Ahmed Patel, treasurer of the Congress, died due to post-Covid complications on 25 November 2020. A couple of days earlier, another Congress stalwart and a mass leader of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, had also lost his life—again due to post-Covid complications. With their deaths, not only has interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi lost a valuable support system with which she would operate the party, but the party itself has also become rudderless.
The treasurer of the party is a very important position because it is he who is in charge of the party’s funds, both with regard to its generation and expenditure, especially during elections. Sitaram Kesri had a long innings as a treasurer of the Congress. A common saying during his time was: “Na khata, na bahi, jo Kesri kahe, wo hi sahi”. He had a sharp memory with regard to the finances—he could, from memory, reveal who had paid what to the party and how it had been spent. Next came Motilal Vohra, who also played a long innings, but because of his age, was replaced by Ahmed Patel.
In his autobiography, TheChinar Leaves: A Political Memoir, M.L. Fotedar writes, “After Mrs (Indira) Gandhi returned from her official tour overseas, she decided to visit some parliamentary constituencies like Garhwal where Bahuguna was contesting against the Congress. She could not avoid going to Amethi. Generally, the Congress president does not campaign in by-elections. But the by-election in Amethi had special significance (because Rajivji was contesting this). I accompanied Indiraji during that tour also.” He mentions both Patel and Gogoi, recounting the time when Rajiv Gandhi had been elected to the Lok Sabha and Indira Gandhi had wanted some young MPs to assist him in politics. Arun Nehru and Arun Singh were both close to Rajiv, but Mrs Gandhi had asked Fotedar to suggest some loyal Congress MPs with exceptional qualities. After going through the list of elected representatives, Fotedar had shortlisted three names—Ahmed Patel, Oscar Fernandes and Tarun Gogoi.
“All three had shown prowess and had acquitted themselves creditably in the elections. When I took the names to Indiraji, she wanted to know my reason for choosing them. I knew very well that she was keen that only the right kind of people were picked up to assist Rajivji and thus wanted to go into the detailed background of the chosen names. I explained to her that Ahmed Patel was an upcoming MP from Gujarat, whose family had been loyal to Panditji and subsequently to her. Even during the Janta Party wave in 1977 he had won the election from Bharuch and repeated the feat in 1980. Though a Muslim he had a strong support base amongst people outside his community too and was perceived as one who would have a long political innings. He was also in the right age group to be an aide of Rajivji,” Fotedar shares in the book.
Fotedar had recommended Oscar Fernandes for his ability to win the Lok Sabha elections from an area which was predominantly non-Christian. Oscar was perceived in Karnataka as a good organiser, who had been rewarded for his loyalty by Sanjay Gandhi and thus made it to Parliament. In addition, according to Fotedar, out of the MPs from south India, Oscar stood out as the one with a good future: “If Ahmed Patel was going to be the choice from the western part of India, Oscar could be Rajivji’s associate from the southern part. And both of them fitted the criterion of secular credentials.”
As for Gogoi, he was picked because of his exceptional ability to create a place for himself in the strife-torn state of Assam, where the son-of-the-soil theory was gaining momentum. Belonging to the influential Ahom community, Gogoi also had the wide acceptance which no other leader in his age group had at that point in Assam, writes Fotedar. He had the potential to be the future chief minister of the state and also had an uncanny sense of surviving in adverse political circumstances. Therefore, he could be an apt choice for being Rajivji’s aide from the eastern part of the country. “So far as central India was concerned, there did not seem to be any need to project anyone, as Rajivji was being assisted by his friends Arun Singh and Arun Nehru,” says Fotedar.
Mrs Indira Gandhi had listened to Fotedar patiently and, after putting forward some questions, endorsed the names. She had asked him to give these names to Rajiv too, but after some thought, had said that she would do so herself. She instructed him not to disclose these names to anyone including Rajiv. Writes Fotedar, “Her (Mrs Gandhi’s) foresight was in evidence once again because she told me categorically that if Rajiv was to learn that these names had come from me, he may question the choice, as he may wonder whether I had any agenda in proposing these people. She further said that knowing the Congress culture, as it had always been, there would be enough people in the party who would vitiate the atmosphere by trying to convince Rajivji that these three persons were agents of Fotedar. I was amazed by the understanding Indiraji had of ground level realities and appreciated her wisdom in keeping the entire matter strictly confidential. It was only a matter of time that Indiraji in her own inimitable way suggested these names to Rajivji, who was only too glad to appoint them as his aides.”
Looking back, Fotedar thought that he had made the right choices since Ahmed Patel, Oscar Fernandes and Tarun Gogoi continued to be the pillars of the Congress for more than thirty years after he had recommended their names. “However, people have subsequently told me that much of what has gone wrong in the Congress in the last ten years of the UPA-1 and UPA-2 regime was also on account of these leaders. While people are entitled to their views, I made the recommendation keeping in view the political situation in the early 1980s, when Rajivji was being initiated into the world of politics by his mother,” Fotedar admits.
He further writes in his book, “I have no hesitation in admitting that I was responsible for recommending Ahmed Patel to be an intrinsic part of Sonia Gandhi’s core team, when she agreed to join active politics in 1998. I had even suggested that she could continue to rely on both Oscar and Gogoi in difficult situations, expecting that they would never let her down. As far as she is concerned, they have served her with total loyalty and Ahmed Patel as her political secretary for sixteen years has played a major role in shaping the destiny of the party.”
Today, Ahmed Patel and Tarun Gogoi are no more, and their absence is going to hurt the Congress even more as the party suffers one jolt after another. Though I am no political analyst, as an observer, I feel that the party will find it difficult to recover and function as an effective and constructive Opposition. With fierce infighting and dissidence going on in the Congress, the loss of Ahmed Patel would further cripple the party leadership to take on these challenges and protect and preserve its power. I see a very bleak future for the Congress and I will be surprised if it is able to give a tough fight to the BJP in the next parliamentary elections and raise its Lok Sabha tally to three figures.
The writer is former judge of the Delhi High Court and son-in-law of M.L. Fotedar, political secretary to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The views expressed are personal.
Today, Ahmed Patel and Tarun Gogoi are no more, and their absence is going to hurt the Congress even more as the party suffers one jolt after another. Though I am no political analyst, as an observer, I feel that the party will find it difficult to recover and function as an effective and constructive Opposition. With fierce infighting and dissidence going on in the Congress, the loss of Ahmed Patel would further cripple the party leadership to take on these challenges and protect and preserve its power.
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DROUPADI MURMU POISED TO BE THE PRESIDENT AFTER BJP CHOOSES HER
It is virtually certain that Droupadi Murmu, former Jharkhand Governor and Odissha’s Ex-Minister is going to be the next President of India after she became the unanimous choice of the NDA constituents as also some regional parties such as Biju Janata Dal and YSR Congress. The lady would also be the first tribal and the second woman to be the Head of the State and thus the country’s first citizen. Although the Opposition parties have fielded former Finance Minister and veteran politician Yashwant Sinha for the coveted post, it is most unlikely that the highly competent member of the Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Cabinet stands a chance given that it is all about the numbers game and they are heavily stacked against him. There is no doubt that Sinha would have been a very capable President but in choosing Droupadi Murmu, the BJP has made sure that the message of the Saffron Brigade’s commitment towards the tribals and economically depressed sections was reiterated. The tribals in large parts of the country have been voting for the BJP but under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the party has learnt the art of consolidating its support base. It would have been an ideal situation if the next President had been chosen through a consensus instead of a symbolic fight that would ensue. Yashwant Sinha has been a part of the BJP and may have many admirers in his previous party. However, it is not expected that any of his erstwhile colleagues would vote in his favour and even his son and former Union Minister, Jayant Sinha, the sitting MP from Hazaribagh, has made it clear that he would be voting as a member of his party and not in any other capacity. Droupadi Murmu would no doubt be the next President in the current scenario but she will have to face enormous challenges which could be very new to her. The President is the supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and is also a part of the Parliament in our system. She would have a large set of advisers to see her through difficult times, but in the end, it would be her own discretion and understanding of the entire system that shall stand by her at all junctures. Many Opposition leaders are apprehensive about her capacity to deliver and are unfairly undermining her choice. However, they must understand that in a democratic set up like ours, everyone has the right to aspire and occupy the highest office of the land. She is not being foisted but shall be duly elected by members of the legislatures and Parliament. Therefore, her rise to the esteemed position would be completely legitimate and it would be totally unnecessary to find any kind of fault in her. In fact, once she gets elected, the entire Nation should solidly back her and wish her well for a promising tenure. It would have been unthinkable many years ago that a tribal would ever be the President but if the BJP and its allies are making it possible, it is a tribute to their vision and acceptance of the need to promote economically depressed and socially deprived sections of our society.
The endemic of gun violence: An American tragedy
The Senate passed a bill on Thursday aiming at overhauling the existing laws on firearms.
The debate over the unimaginable carnage due to gun violence and privation of stricter gun control laws in the United States has grown and faded over the years and gets stirred frequently by incidents of gun violence. Last month the mass shootings at the Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, again reignited the fierce debate over gun control legislation in the country. Amidst the political divisions over how to address gun violence, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to strike down a New York Law limiting gun-carrying rights of American citizens has expanded the existing gun rights in the United States. President Joe Biden was extremely disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, as it “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should trouble us all”.
Guns have been woven into the fabric of American culture and politics since the Second Amendment (1791) to the U.S. Constitution affirmed that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”. Gun legislations in the United States are built on the judicial interpretations of the Constitution and it was on the grounds of the Second and Fourteenth Amendments (1868) that in the case of District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court, in its landmark decision, declared the ban on handguns as unconstitutional, therefore, reaffirming the individual right to possess firearms and use them for self-defence.
According to the National Firearms Survey of 2021, more than 81.4 million Americans above the age of 18 years own firearms, which makes up for almost 32 per cent of the adult American population. But the actual numbers are believed to be much higher as the prerequisite for a permit or registration to purchase guns is not a necessary requirement in all American states. America’s problem with gun violence is not limited to mass shootings, although the use of firearms is disproportionately higher in incidents of mass shootings compared to other forms of shootings, they are still relatively rare. In 2021, mass shootings accounted for less than 2 per cent of the nearly 40,000 fatalities resulting from gun violence in cases of homicides, police shooting, domestic violence, accidents and suicides which make up the highest number of gun-related deaths in the country.
Over the years, the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), the US gun rights advocacy group has played a big role in pushing forward the idea that guns are necessary for self-defence. They believe that owning a gun is a basic right similar to their right to free speech, and gun control legislation is an effort to deprive law-abiding American citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves. The NRA continues to oppose any effort to implement gun control policies and initiatives that override constitutional due process protections. It has shifted the narrative of gun politics where gun ownership is paralleled to patriotism and has become a political identity. Gun violence has taken more lives than any other public crisis in the US. Compared to other western countries, the US does not have an overall crime problem, but it certainly does have more lethal violence attributable to the prevalence of guns.
Over the years, the subject of gun rights has become an intensely partisan issue, with the Republicans voting in favor of protecting the gun rights and the Democrats voting against them and placing more importance on gun regulations. There are federal gun laws that apply uniformly across the whole United States, which ban convicted felons, people with mental illness and kids under the age of 18 years from buying guns. But the gun laws are not uniform across all states as there are state laws, and each state law has its own leeway to enforce their own regulations that are wildly at variance with one another. For instance, in Massachusetts which is a strong Democratic state, police permit and a background check to buy a gun is a legal requirement, whereas in Texas with a strong Republican state, there are laws that permit citizens to carry concealed hand guns without any permit. There are more than 20 states that do not require any permit for purchasing firearms. These differences reflect the underlying partisan divide which has grown wider in the last three decades and is the greatest political and ideological split between the Republicans and the Democrats compared to any other issue in the American political life.
The US Congress has repeatedly failed to pass tougher gun laws and legislative reforms even as public opinion strongly pushes for it, but the issue of gun control is a political battle than it is a public opinion battle. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2021, only 52 per cent of the Americans believed in making stricter gun laws, a drop from 67 per cent in 2018. The United States is vastly divided on political partisan lines and gun ownership and these two divisions have created barriers making it difficult to move forward and overcome policy change at a national level.
President Biden considers gun violence as a public health epidemic and his plans to tackle gun control include investing in evidence-based community violence interventions to address the root causes of gun violence. After the mass shootings in Uvalde, the Biden Administration wants to toughen guns laws and make sure the ones that already exist are actually applied including zero tolerance policy for gun dealers who flout the rules. He also called for stricter laws to be imposed on ghost guns as these weapons are sold in parts and without a serial number so they cannot be traced. These are easily available kits which can be purchased online without a background check and can be turned into a fully functional firearm. Biden also wants to bring back the ban on assault weapons, mostly used in mass shootings. He himself authored the assault-weapons ban, which was in place for a decade until 2004.
Given the political climate and a divided Senate, President Biden has few realistic avenues to pursue gun control legislation without congressional action. The Democratic push for more gun control and regulation is often met with voters and politicians in Congress who believe that guns are not the problem and perceive it as an attack on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. There is always a promising consensus on potential legislation, but usually the prospects of a bipartisan action on gun control fades within weeks of mass shootings. The Senate on Thursday (23 June) passed a Bipartisan Gun Control Bill in a 65–33 vote, which will next have to clear through the House of Representatives before going to President Biden’s for his signature. The bill is considered to be an important legislation as it revises the measures such as expanding background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 years and offering funding to states that have emergency programmes in place to seize guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge. But as the Senate worked towards this gun safety legislation, the Supreme Court overturned a handgun restriction.
Through the influences of culture and politics, the United States has a very powerful gun-centric movement where both gun rights and gun regulations have been respected, but at the moment gun violence is a public health issue. Gun homicides are number one cause of deaths for all youth in America, the No. 1 cause of deaths for Black men and the highest rate of firearms deaths among the world’s wealthy nations. Mass shootings in other western countries like New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada and UK have prompted these nations to enact gun reforms by imposing measures such as bans on semiautomatic firearms, stricter background checks and national registry requirement. To tackle the tragedy of America’s accelerating epidemic of gun violence there is need to address the divide on gun control regulation and find a common ground between Democrats and Republicans for a bipartisan outcome, which respects the Second Amendment, makes a significant headway into preventing gun crimes, ensures public safety and earns a wide support in the Senate.
The author is a doctoral candidate at the centre of Canadian, US and Latin American Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
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.
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