When their tanks and warships r o l l e d i n t o Ukraine on February 24, the Russian military and their political leadership thought Kyiv was up for grab for the asking. But little did they foresee that what they thought was a skirmish would turn into a full-fledged war stretching into weeks and then months. Russia’s war on its neighbour, eponymously called ‘Special Military Operation’, has entered its fourth month and there are no signs of the war abating in foreseeable future. The war is now peeling, layer after layer, off the real contest for global supremacy between the USled established world order and the challenge China and Russia together are putting up to that order, in an effort to establish geopolitical mechanisms that are more responsive to their national interests. The confrontation has widened from the narrow sphere of military conflict between Russia and Ukraine to a full-scale economic war between the US-led western alliance and a Russia– China joint front. Both blocs are using finance, trade, commerce, and natural resources as weapons to bring the fight to an exhaustive finish. The US and Russia are now engaged in a dangerous game of geopolitical brinkmanship beyond Ukraine, which has a strong potential to spiral into a global conflagration. Two recent events validate this concern. First is the filing of formal application by Sweden and Finland for NATO membership on May18, with the US coming out in open support promising to fast-track the process to secure them membership of the military alliance. The second is the symbolic but deliberate act of Russian and Chinese nuclear-capable strategic bombers undertaking joint air patrol close enough to the air defence identification zone of South Korea and Japan four days later on May 23, even as the US President and other foreign heads of state of the Quad countries were holding deliberations in Japan. The provocative act necessitated scrambling of Japanese Air Force fighter aircrafts. The first event brings NATO to the north-western flank of Russia, and given Russia’s concerns it has so unambiguously spelt out, the act may be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to broaden the horizon of the ongoing indirect confrontation between the opposing blocs. The second event, on the other hand, not only underscores the geopolitical signalling of a joint front by China and Russia to counter the threat from the US-led western alliance but also showcases their resolve to escalate the indirect confrontation into an open global conflict. The way Russia responded to all those precipitative events and took them as a direct threat to its security, a prelude to its invasion of Ukraine, was quite predictable. John J Mearsheimer, noted US political scientist, has long been warning against NATO expansion. The international relations scholar has since 2014 time and again emphasized extending NATO to embrace Ukraine is bound to invite a strong reaction from Russia. Echoing his fears a Rand Corporation report, ‘Russia’s Military Interventions, Patterns, Drivers and Signposts’ in 2021, had outlined Russia’s concerns in no uncertain terms. The report had made two notable key findings. According one, Russia has intervened militarily whenever the country perceives a regional balance shifting away from a status quo against its interests. Russia has, in respect of Ukraine, made it clear for years that it would respond to any western intervention into the country, says the second finding. Interestingly, the Rand report was sponsored by the office of Deputy Chief of Staff US Army. However, the US-led bloc has been consistently adventurous in pushing NATO frontiers eastwards to the borders of Russia, knowing it well how Russia would respond to such adventures. There is no guessing then that the western bloc did not stumble into a confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. It is rather part of an overall US strategy to provoke a Russian military intervention and use it as a casus belli to undertake strong retaliatory response short of a direct military confrontation. Russia first enunciated its red lines on NATO’s eastward expansion in 2014, after the political crisis in Ukraine that led to ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych from power and Russia invading Crimea and annexing it. It took the country seven years to undertake the ongoing war to thwart Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO. It stands to reason that this period has been put to gainful use to undertake comprehensive evaluation of threats, vulnerabilities, likely enemy reaction, planning and preparing an effective course of action, and deliberate on contingencies arising out of a comprehensive riposte by the adversary. Russia too has thus been deliberate in undertaking a military offensive against Ukraine despite the certainty of a comprehensive western bloc reaction. The war highlights Russia’s resolve to engage with the US-led western alliance, even risking the conflict spiralling into a nuclear confrontation, to aggressively protect its national interests. Another portentous development that ongoing conflict has thrown up is the coming together of Russia and China, with China providing the Russians indirect support which they would leverage to circumvent the economic sanctions. This also signals an emerging Russia–China axis to openly challenge the US-led established world order. With China’s belligerence in South China Sea propelling US pivot to the East, away from Europe, Russia took this as an opportune moment to secure its south-western flank against NATO expansionism. Almost simultaneous offensive action by Russia in southern Europe and China’s belligerence in maritime regions of East Asia poses a strategic dilemma for the US-led western bloc. An active joint front of China and Russia has the potential to tilt the geopolitical balance of power away from the West in favour of the former. The overall US and EU strategy rests on the twin pillars: tying down Russia in a prolonged debilitating armed confrontation in Ukraine, by providing Ukraine with extensive financial aid, trained mercenary manpower, weapons and ISR support, and simultaneously weaken Russia’s comprehensive national power through imposing trade, commerce and monetary sanctions. Ukraine’s biggest achievement has been to ensure the survival of its Government by retaining control over the capital city of Kyiv and forcing the Russians to beat a retreat from Kharkiv, the second largest city, while pushing the northern prong of the Russian offensive from the outskirts of Kyiv back to the borders. Its military strategy is forcing Russia to employ artillery firepower predominant tactics, resulting in heavy destruction of industrial, housing and communication infrastructure in eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, Russia has achieved great success in cutting off Ukraine’s access to the maritime waters of Black Sea, with the fall of Mariupol, nearing completion of securing the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and the coastal region of Ukraine, while encircling major part of the Ukraine forces in eastern Ukraine, making them vulnerable to piecemeal annihilation. Though Russia may achieve its curtailed objectives, its victory would be hollow, for the country lacks financial resources to rebuild the lucrative industrial base in east Ukraine. The author is a war veteran and strategic expert
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Reforms needed to overcome ills of representative democracy
The first basic question is how many of us understand the difference between representative democracy and participatory/direct democracy? For the record, we are a representative democracy where selected representatives are expected to debate, provide inputs from their constituencies and enable passing of legislations that push India into the next century.
The question that repeatedly haunts us is what is wrong with India when there is so much The question that repeatedly haunts us is what is wrong with India when there is so much right happening around us. Why are path breaking reforms that were pending for decades, resisted after they are legislated? The back lash to the most recent much needed Military reforms, preceded by farmers bill, labour reforms etc. are perhaps symptoms of a disease that is yet to be fully understood.Its contours are obliquely discussed in debates both in print and social media.
The first basic question is how many of us understand the difference between representative democracy and participatory /direct democracy? For the record, we are a representative democracy where the elected representatives are expected to debate, provide inputs from their constituencies and enable passing of legislations that push India into the next century. That the Parliament does not function and that all political parties play to the gallery are there for all to see. But there is no angst, peaceful marches or even vandalism to show our rejection of petty politics on display. But repeatedly one hears seasoned journalists, academics and the educated commentators state that not enough consultations with the people have been done and hence the backlash. Really? On a variety of complex social, economic, industrial, military legislations or executive decisions, can we have open consultations with a billion people-largely uninformed due to literacy/education related constraints? No.
That is why we have a representational form of democracy. Here lies the next challenge. Due to the very nature of politics right from independence, sane, educated, well meaning and knowledgeable citizens do not wish to be in the money-muscle power driven elections. Even the most talented, patriotic, and affluent citizen cannot hope to win an election. Criminals and those who impress the poor with material or political promises of freebies will ensure that outstanding technocrats never succeed.Hence the preferred route of Rajya Sabha for the truly deserving.
Now, coming to “we the people.”Those of us who are educated, comfortable and well-endowed while participating incessantly on the social media and rarely in print, do not bother to vote, The only means to eliminate criminals and frauds from being elected is to participate with the EC to stem the tide of self-serving, corrupt or even dynastic politicians.Holding the political party accountable for noncompliance with manifestos and rejecting freebies with severe fiscal and financial liabilities on much needed public funds are essential features for reforms at the people’s end. We have a responsibility that we have will fully shunned, as we the people do not necessarily wish to participate in the process of finding the right people to represent us. The media does not believe in exposing our politicians to well informed debates.
The latest reform concerning the Military are being debated with elected representatives who neither know the ranks and structure of the Military nor even the difference between recruitment of soldiers and the selection process of officers. Just recently an educated politician referred to the former Army Chief Gen JJ Singh as Major. But he vaxed eloquent on the reforms per se.
Veterans who participate in debates are guilty of indirectly accusing the present military Veterans who participate in debates are guilty of indirectly accusing the present military leadership (who are the only accountable people for operations), of the most elementary consequences of such reforms: as if the knowledge resides only in them. By so doing in public, they are casting aspersions on the competence of the serving community. For the record they all begin their argument with how timely such a bold reform is. But……and this is precisely the first red flag for creating confusion that could affect the morale of the serving community, when the serving Chiefs have repeatedly assured that they will plug loop holes as they progress.
That the Parliament does not function and that all political parties play to the gallery are there for all to see. But there is no angst, peaceful marches or even vandalism to show our rejection of petty politics on display. But repeatedly, one hears seasoned journalists, academics and the educated commentators state that not enough consultations with the people have been done and hence the backlash. Really? On a variety of complex social, economic, industrial, military legislations or executive decisions, can we have open consultations with a billion people-largely uninformed due to literacy/education related constraints? No.
Perhaps such senior veterans were too busy in their careers and forgot to mentor and train their subordinates who now occupy decision making positions. You reap as you sow.
The most important lesson is that, when a decision is taken, after consultations with stake holders and the details are not available with the veterans, the best way is to communicate with the current military leadership directly. That would be of immense value than debating with an anchor on a TRP hunt and a panel of bumbling politicians.
Mr K Subramanyam, the doyen of the strategic community till the 1990s and the Chairman of the Kargil Review Committee, once said, “ the politician enjoys power without responsibility. The bureaucrat wields power without accountability and the Military assumes responsibility without direction.”
The recommendations of the Arun Singh committee report were to specifically address this lacuna by integrating the services with the MOD and creating a single point adviser to the RM/PM on matters military through CDS. It took 18 years to begin the process and create structures. We must learn to be patient with this new born set up. The new CDS is likely to assume duty soon. We are moving along the right path.
But India needs major reforms in administration, police and judicial sectors, along with labour, land and agriculture to to take her to the next level of eminence in international politics. There are enough lessons learnt to attempt all of these, if there a will.
Vice Admiral SCS Bangara, PVSM, AVSM (Retd.)
CORRECTING PAST WRONGS A DUBIOUS ENTERPRISE
Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Sarsanghchalak, on 3 June took the entire nation by surprise when he famously said, “Everyday, we tend to raise new issues, we shouldn’t do that. Why should we pick up more quarrels? Gyanvapi is a matter of faith for us as part of our tradition. What we have been doing is all right. But why should we go about looking for a Shivalinga in every mosque.” The supremo of the RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was referring to the Gyanvapi controversy, though older than the Ayodhya Babari–Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, which was revived after a local court in Varanasi ordered a survey of the mosque complex which Hindus claim was built on the rubble of a Hindu temple raged by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It is interesting to note that the RSS ideologue further observed that the RSS was not interested to launch any agitation for the liberation of Gyanvapi as it has achieved what it set out to achieve on the Ayodhya dispute with Supreme Court verdict favouring a Ram Temple there.
Bhagwat’s remarks can be interpreted in two ways, however.
Anybody who has some sense of history would not disagree that upturning the historical wrongs is a dubious enterprise. Not so long ago a study by IIT Gandhinagar and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had revealed a three-storey structure and a Buddhist cave under the Somnath Temple in Gujarat. When the digging was in full swing for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Buddhist artefacts and other remains were found. Two PILs were filed in the Supreme Court to seek protection and preservation of the India’s non-Hindu ancient heritage. Justice Arun Mishra not only trashed the PILs but also imposed a fine on the petitioners. His opinion was not different from the six-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi which simply did not consider the Buddhist claim on the site while delivering verdict in favour of a Ram temple. It is a well-known fact that Ayodhya was historically a Buddhist pilgrim centre.
Neo-Buddhists and Dalits have been quite vocal about how ancient Buddhists shrines were usurped or destroyed and Hindu temples were built over their rubble. Amid the raging Gyanvapi controversy, Ratan Lal, a Delhi University professor was arrested by Delhi Police on May 20 over a social media post on Shivlinga. A week or so before, a Lucknow University professor was manhandled and beaten up by ABVP goons for his not-so-favourable views on Gyanvapi issue. Both these professors are Dalits.
At a time when the RSS is going an extra mile to bring Dalits and Adivasis into the larger Hindu fold, such incidents may play spoil sport. It is no surprise then if this factor weighed on Bhagwat’s mind when he made his famous remarks.
Bhagwat chose to put things straight amid another fierce controversy that Nupur Sharma’s intemperate remarks, which she had made against Prophet Muhammad during a TV debate, had created. Sharma had been sacked by the BJP top brass so had been Naveen Jindal a day before, and the backlash from the Gulf and other Muslim countries had taken India aback.
Over 15 Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, had denounced the remarks. Many of them had summoned Indian ambassadors. Sharma’s had made those ill-informed and intemperate remarks when Vice President Vankaiah Naidu was in Qatar heading a Indian business delegation there. The Grand Mufti of Oman Sheikh Al-Khalili had called for boycott of Indian goods so did some other Gulf counties.
The controversy had not only dented India’s image among Muslim countries, as National Security Advisor Ajit Doval now candidly admits, but had put the spanner in the works of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been so assiduously building bridges with Gulf countries. He was the first prime minister to visit UAE in 2015 after more than three decades. India’s foreign policy since then has put building trade ties with Gulf nations on top priority, which is not misplaced by any yardstick as it is essential for countries energy security. According to an estimate, 4 million Indians work in the Gulf, making remittances of over $80 billion every year.
Barely three days before Bhagwat spoke, the US State Department had in a report slammed India for attacks on members of minority communities. The government had to pull all stops to control the damage the controversy was doing to the country globally. It was left to Bhagwat to rein in on elements whose acts were frittering all the gains that Modi had made all these years.
The lesson: seeking upturning of injustices of the past committed by Muslim rulers is one thing, but building bridges with Muslim countries is an entirely different ball game. Both cannot go hand-in-hand.
Chinese belligerence on Taiwan: Rhetoric or substance?
The larger geopolitical context of the duel by Beijing and Washington over Taiwan needs interpretation and analysis with reference to the size of the Chinese economy, its increasing military prowess and belligerent diplomatic behaviour in its neighbourhood.
During the recently concluded Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, the Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe declared that “China will not hesitate to start a war” to stop Taiwan from declaring independence. Perhaps, a reaction to US President Joe Biden’s reiteration of the US commitment to defend Taiwan last month on the sidelines of the announcement of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). The message from Minister Fenghe, however, was loud and clear: Taiwan is integral to the Chinese geopolitical imagination. President Biden, since the inauguration of his presidency in January 2021 has been critical of Chinese military activities over and around Taiwan and has expressed strong support for Taiwan. China, on the other hand, with increasing frequency and number of fighter aircraft involved, has violated the Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). It has also made several naval incursions and forays into the Exclusive Economic Zone of Taiwan.
The larger geopolitical context of this duel by Beijing and Washington over Taiwan, however, needs interpretation and analysis with reference to the size of the Chinese economy, its increasing military prowess and belligerent diplomatic behavior in its neighbourhood. That Chinese attitude and actions have caused apprehensions and disturbed peace in Western Pacific is now an established reality. For the US, this translates into erosion of its pre-eminence in international affairs and geopolitical dominance, acquired after disintegration of the Soviet Union. Its reputation as the sole superpower is at stake in the international system in general and in East Asia in particular. Furthermore, its strategic bases in the region stand threatened and their utility questioned, if it remains an onlooker in the event of such provocations. The US efforts, therefore, are directed towards restricting Chinese influence through diplomatic rhetoric, multilateral forums and deep-rooted historical alliances in the region. US counter-measures to deter China at various levels can be identified in the region, though the official line is to refrain from the terminology of containment.
Economically, as a bulwark against the strength of Chinese trade and business in the region, the US announced the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) last month. A geo-economic bloc, created to rival the China led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the IPEF excludes China along with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. IPEF focuses on four themes: Fair and Resilient Trade; Supply Chain Resilience; Infrastructure, Clean Energy and Decarbonization; and Tax and Anti-Corruption. These themes are reflective of the response to the disruptions of the supply chain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic; an oblique reference to the issues generated by Chinese debt-trap diplomacy; and the Sustainable Development Goals set up by the United Nations. Initial and substantial economic thrust to kickstart the venture may have to be borne by the US. Critical, however, to the success of the IPEF will be traditional US allies (Japan, South Korea) and India’s capacity to create alternative mechanisms to replace established Chinese raw-material acquisition and manufacturing networks.
With strong economic performance spanning three decades, China’s military expenditure has increased manifold. A substantial proportion of the expenditure is directed towards investment in defence technologies and innovations. Recently, the Peoples Liberation Army’s (PLA) twitter handles, in a show of strength, claimed that China has the best fighter aircraft in the world and the scientist at the PLA Rocket Force disclosed testing of hypersonic missiles. In both the instances, they tended to undermine US military capabilities. Combined with such rhetoric, frequent violations of Taiwan’s ADIZ, threatening US reconnaissance aircraft and accosting US aircraft carriers in the region, China’s actions disregard military conventions and established norms. To US’s credit, its armed forces stationed in the region, have responded firmly and have not been discouraged, especially with respect to Taiwan. Diplomatically, the US insists on China’s adherence to and respect for the “rules-based international order”.
US emphasis on the “rules-based international order” may sound hypocritical because its record in ratification and upholding of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea III is not enviable. The United Nations Association of Australia defines the “rules-based international order” as a “shared commitment by all countries to conduct their activities in accordance with agreed rules that evolve over time, such as international law, regional security arrangements, trade agreements, immigration protocols, and cultural arrangements” (UNAA 2016). China violates the UNCLOS III with impunity and regularity in the South China Sea and has been constructing military bases on islands whose sovereignty is disputed with states like Philippines and Vietnam. Adherence to rules, conventions and norms which China disregards has value in maintaining peace in the international order and functions even in most difficult situations.
Geopolitically, US efforts to remain a prominent and meaningful actor in the region have led to the creation of the Quadrilateral (Quad) dialogue with Japan, Australia and India and the AUKUS with Australia and the United Kingdom. Both these groups (especially Quad) have been vociferous in their demands to uphold the “rules-based international order” and the members have frequently mentioned China. Whether these statements impact Chinese behaviour remains to be seen, but responses from Beijing over the years have been aggressive in tone and tenor.
The US, through the Quad, AUKUS and the IPEF, has caused frustration in Beijing as these forums involve major regional actors. Taiwan and its independence, however, clearly and visibly is the most sensitive issue for China which generates immediate responses from China. Warmongering over the issue at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore is sensational and may signal the intent and emotions of the Chinese Communist Party-led government. Will these words translate into action? It remains to be seen. The US, with its rhetoric on the defence of Taiwan and accusations of destabilizing the region, has maintained its long-standing stance of One-China policy as evident through the Pentagon statement in Singapore. Chinese statement also focused on military cooperation, strategic cooperation and mutual trust and not turning conflicts and differences into conflicts and confrontations. In essence, the current rhetoric is intended to test the other side’s resolve on difficult issues, but serves its purpose as a deterrent vis-à-vis current events in Europe.
The author is Associate Professor of Political Geography and Geopolitics at the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, JNU.
With strong economic performance spanning three decades, China’s military expenditure has increased manifold. A substantial proportion of the expenditure is directed towards investment in defence technologies and innovation. Taiwan and its independence clearly and visibly is the most sensitive issue for China which generates immediate responses from China. Warmongering over the issue at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore is sensational and may signal the intent and emotions of the Chinese Communist Party-led government.
China is involved in various disputes with its neighbours—including India, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam—but none approach the degree of danger faced by Taiwan. China increases its military’s amphibious lift as China militarily threatens Taiwan through means such as ballistic missiles or amphibious invasion, in Hong Kong on 27 July 2021. ANI file photo.
THE FIRE IN AGNIPATH
The Agnipath scheme is off to a fiery start given the protests across the country, especially in Telangana, Bihar and the national capital. The Congress led a delegation to the Rashtrapati Bhavan complaining that no one was consulted before the announcement, the scheme was not presented before the Parliament Standing Committee, and at the very least, should have first been implemented via a pilot project. There have also been concerns about jobs for the 24 year old Agniveers who will not be absorbed in the army. Some opposition leaders have also pointed out that as with most of the Modi government schemes, this too was announced in haste without thinking the on ground implementation through.
All valid arguments, though there are equally valid arguments on the other side, the dominant one being that there is a need for a leaner, younger army. As Manish Tewari, Congress Lok Sabha MP and a former Union Minister, told NewsX that armies across the world are going in for a lighter footprint, and what one saves from the pension budget can be spent on modernizing the armed forces. He also pointed out that the idea was not as sudden as it seems, for way back in 1999, the Kargil Review Committee had recommended the same, that we should go in for younger and a learner armed forces. Tewari also wondered as to the opposition against Agnipath when there was no opposition against the Short Service Commission (introduced about two decades ago).
Perhaps as a reaction to some of the protests, the government has come up with assurances that some of the Agniveers would be absorbed in the state and central police forces. In addition, in an obviously choreographed manner, some industrialists have also made statements of job offers. Again, this is a criticism that could have easily been avoided if the scheme had been announced with a mandatory transition arrangement.
The one criticism that the Modi government cannot avoid—even by those praising the scheme—which is the way it was announced and implemented. There was no security risk here as we were told the government explained as to why the abrogation of Article 370 was done in such a furtive and swift manner. This was no surgical strike against black money where secrecy was essential as with demonetisation. This is taking away the dreams of hundreds of youths who spent their lives growing up, training to join the army. Those who had given or studied for entrance exams pre-Covid but their recruitment was put on hold due to the pandemic. Yes the government has addressed some of these fears with a one-time relaxation of the admission age, but again, it’s a step that could have been thought of earlier. And if the opposition had been taken along during the consultation process, they would have lost some of their moral right to protest. So we come back to the same old charge of a non-inclusive government. Though given the mandate PM Modi has, it’s a charge he is not going to take too seriously, despite the opposition crying hoarse, time and again.
Opposition needs to be a driver of development, not a hindrance
In the case of the Agnipath scheme, protests are being held and public properties being destroyed despite the government clarifying each and every unfounded doubt. There are concerted efforts being made to create instability and unrest for the sake of protest. Protests are important, but we have to think to what extent a protest can go.
The Modi government has completed eight momentous years in power which is coinciding with the country entering its 75 years of its independence, a period which the government is celebrating as “Amrit Kal”.
Addressing the nation on the occasion of India’s Independence Day in 2021, Prime Minister Modi said, “The country is entering the 75th year of independence and the journey from here till 100 years of independence is the ‘nectar of India’s creation’. This goal has to be achieved with ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas’.”
The challenges that the country faced during the previous governments like “policy paralysis”, contradictions in the formulation of policies, lack of transparency in functioning, lack of ability to implement schemes on the ground, leakage in beneficiaries’ dividends, lack of public trust in the government, have been deftly weeded out by the Narendra Modi government.
While the government has taken steps for the welfare of the poor, it has also ensured an ease of doing for the business world. In the midst of the challenge of Covid, free ration was made available to a large number of the unprivileged which could not have been possible without the country’s food grain producing capacity.
India’s nationwide vaccination programme, which was successfully implemented despite massive challenges, is one of the brightest examples of government’s efficiency and intent. The digital revolution that the government has been undertaking since May 2014 has helped the government in transparent policy formulations ensuring multiple works are being done simultaneously without any conflict. The Modi government has also exhibited efficiency in communicating to the public the complete information of the work the government is undertaking and that which it has completed.
Modi’s governance model works with clarity on two questions—“what to do” and “how to do”. People working closely with Modi say he never asks “can this be done”, but always works in the spirit of “how can it not be done”. It has to be accepted that this vision, that Modi has laid out for the next 25 years, cannot just be described as the vision of this government, because when 100 years of independence will be completed, then it is quite possible that the party, the structure, the people that will be in power 25 years down the line, will be different from today.
Therefore, it has to be called the vision of the country, rather than terming it as a vision of the government. It is thus necessary to consider what the challenges are in the way of moving forward towards such a far-reaching goal. There is also a need for collective brainstorming on whether the country is ready for the necessary changes to take the giant leap.
There are three big challenges facing the country. First, the attempts to create instability in the country. Second, the lack of progress with a constructive agree-disagree form of dialogue towards epoch-making reforms. Third, not being able to differentiate between opposition to the government and opposition to the country. If the country has to move forward with a big vision for the next 25 years, then these three challenges will have to be overcome.
The first step to tackling these challenges is to understand that these problems are not like an aberration routinely faced by a party or government, but have become persistent for the country. Therefore, there is a need to avoid making the mistake of considering it as a challenge to the government or a party. The challenges are being faced by the nation.
In 2019, when Narendra Modi returned to power with a thumping majority, even the dissenting groups accepted that Modi has passed the ultimate test in a democracy–the public’s scrutiny. That 2014 was no fluke as the public had reposed their faith in Modi. In the face of Modi’s rising popularity post 2019, the tendency of dialogue and expressing disagreement in the opposition camp has been on the wane. What has replaced it is the tendency to disrupt.
There are concerted efforts being made to create instability and unrest for the sake of protest. Instead of rational discussions, opposition to the reforms made by the government started increasing in the spirit of “Only I am right”. We have seen that there have been violent upheavals over the reforms in agricultural laws. Even murders were committed in the name of “peaceful protests”. The roads leading to the national capital were blocked for over a year leading to economic losses worth crores, but despite the protests, the opposition failed to point out what exactly was wrong in the provisions of the agricultural laws. The same is now being seen in the case of the Agnipath scheme against which protests are being held and public properties being destroyed despite the government clarifying each and every unfounded doubt.
In a country the size of India, it is not possible everyone will agree on one thing. There are bound to be varying views, but there was no discussion on that. There was just a din created by the opposition demanding no debate, but withdrawal of the laws. The incident has set a trend that is being used to derail reforms.
When election campaigns start, political parties take their manifestos to the people and seek votes on the basis of the promises made in the vision documents. People elect leaders giving them the mandate to form governments and implement policies. In such a situation, it is the moral duty of the parties to implement the manifesto.
Everyone has a right to disagree with the policies of the government, but the basis of the disagreement with government policies cannot be differences with the party. Opposing decisions taken in the interest of the country on the basis of party differences will prove to be a huge hindrance in the development of India in the next 25 years.
Feeling of insecurity, injustice and marginalisation are common. Democratic societies have their ways of addressing them. Protests, therefore, are important but we have to think to what extent a protest can go.
Slogans like “Sir Tan Se Juda” have no place in a modern and vibrant democracy. Stone pelting, arson and road blockades running into years over every issue and perceived hurt will stand in the way of the country’s development over the next 25 years. The practice is particularly dangerous because it leaves scope for external forces to disrupt order in the country. As a rising economic power, we cannot avert our eyes to the forces that are at work to derail our progress.
We should think with a cool mind that the international objection to the recent “statement” after which stones were pelted in many parts of the country came from Qatar. But the same country from which the objection came issued a decree against people who demonstrated against the said statement to leave the country. This is enough for us to understand that even Qatar cannot afford to disrupt life through protests. The world of the 21st century doesn’t call for violence, riots and medieval punishments. This world is a world of reason, debate and dialogue. Therefore, when India completes 100 years of independence, where it will be depends on what the country learns to do to overcome the three challenges. Narendra Modi may have envisioned the next 25 years, but the country will have to do the work of fulfilling it.
The author is associated with the BJP think tank Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.
There are three big challenges facing the country. First, the attempts to create instability in the country. Second, the lack of progress with a constructive agree-disagree form of dialogue towards epoch-making reforms. Third, not being able to differentiate between opposition to the government and opposition to the country. If the country has to move forward with a big vision for the next 25 years, then these three challenges will have to be overcome. When India completes 100 years of independence, where it will be depends on what the country learns to do to overcome the three challenges.
US’ PRO PAK SOUND-BITES WILL NOT BE MISSED BY INDIA
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was candid at a recent interaction about the US and Pakistan. “A lot of India’s problems with Pakistan are directly attributable to the support that the United States gave to Pakistan,” he said. He mentioned this in the context of India’s relationship with Russia. The gist of his statement was—every country, which is a part of the Quad, has its independent stand on foreign policy issues, and just as there is no consensus among Quad partners about Pakistan, there is no similar consensus about Russia. Such a statement assumes greater importance when one looks at US State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s recent statement that Pakistan is a partner of the US and that Washington would look at ways to advance ties with Islamabad in a manner that serves US interest and their “mutual interests”. Almost in the same breath, Price also mentioned that “we (the US) have made clear to our Indian partners that we are there for them, we are ready and able and willing to partner with them, and we’ve done just that”. It’s a different matter that US’ long-time partner, Pakistan, smartly led it up the garden path, ensured a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the defeat of the US, apart from ensuring that the US’ “chosen one”, Mullah Baradar was thrown under the bus and Rawalpindi GHQ’s favoured Haqqani network held sway in the Taliban government. And even though Pakistan has lost a Prime Minister, in the form of Imran Khan—whose anti-US rhetoric was reaching a crescendo by the time of his exit—and gained a new more malleable one in Shehbaz Sharif, it has not changed its army, which continues to decide its state policy of terror. India has been hearing for eons about Pakistan rearing snakes in its backyard—Hillary Clinton said it first about Pakistan’s terrorist networks—but what has the US done to make Pakistan give up those snakes? Except for some itsy-bitsy aid cuts during Donald Trump’s time, a bulk of which was restored, what has the US done to put pressure on Pakistan? And now Pakistan is even set to get out of the FATF grey list, which will open doors for easier loans and more money for a country that has terrorism as its state policy and is bound to push terrorism with renewed vigour. While a finger is being pointed at China for quietly lobbying for Pakistan to get out of the grey list, questions are bound to arise if such an eventuality is possible without US support.
It is said that Pakistan has lost its place in US’ geopolitical scheme of things in the second decade of the 21st century. Is that really the case? From the recent statements coming from Washington, it seems as if US is starting to renew its interest in that country, still driven by the false belief that to stabilize the highly volatile situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan is needed. It is like asking the arsonist to douse a raging fire. And of course there is the China angle. Can the US wean Pakistan away from China at a time when Islamabad is one of Beijing’s biggest client states?
Then there is the theory—some say conspiracy—that the US is trying to make India toe the US line on the Ukraine war by raising the Pakistan bogey. But given the depth of the strategic partnership between the two countries, it may not be that simple. Even though there are times it seems as if the US State Department, under Antony Blinken, is following an independent policy of needling India unnecessarily, based on the pure canard of human rights violations, while India’s actual partnership is happening with the Department of Defense and the Pentagon. Whether this schism is an eyewash or if there is some substance to it is of course a matter of speculation. But New Delhi is surely watching the pro-Pakistan sound-bites emanating from Washington and telling itself that a lot of India’s problems with Pakistan are directly attributable to the support that the United States gives to Pakistan.
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