated which addressed the problems caused by Muslims from the then East Pakistan streaming across the border into India and upsetting the local ethnic composition and disturbing the peace, which pattern continued after 1971. And that CAB, like AEA, was necessitated by Partition of India along religious lines. Whence these Bills eased/will ease the absorption of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians expelled from, or pressured to leave, Pakistan, Bangladesh, but deny citizenship status to incoming Muslims, including the Rohingyas from Myanmar.
Finally, Madhav blamed the prevailing “market sentiment and climate” for the economic downturn in the country.
This is a full slate of issues on which Madhav voiced his opinions. The points he has made helps us understand the way the Modi regime perceives the world, crafts Indian foreign policy, and sees its own successes. Let us broadly but briefly assess these claims.
With respect to the supposedly new dimensions of foreign policy introduced by Modi, one can take issue with many of them. It is easy to contend, for example, that eliminating policy resistance to engaging with the West was, in truth, originated by the Manmohan Singh government with its disastrous nuclear deal with the US and its drumbeat of pleas for admission into such tech cartels as the Nuclear Suppliers Group — both policy streams Modi has persisted with. However, Modi did pioneer the opening up to Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states, until now when these countries have for the first time and in their national interest set aside religion as a factor to see a stable India as a long term market for their energy and as a safe investment destination. That it has thus marginalized Pakistan’s hitherto consequential role in this sub-region is a dividend that may or may not have been anticipated. And more, it is here in the Gulf area that the claim of de-hyphenation packs credibility with the Arab states closing in with India at the expense of Pakistan. Elsewhere though, Europe, US, and the rest of Asia faced with India’s reflexively anti-Pakistan attitude at every turn has only forced these countries to junk the standalone approach to India they may have adopted during the Manmohan Singh era when Delhi strove for the easing of relations, to naturally react by re-hyphenating these terribly squabbling South Asian states, much to India’s detriment.
Ridding Indian foreign policy of romanticism is fine but where’s the evidence of proactive measures? There has been a lot of tall talk about security cooperation with Indian Ocean states, countries of the Southeast Asian littoral, and with Japan but little that is concrete, unless one counts the Shinkansen 5E series high-speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad link that’s run into rough weather with the new Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray withdrawing permission for its construction in that state, thereby grounding this flagship Indo-Japanese venture. Modi has not disturbed even little the old normal of the Indian government and MEA working at a maddeningly slow pace, reducing this government to all promise and no delivery on projects Modi has offered the host states on his frequent travels. The Kaladan connectivity project that was to plug Myanmar into the Indian economy is nowhere near completion some 20 years after it was initiated. The Development Assistance Programmes (DPAs) I & II in MEA with a brief to oversee timely and within cost delivery of Indian funded projects are a scandal, and has generated more ill will, doubt and distrust of India over the years in Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean area and Central Asia than any good they might have done. This perfectly deplorable state of affairs hasn’t changed an iota during Modi’s tenure. In this context it is hard really to see even a glimmer of success of Indian foreign policy vis a vis the developing world.
The panchamrit + 4 principles are fine on paper, but have created problems. For instance, the successful diaspora diplomacy is the spawn of samvaad. But in asking diasporic Indians to be national assets for their new countries it may have reinforced NRIs to become wielders of foreign influence in India, which in any case they were inclined to do. This is most evident in the India-origin Americans working to get Indian national interests more in sync with US policies.
The India-led club is a mite too ambitious a concept for Modi because his policy stance has so far oscillated between compromising with China and accommodating the US, something that makes nonsense about India’s pretend autonomy while making Asian states of the Indo-Pacific wary because it mirrors what they themselves are doing. In which case, what benefits do they gain from joining India’s club? Had India stood its ground and not surrendered leverage and turf on virtually every issue of contention with US and China, had Modi not backpedaled on the radical economic reforms he had promised in 2014, removed the dead hand of government from the economic sphere with rapid privatization of the public sector, incentivized skilling programmes and employment generation schemes on a war footing and otherwise propelled the growth rate instead of doing nothing and seeing the economy now tank, India presently a 2.73 trillion economy despite all the systemic restraints and constraints, would have achieved double digit growth, ensured the PM another two terms in office for certain, and set India up as a coming power.
It isn’t at all clear how absent any administrative reforms and radical economic overhaul, a strategically decisive India will emerge, much as all of us might want earnestly to believe that it would somehow do so even without any course correction.
If Modi carries on as he has done to-date, BJP will be lucky if it can put a lid on the growing discontent of the masses inevitably spilling out on to the streets. In this situation, BJP may not survive the 2024 general elections and Modi’s reputation is unlikely to remain untarnished. Madhav’s claims about an India club may then come back to mock Modi. I mean which nation would want to emulate India, or be led by it? And why?
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar skirted around the truth with his professional diplomatic flummery in the Rajya Sabha yesterday. Asked about India’s chances about securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, he said ” “Well, I will hope soon.” But then realizing he had gone too far in raising hopes, quickly corrected himself in the very next sentence. “I am realistic enough to know”, he added, “that it is a long and patient effort. We are not lacking in patience and not lacking in our perseverance and we are not lacking in our aspirations. We will get that one day. I am very confident and it is progressing step by step.” Ah,”one day”. He should have been honest and replied “never”, certainly not if India under Modi (persisting with the policy of his predecessors) continues enthusiastically to subscribe to and support the current world order.
Why? Because it is mightily inconvenient to slice up the international power pie six ways, when the existing 5 powers have each a fifth of the pie. Which country among the present permanent five members — US, Russia, China, UK and France — is idiot enough to want diminution of its power and authority that the permanent UNSC status endows them with? Pleading pitifully for the sixth seat in the UNSC — a glorified talk shop, displaying “patience” and “perseverance” and seeking “to progress step by step” in this regard, won’t do it, and hurts India’s self-respect and amor propre, not that the Indian government seems to care, won’t do it.
What will, I have argued, is if India becomes so excessively disruptive of international norms and the extant system that the P-5 are compelled to accommodate it in their ranks,or face a breakdown in their carefully constructed global power edifice. The example to follow is Maozedong who simply ran roughshod over the UN and its “rule-based international order, repeatedly cocked a snook at it, drove the US-led UN forces south of the 38th parallel, fought General Douglas MacArthur’s army to an impasse on the Korean Peninsula, and then enjoyed the great fortune of having a Third World chump in Jawaharlal Nehru surrender a Permanent seat offered India to China, just so that country took its rightful place at the global apex!!
India, as a non-signatory, could have made a beginning by upsetting the global nuclear apple cart that the P-5 had cobbled together by ignoring the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty and responded with alacrity to China’s clandestine transfers of nuclear materials, expertise, bomb designs and missile systems to Pakistan starting in the mid-1970s by shipping whole N-bombs to Vietnam and, in time, to other states on China’s borders who expressed a desire for such armaments. Recall that China invaded Vietnam in 1979 and got a bloody nose for its troubles, the aggressor PLA Group Army leading the charge actually being defeated by the Vietnamese irregulars who took to the field before the Vietnamese army could see action. Given its security context, wouldn’t Hanoi have appreciated such a gesture and permanently put the Chinese dragon’s tail in a twist in a way the Pakistani nuclear deterrent has done to India? And consider the strong message that Indian action would have sent Beijing, and the absolute parity in geomilitary terms that would have subsequently achieved for India. Instead, under Manmohan Singh, India finally succumbed to the NPT and signed the civilian nuclear deal negotiated by, who else, our truly — S Jaishankar, then a relative small fry — Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA, and now the country’s foreign minister, no less. As a result of the N-deal the possibility of India ever securing credible thermonuclear weapons to match China was thus dashed.
The fact is it is still not too late for Delhi to activate this option. But then Narendra Modi, as he has shown, would rather be patted on his back by the West and China for showing restraint when anything nuclear and to do with Beijing are concerned, and be celebrated for India’s “responsible behaviour” than serve the hard Indian national interest.
Jaishankar said one other important thing in Parliament — this regarding the Russian S-400 air defence system. It is “very clear” to everybody, he declaimed that India took decisions on merits. “We will not be influenced”, he observed,”by other countries on what we do in terms of our national security and defence. If we have committed to the S-400 agreement, which we have, then other countries need to respect that decision.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it though? One little problem. He talked of the “merits” of weapon systems India buys from a slew of foreign countries as an explanatory variable.
Doesn’t this open up the matter of the Modi regime and F-21 — the venerable 50 year old “museum ready” F-16 fighter aircraft by another name which Jaishankar, in his capacity, incidentally, as head of the Tata Group’s global operations (or some such designation) pushed the BJP government to buy? Would Jaishankar in the cabinet when the decision comes up tout this aircraft’s “merits”, which other than permitting Tata — a haloed Indian company that has gone down the wrong path under Ratan Tata, to assemble it and rake in the money in cahoots with Lockheed Martin, has no real benefits. Unless you count the dubious gains from India from plugging into the US global value and production chain.
Jaishankar single-handedly negotiated the nuclear deal that finished off India’s nuclear ambitions. Who is to to say he, as foreign minister, won’t be equally persuasive — considering the direction in which prime minister Modi is leaning, in getting the Country to plonk for this perfectly inappropriate F-16 buy and kill off the indigenous Tejas LCA and its AMCA derivatives and what remains of the Indian Air Force’s fighting capability? When he does, we will be left pondering the “merits” of the F-16 in IAF colours he will no doubt reveal.
Narendra Modi practices realpolitik at home but gets cold feet and displays a flagging will against an overweaning adversary such as China to a point where it is not unreasonable to conclude he shows no understanding of it, leave alone knowing when to turn the screws on an adversary and to not so subtly discomfit it, and rally international pressure against it.
Beijing, in like situation, showed no hesitation in joining Pakistan to raise alarms in the wake of the abrogation of Constitution Article 370 about India’s mistreatment of, and human rights violations against, the supposedly hapless Kashmiris. This while its ambassador in Delhi proclaimed the need for both countries to be mindful of each other’s “sensitivities”. This policy of double-dealing double talk is normal for China, something Beijing has masterfully executed against a fear-wracked Indian government apparently so apprehensive of crossing Beijing that whatever the scale of provocation, it has chosen to ignore it and generally to subside gently into doing as China wishes.
What is also increasingly normal for Delhi is the shameful wagging of its tail at Xi’s China, which contrasts sharply with the Modi regime’s almost malevolent reaction to even the littlest burp from Islamabad. It shows up this country to the world – to use Mao’s favourite words for Nehru’s India — as “an imperialst running dog”, except that empire is now Chinese!
India and China are ideological rivals, and as such cannot, in theory, abide each other’;s political systems and ideologies. Nothing should be more distasteful to Delhi in this context than the open and systemic victimization of a whole people by a country with an authoritarian Communist dispensation. And yet, in the last 40 years and more India has not officially raised the issue of the cultural genocide in Tibet (referred to by Beijing as Xizang) against its Lamaist Buddhist population, and now against the Uyghur Muslims in the area traditionally known as East Turkestan (that China calls Xinjiang). It is another matter that both these territories — one forcefully annexed by the PLA in 1949, the other transferred by Stalin to Mao in the 1950s, were only tenuously connected to China, their historical linkages to the Yellow Emperor more Chinese pretence than actual historical fact.
Until the new millennium, Beijing was happy to let Xinjiang remain an economic and social backwater because it was strategically critical. Its vast arid expanse providing the perfect location for China’s nuclear weapons development and underground explosive testing complex at Lop Nor. But with 9/11 and the rise of radical Islam, which was manifested in stray incidents of Uyghurs knifing Chinese settlers, Beijing acted preemptively to nip the Islamic terrorist threat in the bud.
First it moved in a huge PLA presence with severe surveillance and policing measures and followed up some five years ago with an official campaign to eliminate this latent threat altogether by re-educating the Uyghur youth — the most likely recruits for Islamist causes. Over time this programme of re-education has taken the shape of a series of barbed wire-laced, high walled, high-tech detention centres in which over a million young men are presently incarcerated, undergoing what Beijing quaintly refers to as “vocational training”.
These “camps” using modern and heinous brain-washing techniques perfected during the Korean War of the early Fifties are supposed to help mainstream the Uyghurs into Chinese national life, but in reality divests them of their separate Muslim and ethnic identity. The so-called “China cables” recently leaked to the West are the first view of Beijing’s how-to manual for non-Uyghuring the Uyghurs by means that China successfully tested and used against the Tibetans in Tibet — a sustained programme of alienating the natives of these lands from their cultural roots, religion and traditions. Indeed, these concentration camps are a follow-on to Chinese laws that have made illegal even the vestiges of Islam in East Turkestan, including beards, worry beads, and Muslim names for children.
In July this year, 22 EU states wrote formally to Beijing to permit UN officials to inspect these crowded internment centres and to prevent the ill-treatment of the Uyghurs by the Chinese state. The methods Beijing has adopted to rub out Uyghurian sensibilities are so extreme, egregious and Orwellian, the UK Foreign Office has demanded in diplomatically acceptable language “an end to the indiscriminate and disproportionate restrictions on the cultural and religious freedoms of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”
It is the right time for Delhi to dig the spurs into China’s flank and demand that Uyghurs be treated humanely and their rights respected by Beijing. It would be the right sort of action to take at this time because it would mean diplomatically piggybacking on the pro-Uyghur UK and EU sentiment and initiatives. It will also be payback for Beijing’s complaining about Kashmiris being hounded by Indian security forces. There’s moreover no hypocrisy here. It is one thing to ask the Srinagar Valley Muslims to stay indoors in their own homes, quite another thing for an entire generation of Uyghurs and Tibetans to be locked up in vast prisons.
The Question is will Prime Minister Modi show some slight stomach, at a minimum, for a diplomatic fight with China? Will he muster the gumption to stick it to Xi on the human rights issue and mirror the Chinese ploy by simultaneously having his mouthpiece, Jaishankar, go against his grain and voice concern for the well being of Uyghurs and Tibetans who have suffered the historic misfortune of their countries taken over by a dastardly China, and instruct our ambassador in Beijing to speak unctuously of cooperation for the greater good of mankind or some such nonsense. Shouldn’t India, for once, stand up and be counted with other countries as supporters of minorities and their absent human rights in China?
Alas, as on so many other previous occasions, Modi will show no such enterprise for fear of diplomatically ruffling China’s feathers. He will thus miss out on an historic opportunity to do the right thing — mobilize international opinion against Beijing and shove China into a corner. More importantly, he will forfeit the chance to make the point that if the Uyghur populated Xinjiang is an internal security matter for China, Kashmir is even more so for India, and thereby publicly put Beijing on notice that two can play at this game. It may even win Modi some respect from Xi Jinping.
Spent the last fortnight in New York lazing around doing nothing much. But couldn’t escape the newspaper coverage and press commentaries regarding India. Unfortunately for the Narendra Modi government 3-4 issues blew up at the same time — the dense, pea soup, pollution engulfing Delhi, the Indo-Pakistani novelist Aatish Taseer’s getting kicked out of India,which got conflated with the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya Ram temple verdict favouring the Hindu majoritarian point of view, and the gloom over India’s economic slowdown.
Each issue in its own way has marked Modi’s signal failure separately on the environmental, social, and economic fronts. Modi’s troubles, in fact, eerily parallel Donald Trump’s in the US. Cut from the same populist and nativist broad cloth, and sporting like psyches, the two find themselves in a rut of their own making. Trump because he successfully whittled away the power of the bureaucracy in Washington, DC, and now finds himself facing impeachment in no small measure because the bureaucrats have turned on him at his impeachment hearings for essentially ignoring them, and bucking the procedures and the laid down process. And Modi because he did just the opposite, trusted the permanent secretariat — the careerist babus to deliver on his agenda which requires a massive reordering of the apparatus of state and the government system, something he obviously has no stomach for and is simply beyond the ken of generalist administrators who are like canaries being asked to pull a plow. In other words, Trump is being dumped on for doing too much, being too disruptive, and Modi finds himself in doldrums for owing allegiance to the status quo and doing too little to reform the government system he presides over.
The two are also similar in their petty politicking for personal and partisan gains. This aspect is evident in Trump’s case in his ceaselessly vilifying his opponents, and in Modi’s for demonizing Indian Muslims and, by extension, Pakistan and adopting political postures injurious respectively to social harmony and peace prospects in South Asia. The two strongmen, moreover, are known generally to run their own brand of personalized diplomacy that at times seem quixotic and geared to making international splash than achieving anything tangible, leave alone lasting. Both of them in their psychological makeup are, as analyzed in my book ‘Staggering Forward’ narcissistic bullies, picking inevitably on weak nations abroad and weaker sections in their own societies (Muslims, immigrants) to make political capital. If Trump has his fortified border on Mexico, Modi has his National Register of Citizens in Assam and elsewhere.
Trump has strong views on environment and is in denial of the underway effects of climate change. He has followed through by simply pulling America out of the Paris Climate Accord and pretty much writing finis to this global effort. So Trump acts as he believes. Modi, on the other hand, has taken up the cudgels and is championing a global consensus on climate change. But between doing something to actually clean up the air, water and environment and keeping a domestic vote bank happy, he has opted to do the latter. Hence, with pollution assuming killer proportions the Indian PM has done less than nothing to pressure the state governments of Punjab and Haryana — the latter under BJP coalition rule into taking punitive action against stubble-burning farmers fanning the fires and the smoke that poison the air around Delhi. He has opted instead to have his cabinet colleagues scapegoat the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for the persisting fatally dense smog. This is pretty rich! In other words, Modi is less a man of his convictions than is Trump.
And on the economic front, Trump has not shied away from using market access to hammer out skewed trade pacts to narrowly benefit the US and, at home, has thrown overboard the raft of confusing rules and regulations hindering the growth of commerce, trade and the economy. Meanwhile, Modi ballyhoos every small uptick in the country’s rank order on the “ease of doing business”-scale as his own special accomplishment even as the Indian economy is in reality taking a decisive turn for the worse, with decreasing exports, investments, and FDI flows, higher fiscal deficits, and a decelerating growth rate. Overseeing this mess is Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman whose idea of doing something meaningful is to call in corporate honchos to her office for advice without bothering to take notes or instruct her ministry officials to record the points made. Unless she has mimetic memory –which she doesn’t — all this valuable communication and advice from industrialists and senior corporate managers is reduced to so much prattle she pays no attention to. But she seems more intent on these occasions to have official photographers click away, producing pics for the media showing her beaming in the company of these experts and wealth producers while learning absolutely nothing from them.
Modi and Trump also have in common the fact that they are played for suckers by dictators. Trump hangs on every little word and friendly gesture by the North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un. Likewise, far from being skeptical about Chinese President Xi Jinping and his promises, Modi keeps extolling the Mamallapuram spirit (presumably a distillate of the ephemeral Wuhan spirit!) and cutting unfavourable deals with the US even as Trump treats him with disdain (as he does most foreign dignitaries), peremptorily rejecting the Indian leader’s invitation to be the chief guest at the 2020 Republic Day parade, and forcing Modi to make do with Jair Bolsonaro, the rightwing authoritarian Brazilian President who, like himself, has come to power on a wave of big promises and public adulation.
In democracies, successful politicians reward their financiers, the money bags who helped them on their way up. This is a different type of beneficiary than the one who opens up his purse to fill the coffers after the ruling party is ensconced. The former kind comprises in some sense visionaries who espy the potential in select politicians and are willing to back their hunch. They are risk-takers, because what they do involves possibly alienating the political competition not so favoured by them. But should the bet come good, it doesn’t just rain goodies, it pours.
The Adani Family is headed by Gautam, who vaulted from a small-time polyvinyl plastics importer in the 1980s to head a $12 billion global conglomerate with diverse interests ranging from mining, energy, to infrastructure today. The Adani Group is in this happy position because of Gautam’s knack for political talent spotting. He got close to Narendra Modi whose rapid ascent from RSS pracharak to BJP apparatchik in Gujarat to chief minister and now Prime Minister paralleled the Adani family’s rocketing prosperity until now when Gautam Adani is Modi’s go-to person in the world of finance and industry.
Being Modi’s mascot has helped Gautam A to speedily and vastly diversify his business and industrial interests and the Adani Group to have a sudden but solid international presence. The latter’s closeness to the source of power has lubricated the growth of the Adani Group in far-off lands. Its controlling interest in the massive Carmichael coalmine project in Queensland that will involve the erection of 9-10 thermal power plants fructified 3 months ago in the teeth of environmental resistance. This may be owed in part to Gautam’s backing Scott Morrison to become the Australian Premier, but equally important was the perception in Canberra that helping the Adanis would win the Australian government the attention of Modi and India. It is no secret that the only other person in the room when Modi met his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott during the former’s state visit in November 2014 was Gautam A, and that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership accord the two countries signed on that occasion pivoted at least partially on the Adani investment in the extractive industry down under being realized.
A go-getter politician’s link up with a go-getting financier is always a paying proposition for the latter. The Birlas and the Bajajs converted their assistance and proximity to Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party in the pre-independence era into lucrative licenses and permits Jawaharlal Nehru’s quasi-socialist state bestowed on their one-time benefactors post-1947. Their political investment payed-off handsomely. Little has changed, except the dramatis personae. Dhirubhai Ambani (and now his son Mukesh) and Gautam Adani are the latter day Birlas and the Bajajs. What they want they by and large manage to get from the Modi government. The usually obdurate Indian bureaucracy manned by generalist nincompoops is in this situation rendered a willing handmaiden. (The story of just how Mukesh Ambani’s Jio venture has so quickly become a virtual telecommunications monopoly is illustrative of the state of affairs. Refer Daniel Block, “How government decisions are helping Reliance Jio monopolise the telecom sector”, Caravan, 01 February 2019, at https://caravanmagazine.in/reportage/government-helping-reliance-jio-monopolise-telecom )
Infrastructure is Modi’s priority and also it seems of the Adani Group. Other than ports and Special Economic Zones where this conglomerate has invested heavily, Gautam A desires to have an impact in the civil aviation sphere. And so, as India Today (of Aug 26, 2019) noted, the Airport Authority of India, disregarding the Union Finance Ministry’s criteria, swung into action to ensure his Group, with zero experience in airport management, took control of the Thiruvananthapuram airport. Other airports may in like fashion fall into the Adani lap. Concluding along the lines of an intrepid Filipino entrepreneur who with regard to doing business in India observed that “It is not ‘know how’ but ‘know who’ that matters”, a fortnight back the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), joined with the chemical majors — the German BASF and the European firm Borealis, to partner the Adanis in setting up a $4 billion chemical complex — where else? — in Mundra, Gujarat, a state that boasts the maximum number of Adani investments and projects. (See “Adani partners UAE’s Adnoc, Germany’s BASF for $4 billion chemical venture”, PTI, Economic Times, Oct 17, 2019).
Adanis and Ambanis not too long ago decided to enter the even more lucrative defence business — the fact that weapon system costs increase exponentially every couple of years may have been the big attraction. Their decision to dive into the deep end meant for instance tie-ups with foreign companies in the combat aircraft and submarine categories. Larsen & Toubro in on the technically complicated nuclear powered ballistic missile firing submarine (SSBN) programme from its initiation in the 1980s is now in a position easily to handle a conventional diesel-electric submarine. For these reasons it was a shoo-in to bag the contract for the navy’s Project 75i. i.e., until Anil Ambani’s Reliance Naval and Engineering Ltd (RNEL) entered the scene as a spoiler by throwing a monkey wrench into the procurement process. RNEL that bought off the Pipavav shipyard and just like that set itself up as a submarine producer, contended the navy’s tilt was due to a son of a Rear Admiral in the procurement loop being employed by L&T. This charge brought the entire 75i project to a juddering halt as the Defence Ministry began its slow, spirit-sapping inquiry. This at a time when the most worrisome aspect of national security is not the decline in the fighter squadron strength as IAF makes out but the sheer falloff in the sea denial capability of the Indian navy with a fast attriting submarine fleet in the face of an expanding Chinese surface combatant presence in what should be India’s lake — the Indian Ocean.
With RNEL playing interference against and essentially seeking to sideline L&T, the Adanis stepped in smartly for what it believes will be easy pickings. Literally out of nowhere and at the proverbial last minute, the Adani-Group bid for the Rs 45,000 cr 75i project to build six conventional submersibles. The other bidders — the wasteful and laggardly defence public sector unit (DFSU) Mazgaon Shipyard Ltd (MDL), L&T, and RNEL all own shipyards. Adani Group’s chutzpah was in bidding with no shipyard of its own but with a prospective tie-up on paper with another equally hapless DPSU, Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL), which has one in Vishakhapatnam. HSL is infamous for taking over a decade to merely refit the navy’s EKM Kilo-class subs! By which standard, the first Adani-HSL diesel sub can be expected to take to water in what, 20-25 years from now even with a chosen foreign (Russian, Swedish, French, or German) partner?!!
But the Adanis are nothing if not politically agile. Couple this fact to a politically fleet of foot Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and what the nation gets is, for example, a facility to assemble. in collaboration with Elbit Systems of Israel. the dated Hermes 450-class drones, rather than the up-to-date Hermes 900 series. All such projects, including the 75i, promoted under cover and rubric of ‘Make in India’ furthers the aim of full armaments indigenization not a whit.
Indeed, in the case of 75i submarine, as I have repeatedly pointed out in my writings, the scam is bigger and deeper. Barring such technologies, such as mast optronics and silencing, the country — thanks to the SSBN production capability — has most technologies and wherewithal to wholly design and build conventional subs. In this situation, the reasonable thing for a self-respecting, resource-scarce, country to do would be to just buy a submarine design along with certain technologies from one of the vendors, rather than the whole boat which will leave the onus with the OEM to decide what technologies to transfer to the Indian partner, eventuating in no worthwhile technologies being transferred. This last is what happened with the Project 75 Scorpene where MDL is contracted to import “black box” technologies for the duration of the production run of this submarine from the French firm, DCNS. And this pattern will definitely be repeated were a new company entirely innocent of any sub production experience, like RNEL or the Adani Group, to be gifted the contract — however this is managed — by the navy at the prompting of the Modi government. Consider moreover the hard currency outgo at the point of first acquisition, i.e., a down payment: Instead of $500 million or Rs 4,000 crore — which is all that a foreign submarine design will cost, the country will be forking out in excess of Rs 50,000 crore — or over ten times as much money. The humungous lifetime costs over 30 years in the latter case will be multiples of this amount!
With defence industry burdened with and suffering from such spurious ‘Make in India’ projects and programmes, India cannot ever hope to be really self-reliant in arms, and hence be really sovereign. This to say that with the Adanis and Ambanis cashing in on their political connections, the national interest gets cashed out.
The last time Stephen P Cohen and I corresponded was in late December 2017-January 2018 when I greeted him on Hanukkah (the occasion for Jews all over to celebrate the revival of the Second Temple in Jerusalem). It was my first intimation that Steve had the dreaded Parkinson’s disease — a fact he revealed without ceremony or trace of self-pity. “I [am] soldiering on”, he wrote, “with a minor case of Parkinson’s, not a pleasure but I can manage.” And, in the picture he attached with the note, he identified “the whole Cohen tribe” — six children (most, if not all, of them, like their father, budding academics and scholars of note) along with their spouses and a proliferating brood of grandchildren he reveled in.
Steve personally knew or worked with every South Asian analyst, academic and scholar researching the regional pol-mil issues and great power politics concerning the subcontinent. His reputation was established with his pioneering twin studies on the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army that applied the methodology and analytics developed by one of his gurus, Morris Janowitz at the University of Chicago. In the latter book he memorably disarmed the Generals then ruling the roost during the Zia years who he expected would be upset with his take on them and their armed Service with a quote from the Quran that “a drop of a scholar’s blood is more precious” than victories in battles. He mentored over the years a bunch of Indians and Pakistanis, shepherding many of them through the PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. Always eager to encourage new voices, different viewpoints, he was just as intent on convincing foreign skeptics of America’s benign intentions.
In off hours, Steve delighted in rating the universities, thinktanks, and foundations hosting international and regional talk-fests (conferences , seminars) in terms of the quality of exchanges, of course, as well as creature comforts afforded the participants. A meet we both attended arranged by Fundacao Oriente (Oriental Foundation) of Portugal (funded per government diktat by the revenues earned from the gambling tables of Macao when it was still a Portuguese colony) was high up in his affections in no small part because an invitation meant air travel by First Class, a Merc with chauffeur awaiting you at the Lisbon airport to cart you around for the duration, especially useful if one sought to discover in style and some luxury the beautiful little bays and fishing villages dotting that portion of the Atlantic coast, and stay at a beautiful resort on a cliff overlooking the ocean that masqueraded as the Foundation’s conference centre! An invite from the Fundacao, he chuckled, was therefore to be prized.
Great company though he was in these foreign locales, I remember him most for something else. In this business, I have found, one can occasionally luck into a true scholar and intellectual who, while completely disagreeing with your conclusions, is appreciative of such analytical rigour and/or sweep of analysis as one has mustered. Steve was this rare person. (Ashley J Tellis of Carnegie Washington too fits this category.) Their reactions to my writings is what I have prized most primarily because their criticism was always infused with goodwill, the weaknesses they perceived in my arguments were clearly identified and the differences with me robustly argued. How can one not gain from such company? In this respect, Steve’s (and also Ashley’s) catholicity was in the grand European intellectual tradition (of European Jewry in particular).
I first met Steve in Allahabad (as it was then called) of all places at a 1981 Conference on Indian Ocean politics (or some such subject). He was intrigued by my perspective and engaged me in a personal dialogue that lasted for the rest of the time I was acquainted with him in his tenures at the U of Illinois, US State Department, and at Brookings. He would on the side alert me to books (sent him as drafts by publishers) coming down the pike and whenever I passed through Washington unfailingly arrange get-togethers with his colleagues in Brookings, lunches in eateries around the Dupont Circle with various South Asian experts, or tete-a-tetes with US government officials.
Our relationship flourished despite my consistently rubbishing US nonproliferation and South Asia policies generally. Even so I was surprised by his generosity. After reading the draft of my first big 2002 book, which among many other things, recommended rapid weapon thermonuclearization — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security (whose secondary title — ‘The Realist Foundations of Strategy’ was provided incidentally by Tellis, then stationed in Delhi as adviser to US ambassador Robert Blackwill, who had read the manuscript), Steve urged me to be the first SmithKline Fellow at Brookings in 2001 (if I recall correctly). He had recently secured huge funding from this pharmaceutical company for a South Asia visiting scholars program. I declined the invitation because it would have meant taking up residence in Washington, DC, for 9 months — too long, I felt, to be away from Delhi.
It was after my book was published that Steve was at his most touching. “I rue the fact that Brookings lost the opportunity to publish your work”, he emailed me. It was high praise because as a critic and friend he was sans pareil. And he wrote a Foreword for my 2008 book India’s Nuclear Policy published by Praeger that helped propagate my views to the American security enclaves too steeped in the US nonproliferation policy discourse to readily appreciate the logic of a contrary viewpoint.
Steve was a GOOD man — to me the highest praise any person can draw, made better by Bobby, his companion and wife of some 5 decades whom he was head over heels in love with to the last. He referred to her fondly as “the begum”. He was perhaps the most influential among the second generation South Asia scholars in the US in the main because he had empathy in abundance and instinctively understood things subcontinental.
He will be sorely missed. And the sphere of South Asian studies will be poorer for his absence.
In an informative interaction in CPR this morning, the youngish and well-spoken Muqaddessa Yourish, until recently Deputy Commerce Minister of Afghanistan and former civil servant who headed her country’s civil service reforms commission, provided several insights into the unfolding Afghan political scene. Having lived in India (she graduated from Pune University) and loving the freedom and openness she experienced here, she was certain, for instance, that India would best serve Afghanistan’s interests by by primarily marshaling and deploying its “soft power” — Bollywood films and music, and by continuing with its policy of assisting in the processes of “reconstruction and reconciliation” in her country.
This did not mean, she said, pointedly, that India should end the presence of its Intelligence agencies but ruled out Indian military boots on the ground. She further opined that rather than designing a future post-reconciliation democratic setup in Afghanistan in Western terms, Kabul should try and replicate the Indian political system where even the smallest ideologically dissenting groups and religious and ethnic minorities have a say. The Taliban, she felt, may come around to accepting such a system because its cadres are drawn to “modern” life in Kabul and other major Afghan cities and towns that are not disconnected from tradition or even religious activity. She revealed that during the recent ceasefire, many of the youthful Taliban fighters swarming into Kabul were amazed to find modestly dressed women covering their hair and mosques in the city, something they had not expected. Indeed, this experience, Ms. Yourish said, led the Taliban chieftains to conclude that ceasefires hurt their cause by demotivating their fighters and denuding the ranks off them. Ceasefire offers the young Taliban, they fear, the opportunity to escape the fighting altogether — a big lure in light of the relatively modern amenities of the city which the frontline fighters cannot seem to resist when compared to the harsh life and the vicissitudes of fighting the Afghan National Army (ANA). The officers and JCOs of ANA, incidentally, are trained in Indian Army institutions, which programme along with “equipment support”, she hoped, the Indian government would continue.
Being candid, she did not dispute the fact that Taliban controlled much of the Afghan territory — some observers aver the Abdul Ghani regime’s writ runs and then sporadically over at most 10% of the country. But, she explained, that “control” did not mean hard and permanent grip by either side, because depending on the way the fighting goes in any area the control too shifts virtually every few hours, in other words, that the situation is fluid.
The former Minister Yourish did not hold out much hope for the so-called “peace talks” being conducted by the US representative Zalmay Khalilzad, whose sole aim is to get the US forces out of Afghanistan fast by persuading the Taliban to not target the withdrawing American military units. Significantly and correctly she called the peace talks — “US-Taliban talks”, one that has left the Ghani government out of the negotiating loop.
This then is the Afghan context Delhi is faced with. When America finally cuts and runs, and the Ghani crew and the Taliban sit down to hammer out a mutually acceptable compromise — very feasible because the Taliban’s initial max position of re-imposing an “emirate” with all the Islamic extremist frills — sharia law, women in bondage, modernism rejected in all its aspects, as Muqaddessa asserted, will during the negotiations itself erode owing to the exposure the Taliban fighters have had to the attractions of Kabul. And so Mullah Baradar — the chief Taliban negotiator, may end up signing a deal reflecting an albeit, water-downed liberal order in Afghanistan acceptable to all parties.
Because of its reconstruction work — building of dams, highways, Parliament house, etc, India has won grudging respect from the Taliban. Delhi can increase India’s acceptability by encouraging the friendly sections to give some to get a lot. But, India should expect the worst and keep its powder dry as the saying goes by strengthening India’s old links to the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance. It will also help now that Ahmad Masood, the son of the “Lion of Panjshir” the late Ahmad Shah ‘engineer’ Masood, assasinated by al-Qaeda agents in 2001, has entered the arena. (“Engineer” because he was studying to be a civil engineer at a polytechnique before picking up the gun against the Russians). Masood made life miserable for the Soviet occupation troops and was a real thorn in the side of the one-eyed Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime. Reflecting his great father’s philosophy, the well-read Masood Junior (Sandhurst, BA from King’s College, MA from the City University of London) says this: “That’s the real fear [that] we are legitimizing terrorist groups across the world” by rewarding the Taliban with the chance to rule even though they sport “very extreme mentality and very extreme ideology”. (See his short interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6PaLdZaPV8 ). The son has encapsulated the reasons why his father vehemently opposed the Taliban.
Besides the Uzbek Col. Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Northern Alliance, Delhi should invest in Ahmad Masood, who thinks like his father and is insurance against the Taliban turning rogue on India’s interests in Afghanistan at any time. That’s the best bet because the truth is India cannot do without Afghanistan as a comrade-in-arms in our part of the world that’s going slowly akilter.
This past fortnight, I was away, participating in the Yushan Forum 2019 in Taipei — an annual effort by the Taiwanese government to forge regional partnerships in the face of unrelentingly punitive policies of the communist China regime to isolate Taiwan, and thence to Istanbul where I sensed considerable unease among the people about the turn Erdogan’s war with the Syrian Kurds may be taking, especially after the videos telecast by CNN showing wanton killings and other atrocities on unarmed civilian Kurds by the Turkish-supported militia in the van of the action. While Ankara, with its critical buy of the S-400 air defence system may have gained some slight capacity to water down Russia’s enthusiasm for the joint front comprising its new found partners — the indefatigable Kurds, and its old ally — Assad’s army, which’s fetching up for a fight, things on the ground may spiral out of its control.
But it is the right time for the Modi government to payback Erdogan’s gambit to insert himself and Turkey into Kashmir affairs by offering Delhi’s good offices for mediation with the Kurds. Of course, Delhi won’t do any such thing because its timorous policy mindset won’t allow it to.
It is precisely this timorousness, or may be it is plain timidity, that may also prevent Delhi from grabbing the opportunity available at the other end of Asia, in the Philippines. Among the most significant state visits in recent years by India’s leaders is the one underway by the country’s President, Ram Nath Kovind — only the third in the last 70 years, to the Philippines, a long neglected archipelagic state that a strategically challenged Delhi has accorded far less importance to than it deserves. This situation is sought to be corrected but whether sufficient seriousness, intensity and purpose will be summoned by the Modi government remains the central question.
In fact, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a true maverick among regional leaders, who is as unpredictable as he is purposeful, referred candidly to the Indian government’s inattention despite Manila’s efforts at engaging it. Both countries, he noted, “are diversifying partnerships, rebalancing old ones and strengthening those that have traditionally been on the margins of our diplomacy.” But with the essence of the Hindustani phrase — “daer se aaye, durust aaye” perhaps in mind, he welcomed “India’s role in [Philippines’] defense capability upgrade program against the backdrop of our growing security cooperation” because as “countries strategically located in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, we [have] shared interest to protect our maritime commons and advance the rule of law in our maritime domains.” But aware of Delhi’s inability to muster strategic focus, Duterte warned, albeit gently, that while “We hope to look back on this day as a milestone in our relations, the day when we set out to turn promise into reality, and potential into concrete benefits” it will require, he said, “a deft and agile diplomacy that empowers us to maximize opportunities for cooperation in a complex external environment.” ( https://www.tataydigong.info/duterte-president-of-india-agree-to-fight-terror-threats/ ) He thereby put his finger on a crucial Indian failing. “Deft and agile diplomacy” is, after all, not one of India’s strengths, or the country wouldn’t be in the dire strategic straits it finds itself in where China holds the whip hand.
Delhi may, however, be belatedly waking up to Philippines’ geostrategic usefulness in dealing with a rampaging China even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought not very successfully to inject a dose of Mamallapuram intimacy to the flagging Wuhan spirit. Unlike Modi, Xi Jinping, however, limits the nonsense about peacefully concerting with an obvious and manifest rival only to rhetoric, which costs him nothing, but leaves him free to pursue China’s interests without compromising them in the least, while gleefully expecting India to constrain itself — as it has always done — by following through on the Indian PM’s rhetorical flourishes.
But to return to topic, what sort of security cooperation does Manila have in mind? A couple of months back the leader of an Indian army team visiting Philippines had the remit to offer the Duterte government a “carte blanche” in this respect, in effect, asking Manila to list whatever it thought it needed by way of capacity build-up to militarily ward off China. Mightily impressed, the Philippine regime responded almost immediately with a long wish list, which is at the core of the “defence capability upgrade” Duterte referred to. But the Filipinos also offered India a glimpse of the kind of information Indian armed forces may find operationally useful. Such as real time information about Chinese naval assets, Chinese paramilitary naval vessels, and Chinese merchantmen with military equipment transiting the waters abutting on the Philippines.
For starters, India for the first time will be posting a Defence Attache in its embassy in Manila, who will become the official liaison for facilitating security cooperation particularly in the maritime domain. This will soon result in Indian assistance in erecting and, may be, even manning, radar and electronic intelligence stations on the main and outlier Philippine islands, transfer of naval capital hardware — fast attack and patrol craft and in the future, modern multi-role frigates and submarines, and training to handle and service these complex platforms.
In return, Manila will be more than amenable to the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force using the vast former US naval base at Subic Bay, the finest deep water harbour outside of Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay, and Clark’s air force base, as their forward operational posts with pre-positioned stores in the region. An Indian flotilla and air complement able thus to replenish, restock, and change crews at will in Subic Bay and at Clark’s, will translate into a virtually permanent Indian naval and air presence on China’s door step. It presents India with an extraordinary prospect and capability to bottle-up China’s Navy and naval aviation. But, as detailed in my last book, Why India is not a great Power (Yet), it is the vision-limited nay-sayers in the Indian Navy and in the Pakistan-fixated IAF who may put hurdles against such distant deployment, assuming a suddenly strategically imaginative and live Modi regime desires it.
If Philippines is a must-do security project for India, upgrading relations with Taiwan is an imperative. At the Yushan Forum, President Tsai ing-wen reaffirmed her country’s innovative “south bound policy” featuring in the main India, Australia and New Zealand. In discussions with officials at the highest levels of the Taiwan foreign ministry, it is clear cooperating intensively with Taipei in the military and cyber spheres can seriously hurt and therefore contain China. When, in my presentation and more informally I reiterated my longstanding advice to the Indian government to adopt tit-for-tat policies and in exchange for Beijing’s nuclear missile arming Pakistan that has permanently strategically discomfited India, to return the favour and nuclear missile arm countries on China’s periphery, senior Taiwanese officials reacted, supposedly in a lighter vein, saying “Please pass on some of these nuclear weapons to us!” There were also hints that Taipei had not altogether forsaken its own nuclear weapons option. Taiwan was pressured to close down its atom bomb project in the 1990s by, who else, its ostensible guardian — America!
What made an equal impression on the Taiwanese was my conceptualization of an “Asian Security system for Asia by rimland and offshore Asian states” to box in China that I have articulated in my books and other writings. It caught the fancy of the popular media, particularly online news outlets, and suggests it can gin up traction if India proposes it as a collective venture in this fraught time when Trump’s America is proving too thin a reed for Asian states to rest their security on.
It is still not too late for Delhi to recover the lost politico-military ground by, firstly, putting in motion the ‘Óne India’ concept — an extension of the government’s “One Country, one Constitution” notion generated post-Article 370 abrogation, inclusive of all territories of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir not excluding the portions presently occupied by China in Aksai Chin, and by Pakistan, demanding that all friendly states sign up for it. It’d be a direct counter to Beijing’s ‘Óne China’ principle its foreign policy adheres to. And secondly, by ratcheting up military security relationships with states bordering China, landward and seaward, with pride of place in this security system accorded Vietnam. Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia.
A singularly focussed Indian government, practicing hard realpolitik of this kind — something I have advocated for over 30 years now, will immediately vault India into a power that China and the United States will find hard not to respect. Alas, no Indian government to-date — not the ones run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and even less by the Congress party, has quite grasped the necessity for India to lead the charge against China in Asia, a role almost every Asian country without exception would like India to play as a means of reining in China, making an unreliable US more expendable, and of protecting their interests.
Forewarned apparently does not, for the Bharatiya Janata Party government, mean being forearmed.
In writings prior to and in my recent books — Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) in end-2015 and Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition in late 2018, and in articles, op/eds and media interviews since, have been warning incessantly of the deep hole Prime Minister Modi is digging India into by thoughtlessly climbing on to Donald Trump’s bandwagon at one end and reflexively appeasing Xi Jinping and China at the other end. Troubles, as a result, may be coming home to roost in flocks.
After the over-hyped Houston tamasha and the equally overwrought media coverage of the PM’s UN General Assembly peroration which fell flat because, other than painting India as a do-gooder nation and cultural icon — a view there’s no international consensus about, Modi harped on terrorism and its source — the unnamed Pakistan. As former MEA Secretary Vivek Katju (in an op/ed) has correctly surmised, the terrorism issue has about run its course in terms of diplomatic traction it affords Delhi and puts the brakes on Pakistan’s attempts to get out from under the terrorist sponsor tag. This issue has been milked for all it is worth and has now become a barren cow. That Islamabad will not transit from the “grey list”to the “black list” automatically triggering sanctions is a certainty primarily because Washington can’t do without its help in re-starting talks with the Afghan Taliban. Moreover, the sunni Gulf nations’ siding with India has about peaked, the evidence for which is the fact that Prince Mohammad bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia used Imran Khan as the medium to initiate backdoor negotiations Tehran rather than stick with the US’ blow hot-blow cold strategy. The Iran-aided Houthi rebels’ drone attack on the premier Saudi oil refining complex that virtually instantly collapsed 40% of that country’s oil production capacity, sobered up Riyadh damn quick. So the sunni Arab states want to cut a deal with shia Iran, and the country most to benefit from this rapprochement will be Pakistan. As repeatedly stressed in previous posts, had India maintained its neutrality in the US-Israeli-Gulf versus Iran fight and not treated Tehran shabbily at Washington’say-so, Modi would have been in a position not only to mediate — a role successfully assumed by Imran Khan, but to secure unending long term energy supplies at a basement price from that region by subtly playing off Iran and Saudi Arabia, while retaining leverage with both. This in turn would have beefed up Delhi’s bargaining power with Trump. This power to strike beneficial deals with Washington, Tehran and Riyadh is no longer available to Delhi.
With Trump in a political slump and headed towards impeachment, leaders of countries who risked closeness with his Administration will feel the heat. While Volodymyr Zelensky of the Ukraine, Boris Johnson of Britain and Scott Morrison of Australia are in the line of fire in their own countries for cultivating proximity to Trump and their regimes may suffer should the Democrats cease control after the 2020 elections in the US, India may suffer some. Modi has made himself a target by openly canvassing the NRI vote for Trump at the ‘Howdy, Modi’ do as stated in my preceding post. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar airily downplayed such a downturn by giving a twisted and unconvincing explanation for Modi’s foray into domestic American politics. Except, unlike Zelensky, Johnson and Morrison, Modi may not be hurt by this development because he will continue to sell himself to the Indian masses as someone Trump has special fondness for even if such supposed fondness has not, and will not in the future, fetch India any give on Washington’s part on any of the issues where the interests of the two countries collide. This much is clear.
At the World Economic Forum, for instance, the US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asserted that a trade deal with India could be obtained in “five minutes” if India conceded American demands on e-commerce benefiting Amazon, etc. and, in any case, that his counterpart Piyush Goyal would have to make all the concessions to equalize the terms of trade. The fact that he did not raise the matter of US agricultural and dairy exports to India — the other sticking point, suggests that Delhi has already thrown in the towel. So, we can expect a surge in imports into this country of American agricultural and dairy produce, with the effected small trader, farmer and milk producer in India, being thus left in the lurch — as predicted in a post prior to the last one. Incidentally, Ross also waved aside concerns about the US treating India and China in the same way even though the trade deficits with the two Asian states are $17 billion and $419 billion respectively! So, which country, do you reckon, Trump would like to be on the right side of? So, why is Jaishankar sanguine about reaching a trade deal? That is because as experts in succumbing to charms-qua-pressure at the negotiating table, Delhi will compromise and keep compromising the national interest until there’s nothing left to compromise. Relations with China epitomize this Modi tendency institutionalized in MEA by Jaishankar.
The lead for setting the agenda for the Modi-Xi summit in Mamallapuram Oct 11-13 has been taken by Beijing. Luo Zhaohui, former ambassador in Delhi and currently vice minister after conferring with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, glided past all the Chinese provocations, the latest being Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi pointedly voicing support for Pakistan on Article 370 at the UNGA, one of only two leaders to do so, the other being Erdogan of Turkey, to say that the emphasis would be on keeping the “Wuhan spirit” — whatever that is — in play. “It’s clear that both sides won’t give up their longstanding positions on core issues”, he told a newspaper, “and the summit will be about carefully calibrating positions to satisfy the other partner and to take care of each other’s sensitivities.” Come again!! The only country whose sensitivities have so far been taken care of is China; this being the case, why would Beijing not want to continue with what has transpired so far?
Consider: Regarding Kashmir, China claims territorial interest even though it annexed most of the Aksai chin area, constituting almost a third of the erstwhile princely kingdom of Kashmir, as early as 1958, and then was ceded more parts of it by Pakistan vide the 1963 Ayub-Zhouenlai accord. But the Indian government has never, but ever, diplomatically raked up this matter of forcible absorption of Indian territory.
India gave up its inherited rights and privileges in Tibet even though, per the 1913 Simla Agreement, Tibet’s status was formalized as an Indian protectorate. With the HH Dalai Lama’s forced exile in Dharamshala India has been cagey about supporting him and the Lamaist traditions and, with Vajpayee’s 2003 visit, all but washed its hands off the issue. So, that option that India had, and still has, of activating the Tibet card has not materialized because Vajpayee’s recognition was for the Tibetan Autonomous Region as part of China, but because China has never permitted Tibet any autonomy that recognition is void — or so I have argued for years together, allowing India to get back into the Tibet tangle. But the fainthearted pussies in GOI/MEA want to have nothing to do with it. The Indian military has played its part in this sordid affair by not appropriately building up its warfighting capability in hinterland Tibet, choosing to stay stuck on a defensive line with Indian officers occasionally quaffing down maotai with the Chinese at flag meetings (as recently reported in the press)!
Further, Tibet, as I have maintained, should have been equated with Taiwan and Beijing’s insistence on the öne China, 2 systems-principle should have been countered with “One India”-principle with China requiring to acknowledge Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Aksai Chin it occupies as parts of India’s Jammu & Kashmir province. Delhi may then negotiate with Beijing for the latter to keep its part of the Aksai plateau, but the principle has to be held sacrosanct. Because China will not be easily moved, India should establish full-fledged diplomatic relations with Taiwan and formally ramp up its defence linkages with Taipei.
And most egregiously, Beijing has so far got away with nuclear missile arming Pakistan. A strong-minded government in Delhi should long ago have retaliated by transferring like armaments to all countries on China’s periphery, especially Vietnam with the kind of fighting spirit that India can only dream of. That would quieten down China as nothing else would. But again instead of tit-for-tat, we have stayed our hand. Talk of self-abnegation and outdoing the Mahatma!
And at the UNGA, when Wang Yi raised the matter of Kashmiris, was even a First Secretary at the UN Mission tasked by way of right of reply, about all of Xinjiang being turned into a vast concentration camp with Uyghur Muslims disallowed from manifesting any symbols of their religion — Islamic names, beards, prayer beads, madrassas? (When a hyperventilating Imran, talking a mile to the minute about the poor Kashmiris oppressed by the Indian army, was asked about the state of the Uyghur Muslims he answered blandly that he knew nothing about them!)
And talking of trade, it is so unbalanced it is surprising the Modi government has done less than nothing about it even as it presides over wealth flowing in torrents from the Indian coffers to the Chinese treasury. And yet there are Fifth columnists in the corporate world eager to drag in the Huawei — an out and out PLA funded operation — 5G system Trojan Horse inside India’s portals, chief among them Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel who, incidentally, is also the lead financier of an American Trojan horse already active in Delhi policy circles — Carnegie India.
With the entire caboodle of Indian political class, government, the corporate world, military, and the intelligentsia, seeing nothing wrong about the course the country is embarked on, India’s future cannot be other than bleak.
A lot of things were wrong, or went wrong, with the Houston-do starring Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Not that anyone here noticed them, everybody being too busy singing hosannas for the budding Trump-Modi camaraderie on display.
Let’s start with the pic above: See Trump’s condescending, proprietory, hand on Modi’s shoulder? No self-respecting leader — unless he heads a rank small and inconsequential country and hence has no choice — would allow a big power leader to show him up in an obvious sort of way as junior partner (or, should that be pardner in Texan lingo?).
It reminds me of the US-Philippine war (1899-1902) that the US waged against the freedom movement led by Emilio Aguinaldo after Spain ceded that Asian colony to America vide the 1898 Treaty of Paris. That military campaign was justified by Washington as “saving our little brown brother” and in terms of a programme of “benevolent assimilation” in the American sphere. The publicity photos and posters distributed by the US military from its headquarters, in Manila and outlying areas, in fact featured two standing figures — one a big, white, smiling American with a hand on the shoulder of the smaller brown befuddled Filipino.
True, Modi, far from befuddled, rejoiced in the Trumpian display of insulting physical familiarity, something he brought on himself with his prior record of trademark hugs and embraces. In his first term, it startled foreign leaders but are now shrugged off by them as hazards of their trade. He went so far to curry favour with Trump as to offer his own successful election campaign slogan to suit the US President in his upcoming re-election campaign — ab ki baar Trump sarkar! It is not for nothing that Trump at this venue called Modi “America’s most devoted and loyal friend”.
That apart, Modi, in a small way, sought to influence American people to vote Trump. With the Impeachment proceedings underway against Trump in the US Congress and the issue of Russia assisting Trump in the 2016 elections with offensive cyber strategy of fake news that hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances, being investigated threadbare, Modi’s enthusiasm in pitching Trump to US voters could come in for some scrutiny. Especially because a couple of Democratic Party presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders, have already hit out at India’s treatment of Kashmiris, etc.
Even if no Congressman takes notice of Modi’s attempts at interference in the internal affairs of the US, the fact that such a thing happened formally and openly could be a precedent for legitimating such influence peddling by foreign powers in Indian elections. Is it too much of a stretch to see a re-elected Trump mosey over to India on a state visit to return the favour and try and secure a 3rd term for Modi in 2024? Indeed, what was until now covert activity — the US routinely provided election funds to Right-thinking politicians while Moscow filled the Indian Communist parties’ coffers and, emerged as a principal funder of Indira Gandhi’s Congress party in the early 1970s. But such help was usually hush-hush except hereafter foreign entities will feel less inhibited in this regard. It is a ripple effect Modi did not ponder before becoming a carnival barker for Trump in Houston.
All this would be fine if the entire Houston tamasha was perceived as a bit of escapist political theatre and dismissed as so much diplomatic dross. Except, Modi and his government seems inclined to read more into the optics of the event than is warranted. The truth is all the posing, sweet talking and hand-in-hand “victory” lapping by Trump joining with Modi, comprised just a contingent ploy by Trump to be nice to the foreign leader he was sharing the moment with. However, Modi, Jaishankar & Company deliberately or otherwise misread and misrepresented this whole affair.
Thus, the Modi government’s joyous take on Trump’s voicing his antipathy towards “radical Islamic terrorism” as an endorsement of Modi’s Kashmir related-actions was falsified soon enough. When Trump was asked whether he sided with India against Pakistan when he talked of Islamic terrorism he stated that he was referring to Iran and, disingenuously, that that was the country he thought Modi was alluding to as well!!
Now switch over to Trump’s meeting Imran in New York yesterday. Sure, Imran didn’t get much traction from his nonsensical nuclear war-mongering spiel. It afforded the US president an opportunity to publicly revive his offer of mediation on Kashmir; but he failed to bring up the matter of Islamic terrorism because, well, Islamabad holds the Afghanistan card.
So, it doesn’t seem Modi got more out of Trump than Imran did with lot less effort and and near zero expenditure of money (versus millions of albeit NRI dollars for staging the show at the NRG Stadium in Houston). But there was a difference. Modi gave a lot to receive very little from Trump. For instance, as anticipated in my previous blog he has compromised on allowing US agricultural commodities to be sold in the Indian market to the detriment of the beleaguered Indian farmer. There may even be a provision permitting the imports into India of dairy items at the cost to the country’s dairy industry. And, of course, Delhi will be hard put to resist the American push the antiquated F-16 under the guise of transferring military technology and, God alone knows, what other dated technologies at the expense of the infant indigenous defence industry.
Is this fair exchange — Trump’s jollying Modi around for the emptying of the Indian treasury, and hollowing of Indian agricultural and industrial economy?
[Around 1999, Modi outside the White House fence on a US State Dept-hosted trip]
A public interview of Narendra Modi at 1800 hrs last evening on ‘India’ TV channel featured the host, Rajat Sharma, lobbing fluff-ball questions but, on occasion, receiving surprisingly revealing answers from the Prime Minister. For instance, Modi said he lets his “heart rule his head” when meeting with world leaders and relies on “personal chemistry”, but uses his head when it comes to negotiating. Amplifying on his method, he added: “hum na aanken utha ke bolte hain, na ankhen juka ke, hum ankhon mein ankh daal ke bolte hain.” (I don’t raise my eyes, nor lower them, I meet the gaze of the other person.)
This “Modi operandi” about squares with his personality attributes and his approach and way of working. [For a psychological profile of Modi and comparison with the other strongmen currently on the international stage — Vladimir Putin of Russia, Donald Trump of America, Erdogan of Turkey, Xi Jinping of China and Shinzo Abe of Japan, and how his personality traits have impacted Indian politics and policies, see my latest book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’.] It leads one to ponder the trade and other deals he will be striking with Trump when they meet Sept 22 in Houston at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ reception by the NRIs, and on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session the PM will address on Sept 26.
However these deals turn out, the US State Department apparently hit the jackpot when, at the turn of the last Century, it invited Narendra Modi, then a senior BJP apparatchik in Gujarat to partake of a trip for a select lot of youngish Indian political leaders who the US government hoped would be useful to US interests in the future. It was a trip Modi alluded to yesterday in the TV event. Bedazzled by the wealth, order and prosperity of the US, Modi, with his small town background, was by his own reckoning instantly besotted. The problem for the country is that he has stayed besotted ever since, when as Prime Minister he’s expected to show a bit more restraint in his enthusiasms for America, or any other country, if only to preserve India’s leverage with them, and especially Trump who believes in pushing his advantage to the max.
Modi seems now to be circling back to what generated excitement early in his first term at least among NRI communities in different parts of the world and won him international media attention. A vast arena filled with some 50,000 prosperous Indian-origin Americans, gathered in Houston, who when not screaming their support for Modi will raptly hear his speech — the usual string of self-congratulatory spiels laced this time with references to the Balakote strike and Article 370 abrogation, aimed at making the NRIs feel good about themselves, about Modi, about India. Such an event is god-sent for any politician. More so because it will be beamed live back home by Indian TV channels and lapped up by the travelling press corps.
Not one to miss a political trick or a friendly crowd, and opportunity to make capital, US President Trump has happily signed up for the event. The external affairs minister S. Jaishankar predictably deemed Trump’s presence at the Houston show as “high honour”. That Trump will thus kill several birds with a single stone, is another matter.
Trump will try and ride Modi’s coat-tails in terms of translating the regard and fan-following the BJP leader enjoys among NRIs into votes for himself and his Republican Party slate of candidates in next year’s presidential elections. Besides, Trump, like Modi, likes big boisterous tamashas with TV cameras whirring– and the Houston affair will fit that bill. But, as has already been indicated, Washington will use Trump’s agreeing to be with Modi on the podium to leverage a more advantageous trade deal for the US. That Jaishankar is overseeing the Indian negotiating team’s efforts spells danger for the national interest because his record is one of accepting the most onerous US conditions in return for small returns. His most disastrous handiwork is the 2008 nuclear deal he negotiated as Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA, which by formalizing Delhi’s willingness to forego further underground explosive testing capped the technology level of India’s nuclear arsenal at the basic fission armaments-level.
Modi, on the other hand, besides furthering his personal diplomacy by hugging and embracing the US President, will try and project his great camaraderie with Trump as at once consolidating the special relationship he says he enjoys with Trump and as reflecting the warmth in Indo-US friendship. Modi has stoked this “friendship” by nearly “zeroing” out oil supplies from Iran at the cost of imperilling the Chabahar port and India’s geostrategics pivoting on land connectivity to Russia, Afghanistan and Central Asia. He will seek small-time favours such as asking Trump to upbraid Pakistan for its role in sponsoring and spreading terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, and on this score to read the riot act to Imran Khan when the latter meets him New York. This will be hugely popular with people here. Despite this Imran will be successful in getting Trump to water down the stiff terms for the IMF loan Pakistan is seeking to tide over economic difficulties. What choice does Washington have after all considering that without Pakistan the US military retreat from Afghanistan is not possible, not if saving face is also on the agenda.
Modi will return home before Imran Khan starts retailing his sob story to the UNGA about “genocide” in Kashmir — has Islamabad consulted the dictionary when using this word? — and how global inattention could lead to a nuclear war that will engulf the globe! It is not clear how all this will occur considering the Indian government has made a purely domestic political move of revoking Articles 370 & 35A, unless Islamabad follows up by facilitating some damn fool terrorist incident that will be easily traceable to ISI and GHQ, Rawalpindi, to which India will respond. Imran has been realistic enough to concede that Pakistan will lose a conventional conflict that may ensue whereupon, he and others have threatened that Islamabad will be left with no choice other than to use nuclear weapons. Except doing so will make Pakistan extinct. Indeed, Imran’s cabinet colleague Ali Mohammad Khan, with even less restraint, has upped the rhetoric by giving the emerging situation a hard religious tint. The unification of J&K with India, he claims, is the first step in the Guzhwa-e-Hind (War for India) predicted in the Hadith. Of course, none of this will obtain in the main because the party with everything to lose — the Pakistan Army, wouldn’t want to!
But to return to our main theme, as one can readily see, between Modi’s eagerness to be satisfied with little by way of quid for India’s quo, and Jaishankar’s willingness to give away the store in return for next to nothing, the Indo-US trade deal that’s to be finalized BEFORE Trump sets foot in Houston, will likely feature an easing of restrictions on American agricultural commodities and, particularly, dairy products. Soon we may find costlier US-sourced milk, butter, cheese and other such goods pushing out Amul items and their local counterparts from our shop shelves. Poor gau-mata! And, Good-Bye to the “white revolution” that the milk cooperatives-based Amul dairy industry of Gujarat began in the country!
Next, Modi’s supposedly close friend, Trump, will demand that India hurry up and take the aged aunt of a fighter plane — the venerable all gum and no teeth F-16, off Lockheed’s hands while filling its corporate purse. And because the Modi regime is disinclined to trust small Indian companies with advanced tech capabilities, inclusive of patents and intellectual property rights to produce the 5G wherewithal and the Chinese Huawei 5G is ruled out for security reasons, Trump will pressure Delhi to buy American 5G telecom gear and systems produced by Cisco and Qualcom, making India cyber security-wise vulnerable to the US instead.
Modi’s trade deal will thus darken the already bleak prospects of the Indian farmer, the Indian dairy industry, and the indigenous technology sector, with the combat aircraft sphere in the van with the foundational Tejas LCA project. Yet, when all is lost, the PM will crow about how his ‘Make in India’ is such a roaring business success producing what? Ah, yes, a 50-year old fighter aircraft the rest of the world is discarding.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been hosted by President Vladimir Putin at two successive showcase events staged at the two ends of Russia – the 22nd “International Economic Forum” in St. Petersburg in May 2018 and, last week, the Fifth “Eastern Economic Forum” (EEC) in Vladivostok. Moscow has traditionally used such conferences to consolidate its relations with friendly countries and to sweeten up states it seeks to cultivate, whence the invitations to attend the EEC, besides Modi, to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed and Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa.
Russo-Indian relations are stuck in a rut and have been for a while, notwithstanding the flowery rhetoric. In a September 2017 meeting with his then Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described Indo-Russian friendship “as strong as stone”. This was presumably in response to Pakistani leaders routinely talking of relations with China as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the sea, and sweeter than honey” (in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s words) and Beijing reciprocating in a more measured tone by calling Pakistan an “iron brother”.
What these descriptions mean, and whether they suggest that Sino-Pakistan relations are stronger than Indo-Russian ties – because iron cuts stone, is anyone’s guess. In practical terms though Russia, and its predecessor state the Soviet Union, have over the last seven decades put out for India. It has not, however, made for satisfactory relations.
But in pursuit of newer geopolitical schemes to fit their changing national interests and the uncertain times, neither country has thought it fit to pull away from the other because both governments appreciate the geostrategic utility of keeping close. The importance to Delhi of Russia to prevent the United States and China from becoming overbearing is matched by Moscow benefiting from proximity to India in its big power politics. While the intention to grow their uni-dimensional relationship into a multi-dimensional one is not lacking, India seems unable to move other than with great deliberation when fluid international circumstances demand a faster pace and more driven policies.
To date, Russian assistance in licensed production of equipment and sales to India of advanced military hardware (such as the S-400 air defence system) and of lease of otherwise unavailable weapons platforms, such as the Akula-II class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and, possibly in the future, long range Tu-160M long range bombers, have been the strategic glue. But this aspect is sought to be underplayed.
In the run up to the EEC, the press reported numerous arms deals awaiting signature in Vladivostok, including Indian production of AK 203 assault rifle and Kamov 226 helicopters, none of which were signed. Delhi apparently feared riling US President Donald Trump. Instead, in an attempt to enlarge the engagement envelope Modi talked up the one billion dollar Indian credit line to provinces in the Russian Far East, approval of 50-odd accords worth $5 billion, and the 150-member strong delegation of Indian entrepreneurs and industrialists accompanying him to explore business prospects.
5 Joint Statement issued at the end of the annual 20th Indo-Russian
summit between Modi and Putin that piggybacked on the EEC, declares their interest
in diversifying the bilateral links. To emphasize which, some 28-29 of the 81 points
in the Statement pertain to trade, commerce and economic issues generally,
including those referring to Russia as supplier of oil and gas, versus 16-17 points
dealing with security-related matters. Also, there was mutual support for each
other’s geopolitical tilts. Eight points – some of them elaborated at considerable
length, stress the importance of multilateralism and multilateral forums, which
are anathema to the Trump Administration but music to Putin’s ears. Likewise,
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is touted as a means to obtain “a
multi-polar world order based on equal and indivisible security” – a common
Indo-Russian goal directly challenging Beijing’s and Washington’s designs tending
to bipolarity in the international system. It was the G2 concept the Barrack
Obama government was partial to but Trump has jettisoned, preferring the
confrontational style of the Cold War that saw USSR, its primary opponent,
India, of course, would like nothing better than to see another bout of “hot peace”, this time to reduce a bumptious China in the Indo-Pacific. Whether or not that goal is achieved, Beijing’s preoccupation with America’s security initiatives will lessen Chinese military pressure along the Line of Actual Control and is welcomed by Delhi. But the attitude of a passive beneficiary is unbecoming, because Modi seriously underestimates India’s leverage with the U.S. and with China. No other Asian country has India’s all-round heft to balance China strategically, and with Beijing’s access to the U.S. market closing, only the vast consumerist-minded Indian middle class can absorb what China manufactures.
The Joint Statement, however, hints at the larger geostrategic gains from opposing detrimental moves by US and China on the global chessboard. If India’s Eurasia policy is pivoted on connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia and landward to Russia via a rail and road grid radiating from the Iranian port of Chabahar, Russia’s Middle East strategy rests on a Turkey-Syria-Iran linkup under Moscow’s aegis to balance the Islamic bloc headed by Saudi Arabia supported by Washington, whence Moscow’s warning to Trump to not take its neutrality for granted in case he imposes a war on Iran. Thus the Vladivostok Statement favours (1) “an inclusive peace” in Afghanistan that Delhi has sought, (2) respect for “the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Bashar al-Assad-ruled Syria propped up by Russia, and (3) “mutually beneficial and legitimate economic and commercial cooperation with Iran”, which Washington has already sanctioned several Indian and Russian entities for.
A timid Modi feels India cannot get too close to the US without upsetting Russia and vice versa even as China looms, as much a security threat as an economic and ideological one and, therefore, fails to take the hard decisions to escape the thrall of the big three powers. Without a truly grand strategic vision and plan, his government makes do with tactical counters, actions and maneuvers. A security architecture that neutralizes China and minimizes the role of an unreliable America in non-Sinic Asia’s security is not valued. A geopolitical setup to further these objectives based on loose security-minded coalitions minus the US and China, to wit, BRIS (Brazil-Russia-India-South Africa), not BRICS, and “Mod Quad” (India, Japan, Australia, and a group of rich and capable Southeast Asian nations), and not the Quadrilateral, is not followed.
Parts of such potentially decisive groupings are already in place owing to India’s involvement in BRICS and its “Look East, Act East” policy. But the missing vision and direction from the Modi government mean policy voids that events such as EEC cannot fill.
The bureaucratic winner of John Bolton’s ouster as National Security Adviser to President Donald J Trump is Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State. It was well known in Washington that Bolton and Pompeo got along like two favourites with competing charms in the harem angling for the Sultan’s attention, meaning each sought to undermine the other, with the latter having the inside track. Pompeo is oily, always adjusting to Trump’s mood and attitude to issues on the day. Bolton was his gruff — take it or leave it — self, confident that his proven neocon credentials since before the presidency of George W Bush, would not only protect him but permit him to push his own agenda. Wrong presumption.
The fact is that between a disruptor President intent on cutting big legacy deals and an unilateral interventionist sidekick resisting them, the sidekick had to go! Bolton had a long list of interventionist achievements — in the main, pushing the US into “regime changing” policies in Iraq (based on the entirely fictitious notion that Saddam Hussein was embarked on a nuclear armaments programme) and to remove the Mullah Omar-led Taliban government in Kabul in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York, resulting in the near complete disorder in West Asia that persists to this day, and an endless war in Afghanistan against a foe long known for frustrating foreign invaders. And, he was also the main proponent for an air strike on Iran’s nuclear complex — an attack that was all to set to go in — with Israel active in support, and only awaited a go signal from the White House — which never came. Trump may be a shallow and a callow US President, but his domestic political instincts cannot be faulted.
With 2020 re-election in mind, Trump is serious about extracting America from the 18-year war in Afghanistan, reversing his predecessor Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) riveted together with major West European countries to put off Iran’s going nuclear, and forging a deal, any deal, with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, even at the expense of a treaty ally South Korea, as long as it allows Trump to crow he had brought “peace” to the Korean peninsula. Let’s briefly see what’s at work on these three issues.
Having promised withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan he couldn’t go into the next presidential election cycle with the Taliban gaining ground and getting into a position to redo in Kabul vis a vis the US what the Viet Cong-North Vietnam did in Saigon with the last American troops desperately helicoptering out of Afghanistan and out of trouble, except now it will be the advancing Taliban columns in sight. Such bad optics would defy any “fake news” that Trump and Fox News may concoct, and ignominiously terminate his presidency.
Negotiating a face-saver with Kim would be considered a success. Because Kim has not only stood up to Trump’s threats but countered by upping the ante and repeatedly rubbing America’s face in the mud, demanded that the warmongering Bolton be removed — a message delivered periodically with the firing of missiles to remind Trump he means business, but held out the prospects of a deal that could be personally negotiated with the US president. It has telegraphed to Trump the dangers of another war — this time in the east — that the US would willy-nilly get sucked into, and played on Trump’s confidence in his self-advertised deal-making skills. So far, Kim has had his way in every thing but Trump believes that he could render Kim pliable with offers of a “Marshall Plan” to develop North Korea as another East Asian economic success story. With such a deal in hand on the eve of the elections, he would win it as the maker of enduring peace in Korea, and stabilizer of an “American order” in Northeast Asia.
Iran is a nettlesome problem. Egged on by Bolton and the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump almost ordered a catastrophe in the Gulf with the proposed air attack. Had the USAF sorties gone through, Tehran would have been forced into a situation where not to use its huge stock of missiles of various range, even if indiscriminately, against any and all targets in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel would be to permanently lose them. Under attack by American forces, Iran’s reasonable “use them or lose them” posture would have ended in much of anything of economic and military value in Iran being reduced to rubble, of course, but the Iranian missiles — developed with much care and diligence with Russian and Chinese assistance, especially by the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard), would have rained ruin on all the oil and commerce rich sunni Arab kingdoms, sheikhdoms and emirates in the Gulf. It would have plunged the international energy trade into a death spiral, reduced both the leading and sunni and shia countries of the world, and pretty much spelled finis to US influence in the extended region. And because Russia, in order to head off just such a denoument, had warned that it would not remain neutral in the face of such war against Iran, and because with Israel being hit — and depending on the scale and degree of destruction — Tel Aviv could well have unsheathed its nuclear sword. It had the potential of a nuclear Armageddon, something that had been avoided during 50 years of the Cold War-hot peace between the US and the Soviet Union post-World War Two. Even a duffer in the White House would have had such a scenario play out in his mind. It was enough provocation in any case for Trump to call an end to this madness round the corner by getting rid of Bolton. The better path, therefore, was to think about jaw-jawing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, who would be inclined to some sort of compromise, short of reverting to the JCPOA, that would lift the sanctions off his country’s back.
Imagine three grand “negotiating successes” — with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Kim in North Korea, and Rouhani in Iran, it’d be unprecedented and make him — Trump would reason — irresistible to the voters in next year’s election.
Except Bolton, paradoxically, was good for India. He didn’t care two bits for India, of course, but he did for certain principles of action. In February this year when the Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval betook himself to Washington to curry support for the Balakot strike post-Pulwama terrorist incident, it was Bolton who signaled approval on the basis that India had every right to “self defence”. Such an approval may not be forthcoming the next time India considers forceful action because Bolton’s replacement — whosoever he/she is — will likely mirror Trump’s essential tendency to maximize leverage and not go with any principle. An inkling of what Delhi can expect in the future was available yesterday, the very day when India and Pakistan were squaring up on 370 and Kashmir at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Unbidden, Trump again offered himself up as a possible mediator despite the clearest indication by the Modi government that no such external interference was necessary or would be countenanced. The trouble is Trump is aware that Modi is no Mullah Baradar, Kim or Rouhani and that, surrounded by appeasers in his Cabinet, like Jaishankar, he will be inclined, when he is squeezed, to squeal and compromise just to be in America’s good books.
And, re: the UNHCR session: Two things were noticeable. Secretary (East) who put forward India’s case, did not once mention Pakistan’s irrefutable record of ethnic cleansing since Partition when the non-Muslim population in that rumps state was reduced from 15% to less than 1%, this when Islamabad has used the international media megaphone to blast India for abrogating Articles 370 & 35A as prelude to “ethnic cleansing” in Kashmir. Nor did the Secretary harp and iteratively on the state of Gilgit and Baltistan (G&B) where methodical genocide is being committed against the shias of that region by the sunni state by way of straightforward killings and resettling of Mirpuri Mussalmans to change the demographic profile, and adding to Pakistan’s disreputable record on human rights.
Indeed, MEA has only recently started to mention G&B when talking about Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — a wrong long pointed out in my writings. Because it neglected for whatever reasons to desist from bringing in the status of, and the deplorable conditions of shias and others demanding freedom in, G&B, the world has been led to believe that the outstanding dispute is only about Indian J&K. This is entirely the Indian government and MEA’s fault.
The other thing was the televised speech, perhaps, in a follow-up session of UNHCR by someone who seemed to be a mid-level functionary in India’s UN Geneva mission. This person read from from the paper in front of him so rapidly, almost as if he feared a guillotine coming down on his neck, to be all but incomprehensible to anyone who was listening. One can argue it didn’t matter because most attendees at these meets are bored to tears and usually manage to sleep with their eyes open! The problem with Indian diplomats in Western settings is their accent, pace and diction when making India’s case. Even in the best of instances, there’s the trademark slightly Indian sing-song lilt when they speak, to which is coupled the haste to make the point. The result usually is the intended audience gets the drift without quite making out what’s said. This is a longstanding problem compounded in recent times by those who have joined the Foreign Service via the UPSC on the basis of regional language competence — a growing proportion of the ‘A’ stream in IFS. May be it is time for the MEA to find funds to set up a language lab for English at the Foreign Service Institute that all entrant level officers would be required to undergo for English language certification. And to think the Indian diplomatic service was, albeit very long ago, known for its drafting prowess.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon be in Vladivostok, there to attend an Economic Conference as chief guest. That the Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting the Indian leader for a second such summit — the last time was in the former’s stomping ground, St. Petersburg, suggests that despite the Modi regime signaling Delhi’s closeness to the US at every turn, Moscow still espies some utility in having India figure prominently in its great power political game. And, of course, to have the Russian defence industry continue to benefit from such major arms sales as may fructify.
After all, Putin has been spectacularly successful, even though playing with a weak economic card, to push America geopolitically into a corner. He has stymied the US in the Middle East by simultaneously drawing Erdogan’s Turkey into its military sphere of influence with the foot-in-the-door sale of S-400 anti-aircraft system and propping up the Bashir al-Assad government in Syria, and thereby established itself as a seminal power in greater West Asia. Capitalizing on the estranged relations between West European members of NATO and Washington that the maladroit US President Donald Trump has managed to obtain, and his own threats to cutoff gas supplies to Germany, the strongest European state, Putin has ensured that NATO is about neutered. In Central Asia, lacking China’s economic ability to buy regimes with infrastructure projects and trade on concessional terms, he has sought a negotiated solution with Japan for the return of the Kurile Island chain to Tokyo, whence the certainty that Japan will be strung along. It will increase the degrees of separation between the US and Japan, on the one hand and, by cultivating Tokyo, put China on a strategic leash, on the other hand. Keeping things humming with India fits into this larger plan because, besides an Indo-Russian check on Chinese ambitions in the extended region, it at least notionally pulls Delhi away from Washington — a move aided and principally assisted by the Trump Administration’s almost pathological drive to alienate its allies and partners everywhere, including particularly in Asia.
Does Modi have any grand plan and strategy to rival that of the master Russian strategist gladhanding him in the Russian Far East? Apparently not (if one goes by his floundering and fairly unimaginative, non-Article 370 abrogation-related, foreign policy and the leanings of his reported foreign policy adviser, the RSS apparatchik Ram Madhav. Madhav’s level of intellect can be gleaned from his revealing op-ed quoting Francis Fukuyama, who became irrelevant over a decade ago. This is in line with ample past evidence that Madhav has a basic incapacity to do other than think derivatively. But this can also be said about such “thinking” as is being done by Ministry of External Affairs led by S Jaishankar. Picking up on the “Please the Master”-game fast, Jaishankar, for instance, had scheduled the annual heads-of-missions meeting, where else, at a Gujarat government resort at the feet of the gigantic Vallabhbhai Patel statue on the Narmada — a ploy designed mightily to please his boss. Shades of US Vice President Michael Pence, on a state visit to Ireland, to please Trump staying at a Trump-owned golf resort in Doonbeg on the west coast of that country, some 180 miles from Dublin, on the opposite, eastern shore, where he pow-wowed with the Irish Prime Minister — the gay, half-Indian, Leo Varadkar).
So, no great strategic game plan here. Consider that Defence minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo and did not once mention the Shinmaywa US-2 maritime recon aircraft project the Shinzo Abe government many years ago offered India on a platter, prospectively even with financing! And Modi has been talking — yea, just talking — about ‘acting East’ from when he became prime minister 5 years ago. But why would Modi need a game plan when he can brandish promises to buy this and that pricey armament instead — a ploy he has time and again used with Trump, Macron, May and every other leader whose country has any kind of weaponry (and, in the case of Xi of China, Huawei 5G telecom systems that will implant Chinese spy and cyberwarfare wherewithal controlled by Beijing in the Indian communications grid) to sell? The fact that the Indian economy is running on empty has not deterred him, nor prompted him to rethink his policy of seeking to buy friendship with mega arms purchases. But then he doesn’t seem to have a better idea by way of leverage. Nor has Beijing’s hand-holding of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue (in the UN Security Council and elsewhere) elicited anything remotely punitive. Like say, censorious statements by MEA to chastise China for suspending civil rights and imposing an emergency in Hong Kong — the very thing Beijing accuses Delhi of doing in Srinagar Valley!
So Modi has gone to Vladivostok — a veritable Santa Claus bearing gifts — touting his proximity to his “good friend” Vladimir. He means to sign, per press reports, an accord to set up an “energy bridge” for Sakhalin oil to make up for the loss of oil from Iran, but also multi-billion dollar contracts for the AK-203 assault rifle production in India, the Kamov 226 utility helicopters, and the lease agreement for the second Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine.
As it is, the US Defence Department is weighed down by a lemon of an aircraft in US armed services’ inventories, the F-35! But Modi will not touch the one weapons platform that will make mincemeat of this plane and is sending shivers down Pentagon’s spine — the Kinzhal hypersonic missile-armed high-performance, 5th generation, Sukhoi-57. It is another matter that Moscow had long ago offered to co-develop this advanced fighter-bomber aircraft with India, which project the IAF, in its by now legendary wisdom shied away from, because it preferred the 4.5 gen French Rafale — the same generation combat aircraft, incidentally, as the indigenous Tejas LCA and, because Modi will feel the need to balance these Russian arms buys and to please Trump, the already 50+year old F-16!!! And this because the PM believes that producing or, more correctly, assembling, the F-16 in India will somehow add value to this plane and elevate it to the league of what — the Tejas, Su-57, Rafale, or the junky F-35? And all this at the expense of the Indian defence industry (Tejas), and relations with Russia (Su-57) and Japan (US-2) — the US-2 being the best aircraft of its kind in the world!
Way to go Modi, Indian government, and Indian military! Foreign defence industries have certainly hit a jackpot with you!