(Modi & Trump)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be headed this weekend for Biarritz, on the southwest coast of France, where the G-7 Summit is being held. The informal UN Security Council session on Kashmir a few days back has complicated things for Modi on several counts. Despite US’ formal stance supportive of the Indian position that revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution was an “internal matter”, President Donald Trump did not take no for an answer where mediation is concerned. Undeterred by the Indian government’s brush-off after such an offer was first made during the press conference he had in Pak PM Imran Khan’s company, Trump once again offered mediation on the Indo-Pak dispute yesterday and promised to raise the matter about his peace-making role with Modi when they meet in Biarritz.
Pakistan has, with some success, weaponized the human rights issue by lacing it with the imminence of a nuclear exchange. Imran has argued thus: the anger of Kashmiris owing to abrogation of Article 370 could result in a terrorist incident which Delhi will blame Islamabad for. It will launch a punitive strike, as happened post-Pulwama, to which the Pakistani military will reply, and this action-reaction sequence could result in conventional hostilities which, if they begin going against Pakistan, will lead to it ordering first use of N-weapons. By way of a historical metaphor, he said Pakistan would act like Tipu Sultan, not Bahadur Shah Zafar who abdicated his throne after the failed 1857 Mutiny, therefore, accepting before hand that, like Tipu, Pakistan would rather go down fighting — in nuclear terms, become extinct, than do nothing at all. (Refer youtube.com/watch?v=jMFIXhrdlebA .) If this is not a lot of hoo-ha I don’t know what is! This hot air got pumped when Indian media created a controversy out of nothing — Rajnath Singh’s fairly anodyne statement about Delhi in the future, depending on the circumstances, rethinking its no first use commitment.
But the mix of disputed territory, “occupation” forces, a restive native population, and nuclear weapons is a politically combustible story and Pakistan has made capital out of it. It is an endeavour China has helped overtly and UK covertly (as at the informal session of the UN Security Council and by permitting the violent demonstration outside the Indian High Commission in London). UK now has Trump’s “poodle”, Boris Johnson, in 10, Downing. Trump and Boris often talk to each other and given how impressionable the former is, there’s every chance of his being influenced by the latter’s Pak-leaning attitude. Who is to say this wasn’t manifested in the US President’s repeating his mediation offer to Modi in his telephone talk of Aug 22? Trump is motivated to act this way in the main because he does not want his special rep Zalmay Khalilzad’s “get the hell out of Afghanistan fast” plan by cutting a deal, any deal, with the Afghan Taliban to be imperilled by Pakistan potentially sabotaging it, which ISI can do. Washington apprehends it will do this if Islamabad perceives the US as standoffish on the 370-Kashmir issue. Which is to say that there’s lots there for Pakistan to work with to ensure the US stays entangled.
The problem for Modi is this: Trump can turn truculent and verbally vicious if he is frustrated on his initiatives by leaders of friendly states (to wit, Danish PM Mette Fredericksen, who having dismissed Trump’s offer “to buy Greenland” as “absurd” was called “nasty” by Trump, who then proceeded to cancel his planned state visit to Denmark!). Insulting statements by fellow strongmen, like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, on the other hand fetches from the US President — who is growingly recognized as an unreliable, unpredictable, dilettante, the sort of fawning attention that would embarrass even the smarmiest spittle licker in Lutyen Delhi.
So, would Modi be better off showing a bit of spine when the two meet on the sidelines of G-7, and what exactly should the Indian PM do? He can be rude and flatly turn down Trump’s offer — which approach, no matter what the Indo-Pacific security stakes, will lead to a rupture in personal relations that Modi has invested too much in by way of hugs and embraces and, more seriously, by way of buying at great cost to the country antique combat aircraft (F-16) and guns (M-777 howitzers) and, when in need to pacify Washington, with the military-MOD’s procurement staple of recent years — C-17 and C-130s transporters, to easily discard. Modi also daily faces Trump’s threats to raise tariffs on all imports from India pursuant to his belief that India, like China, doesn’t anymore deserve the “developing country” tag and hence the preferential treatment under WTO rules. Moreover, Trump has trashed Modi’s repeated personal pleas and the Indian government’s more formal pleadings over the past two-odd years by shutting down the H1B visa route to legal immigrant status taken by Indian techies and professionals, as well as the provision to deny entry to family members of these immigrants. This is Modi’s less than esteemable record — a consequence of giving in routinely to Washington, which he takes to Biarritz.
What is Trump expected to do in this context other than see Modi as a chump who, in exchange for small gestures, such as a counter-hug, gives away the store without getting anything in return? It is a one-way deal of the kind preferred by the transaction-minded Trump who otherwise respects counterparts who have a clear view of national interest and won’t bend but will happily massage his brittle ego as a means of playing him — something Putin and Kim Jong-un effortlessly do. (Trump, for instance, went nearly girly on August 9 re: Kim’s “very beautiful letter” and sided with the North Korean dictator, excused his missile firings, and berated the US-South Korean joint wargames and military exercises as waste of US money! See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqdS5hIdp4Q .) But becoming another Kim is obviously beyond Modi and, in any case, such a conversion may be too late in the day to be credible.
The real trouble ahead for Modi lies less in Trump’s being mediator than in his using human rights excesses supposedly committed on the allegedly hapless Muslims of the Srinagar Valley, laced with fears of a “nuclear flashpoint” that Imran and the Pakistani strategic enclaves have propagated, as a battering ram. In fact, he has indicated publicly that he’d do just this. In the wake of Islamabad’s sounding the nuclear tocsin to keep Kashmir in the international limelight and, per chance, to persuade more and more countries to support its case for UN intervention, the possibility of Trump leading the charge is a disquieting prospect. Already, Western Press and media have gone to town on this theme of the Indian armed services oppressing Kashmiris. Yesterday’s announcement by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh of establishing a cell in MOD to look into human rights complaints is a move to preempt this issue from becoming a major diplomatic headache. Will this stanch the growing criticism? No.
But there’s a tack that Modi can take that will stop Trump cold and almost instantly terminate US’ moral grandstanding, and prevent America’s European lackeys from following suit. He can tell Trump in Biarritz, in the friendliest terms but without the equivocation that foreign minister S. Jaishankar would advise him, that the nuclear alarms are a whole load of nonsense and a ploy to gain global attention but the harm done by Washington’s raking up the human rights issue and by its petty economic-trade policies, would be real, compelling his government to reconsider India’s involvement in strategically partnering with the US in the Indo-Pacific. The PM can refer gently to the case-by-case constraints on the full realization of LEMOA and COMCASA, which has raised the Trump Administration’s hackles, but which he should be warned, would become much worse with this American policy generating genuine ire among the Indian people and ill will for America.
Such a clear cut Modi message along with, ideally, Rajnath Singh being dispatched expeditiously to Moscow, will drive home that point nicely. Will Modi do this to earn from Trump a modicum of respect for himself and for India? Nah!
(Modi & Macron near Arc de Triomphe)
With Modi once again in France, can an order for additional Rafale combat aircraft be far behind? As long ago predicted by this analyst, the initial order for 36 Rafale combat aircraft was merely the French foot in the door. With Paris preparing to hardsell a second tranche of 36 Rafales, the larger IAF-French plan of outfitting the full 125 aircraft requirement for “medium” combat aircraft is fully underway. The French President Emmanuel Macron will probably offer for like initial sum (for the first batch but inflation-indexed) — nearly 8 billion euros — 2 more squadrons worth of Rafale.
Why Modi would accept such an offer when HAL has made a competing offer to produce 4 squadrons of the “super Sukhoi” variant of the Su-30MKI, with HAL chairman R Madhavan, calling it the “fastest means of getting” the IAF up to 42 squadron strength, is unfathomable. Madhavanm, playing hard ball, told the press that HAL, Nasik, produces a dozen Su-30s a year and has outstanding order from IAF for only 8-10 of this aircraft and then just to replace the losses due to accidents, and unless the Company’s order book is enlarged by year end, the entire Su-30 assembly line will become defunct. (See https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/hal-pitches-for-4-more-squadrons-of-su-30mki/articleshow/70668419.cms ) Perhaps, Modi is convinced that Rafale is an all round better, more economical buy than the upgraded “super Sukhoi” Su-30? If so, then really??!!
Now the nationalist Shri Modiji can buy into the IAF’s case that HAL is the premier white elephant defense PSU (along with Mazgaon Dockyard Ltd), which despite its awful production record is sustained expensively at taxpayer’s expense and produces flawed aircraft, all of which is true. But the Prime Minister confronts a dilemma: If he cold shoulders HAL, and permits it to run down, he increases IAF’s dependence on imported aircraft and, more, ends up transferring tens of billions in Euros to make Dassault Avions — the maker of Rafale, the French aviation industry and France wealthier. Is he willing in this way to impoverish India, kick the infant aerospace Indian defence industry in the guts, and politically risk flaring the Rafale embers? The political opposition may be non-existent now but Rafale can live on as an election issue for decades.
There’s an an optimized choice among options which, again, he is loath to make. Namely, as I have advocated, getting the Indian private sector centrally involved in combat aircraft production, which will create millions of jobs — unemployment being the country’s chief worry. It will require putting together a national industrial consortium of reputed Indian corporations, including L&T, Tata, et al, who will be transferred LCA source codes and algorithms by DRDO, who will then embellish the designs of LCA variants, develop and manufacture Tejas-1A, Tejas-2 and, derived from these, the AMCA (advanced medium combat aircraft) for IAF’s use as bulk combat aircraft, with derated versions (of IA, 2) designated for export from get-go. It will incentivize the private sector to become aviation players of note and provide competition to HAL making the latter more efficient and effective, and able to amortize the government’s investment of hundreds of billions of dollars into it over the last seven decades rather than (as newspapers report) have its low productivity and unaccountable work force agitate against government measures to “corporatize” it, other DPSUs and Ordnance Board factories.
This option, if it is taken, will mean the Modi government, for the first time, doing something tangible and substantive to promote indigenous design and production of capital military equipment rather than merely yacking about it and repeating the hollow mantra of “Make in India” ad nauseam.
So, what are the chances of such innovative indigenization programmes getting implemented on a war footing? Zero!