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GROWING CHINA-RUSSIA ALLIANCE SET TO BRING INDIA AND US CLOSER

The growing friendship between China and Russia seems to be part of a defence strategy against a common enemy: The US. However, India seems to be a key element in this equation, given its partnership with the US, especially as Quad allies, its history with Russia, and strained relations with China.

Maneesh Pandeya

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A perfect example of a marriage of convenience, the growing diplomatic alignment between China and Russia emanates from their respective strategic necessities, most notably, to stave off a common threat—the United States. The growing friendship between China and Russia, despite their own competition in areas like Central Asia, is a typical response to growing global resentment over their expansionist and revisionist agendas.

These diplomatic dalliances, in most conditions, are triggered when you have a common enemy. In the case of the Beijing-Moscow nexus, there is more than one perceived enemy or threat. The recent regularity in the meetings among Quad officials and ministers, capped by the virtual meeting of the Quad heads of states held last month, has rattled Beijing, which perceives the grouping as a major front to combat China’s agenda in the Indo-Pacific. The rise of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as a leader in vaccine diplomacy and the endorsement of India’s pivotal role in the global fight against the Covid pandemic by the western world has further riled up China, which now sees India as a competitor and a threat to its regional hegemony. This perception has been strengthened by the fact that the Biden administration has doubled down on Trump’s emphasis on developing deeper strategic and military cooperation with India.

The recent sanctions against Beijing over the Uighur human rights violations, the US-China face-off at the Alaska meeting, combined with Washington’s growing hatred against Moscow and President Vladimir Putin, whom US President Biden openly addressed as a “killer”, and the emerging global diplomatic blockade against these two “suspecting partners” are the primary reasons which have forced them to partner against the US-led bloc. Simultaneously, one must note that the US too sees China as a far bigger threat than Moscow in current situations and shares India’s perception of China as an aggressive player interested in changing the status quo, through militaristic means, if necessary.

It would be interesting to see how Moscow, which is content playing second fiddle to China, will now balance its ties with New Delhi. For India too, the road ahead with Russia will demand striking a precarious diplomatic balance.

China, which is facing Washington’s sanctions spree, is also losing out on global markets. Not only India—which has scuttled Beijing’s opportunity to encash the Covid pandemic by supplying vaccines to the world and is fast becoming an alternative to many European countries for trade and business—but ASEAN nations like Vietnam and Singapore are also making the most of the business opportunity thrown out of Beijing’s “alienation” from the global demand-supply chain. Moscow’s vaccine is also under global scrutiny and their “manufacturing and global supplier status” has taken a hit. While India balances Moscow with multi-billion-dollar defence deals, China has lost the large Indian market, which was indirectly a factor for its status as an “invincible regional manufacturing hub”. Things have gone awry to the extent that after Australia shut its doors on China and Russia, seeing an opportunity, there was a quick move to meet the Dragon’s demand for coal supplies.

Their strategic cooperation list also extends to a lunar research station project, clinical trials of the Cansino AD5-nCOV vaccine, action against “colour revolutions”, and Chinese trade and tourism expansion in Crimea. The two nations are also aligning with Iran, another strategic partner of India, for naval exercises and defence partnerships, and eyeing Afghanistan for future diplomatic investments.

In fact, strategic think tank experts in Washington DC view the Quad as a “factor building the new power blocs” to define future diplomacy and strategic affairs. While the Quad has brought anti-China countries together, it has also gotten Russia and China closer. Aparna Pande, Director in Hudson Institute and an expert on India-US ties and South Asia, says, “The recent Quad meeting and the deepening ties among the Indo-Pacific countries is the result of two decades of patient efforts. The Russia-China relationship too is not new as over the last few years, as India and other countries in Asia have drawn closer to the United States, Russia has drawn closer to China. There are strategic (geopolitical, economic, and defence) reasons for this deepening partnership which relate to how Russia perceives the expansion of NATO in its near abroad and its desire to both remain relevant and create challenges for the United States in trouble spots globally.”

Another South Asia expert, Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Center, says, “It’s only natural that a deepening Quad would not only bring Quad countries closer together, but also bring the rivals of the Quad countries closer together. China-Russia relations have been intensifying steadily in recent years.”

To Kugelman, the new Quad is a trigger for the Beijing-Moscow bonhomie. “The Quad has only delivered further momentum to a China-Russia relationship that already had its foot on the accelerator. What we’re seeing now is an evolving and expanding rivalry in the Indo Pacific between the Quad countries and their partners on the one hand, and the China-Russia grouping on the other. The region will increasingly become a strategic battlefield where this competition plays out,” says the Woodrow Wilson Center Deputy Director.

The question now is: how will India take the Russia-China closeness as it still maintains sound ties with Moscow? And is Russia, with China, in the long run going to become a designated enemy of the US and India too? Moscow, in fact, had tried hard with the Biden administration to maintain the “friendly nation” status it enjoyed under President Donald Trump, but in vain. In fact, America’s hatred and suspicion of Russia has grown post the presidential election results.

Pande also says, “Till now India has managed to balance its relations with Russia even though it has built closer ties with the US. Delhi would like to make sure that Moscow keeps India’s interests in mind and does not get too close to Beijing or build deep (especially defence) ties with countries like Pakistan that would hurt Indian interests. For this reason, India has continued to purchase oil/gas and defence equipment from Russia and continues to emphasise close ties as well try to include Russia even in the Indo-Pacific.”

However, for others like Kugelman, the Russia-China closeness gives India the “alternative to opt out of defence deals with Moscow and settle for US firms.” Diplomats and strategic affairs experts are thus intrigued and watchful as to how long India and Russia can continue swinging together, especially with New Delhi’s growing closeness with Washington DC.

Kugelman opines, “Deepening Russia-China relations could actually provide one more incentive for New Delhi to distance itself from Russia. The India-Russia relationship had already weakened a bit in recent years, amid a growing US-India relationship. We think about the S-400 deal, but in reality India has been much more interested in investing in US arms than Russian arms in recent years…These days, the India-Russia relationship is really propelled more by nostalgia than anything else, aside from some continued defence cooperation. The trend lines of India-Russia relations are not terribly great, and that could become more the case as the China-Russia relationship continues to grow.”

However, Pande feels that India will still make efforts to wean out Russia from the Chinese embrace. “India would like to wean Russia away from a close embrace with China but whether or not that is possible is yet to be seen. There are areas of friction between Russia and China, some historical, some geopolitical, and others economic. However, as long as both Russia and the US view each other as adversaries, there is little India will be able to do to wean Russia away and instead India will need to make sure it is not hurt by any fallout (like the CAATSA sanctions and S-400 deal).”

Washington’s diplomatic challenges are many, says Kugelman. “With China in alliance with Russia and some European nations still reluctant to sever ties with Beijing, the US certainly hopes to work with an ever-growing group of like-minded partners to counterbalance China. Just as many countries, including those in Europe, are hesitant to antagonize China due to business considerations, there will be hesitation from some countries, especially in Europe, to ally against Russia because of Russian energy supplies…China and Russia will try to push back against the US and its partners too, just as the latter will try to do against China and Russia.’’

But in all this, Russia’s growing alliance with China is more out of the larger strategic benefits it offers Moscow—economic cooperation bilaterally as well as opportunities to partner multilaterally on the global stage. Kugelman says, “These are all benefits for Russia that outweigh the costs of a worse relationship with the US (Moscow had no interest in improving ties with Washington) or further blows to its relationship with India (Moscow knows this relationship, while still cordial, is not on a good glide path).”

Sounding the growing China-Russia relationship is “here to stay and is not a temporary diplomatic response”, Kugelman sees it as an “answer to shifting geopolitics amidst their relationships with the US and India taking some nosedives”.

Needless to say, it seems like a rather delicate dance of diplomacy. Only time will tell if New Delhi emerges as a game-changer with the US!

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AMID CORONAVIRUS SPIKE, BJP TO USE LED SCREENS, RESTRICT GATHERINGS FOR PM MODI’S BENGAL RALLIES

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rallies, which are scheduled on 23 April in poll-bound West Bengal, will be restricted to 500 people as against “jan sailaab” that characterises most of the rallies addressed by him. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to change its campaign style and bring in ‘new normal’ in organising the election rallies in wake of the spike in the Covid-19 cases across the country.

“The plan is to have 500 people in audience following all the Covid protocols possible. All the people at the rally will have to wear a mask and use sanitisers. Also, chairs will be placed as per social distancing norms during the rallies,” West Bengal BJP In-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya told ANI.

The number of leaders allowed on the stage will also be restricted.

According to a senior party leader, the Prime Minister was scheduled to address the rallies on two different dates but now rallies have been clubbed together on 23 April.

“The Prime Minister is scheduled to address rallies in Murshidabad, South Kolkata, Siuri and Malda on 23 April,” the senior leader said. “LED screens will be put up across the constituencies for the supporters and voters to listen to PM Modi. We will try to maintain Covid protocols at the points where the LED screens will be setup,” he added.

Amid a record spike in Covid-19 cases in the country, the Election Commission has decided to curtail the timings of campaigns for the remaining phases and extended the silence period to 72 hours for each of the phases.

Even as political leaders cherish big crowds at landing sites of their choppers, the BJP has decided to keep the number of people coming to rallies symbolic. The party is also shifting its campaign from big rallies and road shows to ‘potho sabhas’, corner meetings with very small gatherings in order to follow ECI guidelines and suggestions on Covid-19 appropriate behaviour.

The Covid-19 situation in the country continues to deteriorate with another highest single-day spike of over 2.73 lakh cases and 1,619 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, ahead of the sixth phase of West Bengal Assembly elections, BJP national president J.P. Nadda on Monday urged the voters of the poll-bound state to vote for the BJP to “end the ‘Tolabaji, Tushtikaran, Tanashahi’ prevailing in the state under the rule of Mamata Banerjee”.

Nadda who was addressing a gathering while holding a roadshow in support of the party’s candidate from North Dinajpur, Krishna Kumar Kalyani. Nadda said, “This election which is happening in West Bengal is happening for ‘asol parivartan’ (real change) and to make the state ‘Sonar Bengal’. The Tolabaji (extortion), Tushtikaran (appeasement), tanashahi (dictatorship), which is prevailing under the rule of Mamata Banerjee has to be stopped by making the lotus bloom and make Krishna Kalyani victorious. Friends, before taking your leave I would like to take this promise from you that you will vote for the BJP and make it victorious in Dinajpur and in Raiganj just as it is winning in the rest of West Bengal,” said the BJP president amid chants of Jai Shree Ram from party workers who accompanied him during the roadshow.

The first five phases of the eight-phase Bengal Assembly elections have already been completed. The sixth phase of the state Assembly polls is scheduled for 22 April. Polling for the seventh and the eighth phase will be held on 26 April and 29 April. The counting of votes will take place on 2 May. ANI

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BATTLE FOR BENGAL: A REPORT ON FIRST FOUR PHASES OF ELECTIONS

After the provocative campaigns and speeches which have been a staple this election season in West Bengal, the contest between CM Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party is heating up. Here is an overview on the progress made in the first four phases of the massive eight-phased polls.

Debaroopa Bhattacharyya

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As a short spring metamorphoses into the mighty summer, West Bengal’s air is warming up to the potent political currents and cross-currents that promise to drive the windmills of change this electoral season. The Assembly elections have kicked off with a bang in the state and unfolded in a mosaic of narratives and counter narratives laced by violence and sanctions by the Election Commission.

CM Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on Sunday. (ANI Photo).
Home Minister Amit Shah during a roadshow.

Although the Trinamool Congress (TMC), once perceived as invincible, seems to have developed major chinks in its armour, thanks to misgovernance, corruption, the highhandedness of its leaders, extortion or “cut-money”, widespread unemployment and a major anti-incumbency wave, it would still take the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a lot more to hit the ball out of the park.

The eight-phased election is half way through. The first four phases have been conducted fairly peacefully (except the fourth phase where five people lost their lives). Various political developments capable of causing pronounced vicissitudes in the outcome of this mammoth polling exercise are analysed below.

PHASE 1

The polling for phase one was held on 27 March in five districts, Paschim Midnapore Part-I, Purba Midnapore Part-I, Bankura, Jhargram, and Purulia. West Bengal reported 84.3 percent voter turnout, which can influence the other phases and has kept hopes alive for both the ruling TMC and main rival, BJP.

The 30 Assembly constituencies where voters have already exercised their franchise can be divided into three pockets, each with a character of its own.

In pocket one, the 11 Assembly constituencies, mostly in Purulia district, betrayed a distinct trend and had the lowest voter turnout. In this region, till the 2016 Assembly election, the Left was the force to reckon with after Trinamool, which was in the lead position. Things changed dramatically in the Lok Sabha elections of April-May 2019 and a large chunk of the CPI(M) and Congress’s vote went to the BJP. This shift has given the BJP a major impetus. Here, if the vote share transferred by all the parties in 2019 is retained by the BJP, then the voter needs to go out and participate to keep that level of turnout ratio. If this fails to happen and the vote transferred goes back to the respective party, even if partially, the BJP will suffer a major beating and the whole premise of BJP’s 40 percent vote share in 2019 will be reversed. The BJP can expect a because of the less than 78 percent turnout, which means nobody voted enthusiastically for anybody, while the TMC is expected to retain its vote share or even get more.

In pocket two, the 11 Assembly constituencies, mostly in Bankura and West Midnapore districts, saw the BJP get an increase in the vote share in 2019, but it was a lot moderate, as compared to pocket 1. Also, the Trinamool did not lose its vote share here. So, in this region, it was a simple transfer of votes from the Left and other parties to BJP. So, any dip in the turnout ratio in this region shall affect the BJP negatively. However, this region has historically commanded higher voter turnouts.

Pocket three comprises eight Assembly constituencies, mainly in East Midnapore district. This region had been a Trinamool stronghold traditionally, even in 2019, but with the exit of Suvendu Adhikari and his family from the ruling party, the contest here has become interesting. The BJP is working on the simple equation that if its voters remain intact and the Adhikari family brings its own chunk of votes, it will give the BJP an upper hand in the region. But traditionally, Bengal votes for the party rather than the candidate, and Mamata Banerjee’s popularity is still strong, as demonstrated by some opinion poll surveys. 

To conclude, for all the three pockets collectively, a turnout ratio of less than 82 percent is not good news for the BJP.

PHASE 2

The voting for phase two was held on April 1 in four districts, South 24 Parganas Part-1, Bankura Part-2, Paschim Midnapore Part-2, and East Midnapore. In 2016, BJP could secure only one of the 30 seats in this region, with a cumulative vote share of 7 percent, almost double from 2011, while the TMC had won 21 of the 30 seats. However, faced against a resurgent BJP this time, the TMC may have a tough time retaining these seats.

The battle for Nandigram, where TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is up against confidante-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari, pretty much sums up the contest here. CPI(M)’s Minakshi Mukherjee is contesting as the Sanyukt Morcha candidate. BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari wields considerable influence in the region and had won this seat for the TMC, securing over 67 percent votes, in 2016. The Left received nearly 27 percent votes, while the BJP was a distant third, getting only a little over 5 percent. However, things changed dramatically in 2019 when the BJP secured 37 percent votes. Suvendu’s brother, Dibyendu, won the Lok Sabha seat for TMC with a little over 50 percent votes, but both of them, along with father, Sisir Adhikari, a sitting MP in the same region, are now with the BJP.

In many other seats too, the contest is primarily between TMC and erstwhile Left or Congress leaders now being fielded as BJP candidates. Three other combustible seats are Haldia, Bankura and Kharagpur Sadar.

Most seats in phase two are in rural areas. Tamluk, Barjora, Bishnupur, Bankura, Panskura Paschim and Panskura Purba may be the trickiest seats in this phase, as the winning margins were very narrow in the last Assembly election, with the victory margin less than 1,000 in 2016 in Tamluk and Barjora.

PHASE 3

The voting for this phase was held on April 6 in Howrah, Hooghly, and South 24 Parganas. The Trinamool Congress has an edge over the BJP and the Left-Congress-ISF alliance, Samyukta Morcha, in the majority of the 31 Assembly seats in this region.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC had comfortable leads over the BJP in all seven Assembly segments in Howrah and the 16 in South 24 Parganas and a significant lead in the eight seats in Hooghly.

The key seats in this contest include Tarakeshwar, from where the BJP has fielded journalist-turned-politician Swapan Dasgupta, who resigned from the Rajya Sabha to contest in this election, and is considered part of the BJP’s think tank for Bengal.

Amta in Howrah is also being keenly watched as it is all set to witness a three-corner contest between the Congress’ two-term MLA Asit Mitra, known for his simplistic living, BJP’s Debtanu Bhattacharya, who heads the Hindutva organisation Hindu Samhati, and the TMC’s Sukanta Pal, whose main strength is his party’s organisation.

Meanwhile, in South 24 Parganas, Kultali and Joynagar are expected to see four corner contests, with SUCI(C) as the fourth force.

However, the most-keenly-watched contests are expected to take place in seats like Canning, Canning West, Magrahat East, Magrahat West, where the Samyukta Morcha seemed to have gained some momentum due to the Indian Secular Front, a newly launched party floated by the Islamic cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui. The Left and the Congress’ alliance with the ISF had raised quite a few eyebrows, but Siddiqui’s rallies in these areas have so far drawn significant crowds. The TMC-BJP-Samyukta Morcha battle in these seats with a pronounced polarised propensity may play a crucial role in determining the political outcome in the district. 

PHASE 4

The voting for phase four was held on April 10, in Howrah (Part-2), South 24 Pargana (Part-3), Hugli (Part-2), Alipurduar (all five constituencies), and Cooch Behar (all nine constituencies). It was the first phase where polling took place in the northern half of the state, in districts like Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri. Seven seats in Jalpaiguri district and six in Darjeeling voted in the next phase on 17 April. 

The TMC saw a big decline in its seat share in this region in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Its wins were reduced to 2/3rd of its 2016 share, as it won in only 25 constituencies. What is worrying for the party is that the decline of 14 constituencies happened with a vote share decline of just 1.3 percentage points. This was possible because while the vote share of anti-TMC parties was divided between the BJP, Left, Congress and others in 2016, a large part of it consolidated behind the BJP in 2019. Anti-TMC parties won 19 constituencies here in 2019, up from five in 2016, and the BJP won all 19.

However, the Left played spoilsport in 18 of the 44 constituencies voting in 2019. In these 18 constituencies, the BJP finished second in 11. Hence, if the BJP is not able to win over more Left voters, it could still end up behind the TMC.

In the hill regions, the TMC faced a much bigger decline compared to the south Bengal region, where it was still a strong player even in 2019. In the 14 constituencies of the former, the TMC’s 2019 seat share was 0.17 times that in 2016, whereas in the 30 constituencies of the latter, it was 0.85 times that in 2016.

Both the BJP and TMC campaigns also faced the litmus test in the fourth phase. BJP leaders had attacked the TMC for its alleged pro-Muslim policies while the TMC has criticised BJP leaders as outsiders or “bahiragata”. Jalpaiguri has the third-lowest Bengali-speaking population among the 19 districts of the state, according to the 2011 census, and the second highest Hindi- and Nepali-speaking population. This phase and latter rounds will likely test Mamata Banerjee’s “outsider” attack.

The BJP, on the other hand, has had to contend with the high share of Muslims in Cooch Behar, Howrah, and South 24 Parganas. Even the Hindu population is not homogeneous in the districts that voted in the fourth phase. In Cooch Behar, Scheduled Tribes (STs) comprise almost 2/3rd of the population, while Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute over 40% of the population in Hooghly and Jalpaiguri.

Phase 4 was also marred by the violence which took place across polling booths in Cooch Behar. Four people died in CISF firing at poll booth number 126 in Sitalkuchi and another was killed in a separate incident at poll booth number 285. Both these booths will see repolling.

In the aftermath of the Sitalkuchi incident, the Election Commission has pulled up its socks and taken stern steps to restrict and forbid inflammatory statements by politicians. The EC also restricted Mamata Banerjee from campaigning for 24 hours on 13 April (preceding which she had been served notices to explain her stance) and Rahul Sinha of the BJP for 48 hours the same day. It also restricted any politician from visiting Sitalkuchi for 72 hours following the shooting. West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh was served a notice as well by the EC seeking an explanation for his statements on the unfortunate incident. 

Irked by the ban on her by the EC, Mamata Banerjee called it “undemocratic and unconstitutional” and staged a sit-in protest near the Gandhi Statue at Mayo Road for three and a half hours on 13 April.

CONCLUSION

Many veterans from opposing parties like the Left’s Sujan Chakraborty and the Congress’ Adhir Chowdhury have alleged that Mamata used the restrictive order against her to create a narrative of martyrdom and victimhood. However, Banerjee is a seasoned politician who is adept at turning the tide in her favour and the silent dharna she staged, perched on her wheelchair, both for the optics as well as an appeal to sentiments of Bengalis, could be a master stroke which catapults her and the TMC to victory, riding on the sympathy of the proletariat. Conversely, if the public eye is able to see through the dramatics, it might be the last nail in the coffin for a desperate incumbent. The twist in the tale should be something to watch out for.

The writer is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.

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THE TRANSFORMATIVE NATURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS ENERGIES

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The individual consciousness can never live independently of other energies. Do we have experience of any energy being independent? In the current material circumstances of consciousness, as soon as the current situation terminates the consciousness, particles must associate themselves immediately with another energy, either, according to the Vedas, as energies made of the same conscious constituents or be embedded within substances that are of an entirely different nature to itself. So, consciousness must find another shelter. Even when the consciousness particles are seen to transform themselves within consciousness energies, it is not a guarantee of a permanent home because within consciousness energies there are places where the consciousness particles can be seen taking a long rest from activities, bearing in mind that consciousness is always active, apart from the state of deep sleep.

Our Vaishnava acharyas have compared the state of motionlessness in the consciousness energies, known as the Brahmajyoti, with a kind of deep sleep; one could say peace and harmony. But the teachers of Vedic knowledge bring to the attention of the reader that the inherent need of consciousness to exchange with another consciousness and engage in activities eventually leads consciousness out of this deep sleep of harmony. And because of a lack of knowledge of the activities of the origins of consciousness, the consciousness particles find themselves back in the atmosphere of an ethereal, and eventually a devolved, quantum and classical plane in order to exhibit activities.

It is a scientific fact that energies are never destroyed, but transform themselves. It is also a fact that the energy source for this earth is the sun, and the Vedas indicate the sun is a devolved or transformed energy from the light of the Brahmajyoti. And the Brahmajyoti is a transformed energy from the natural effulgence of the body of divinity, who is described in the Vedas as the original cause of all causes. The sun transforms its energies through photosynthesis and heats the atmosphere and causes air movements. The moon’s energies are confirmed in the Vedas, as the moonbeams strike the planet, giving it flavour. This is not understood by modern science.

Srila Prabhupada makes the following statements:

Prabhupada: It is better. [break]…the influence of the moon planet, the vegetation grows. Do they accept, the modern botanists, influence of moon planet?

Parivrajakacarya: All the farmers, they…

Prabhupada: They do believe?

Parivrajakacarya: They believe that. They plant certain seeds according to the moon.

Prabhupada: Just see.

Pradyumna: Even in the West, they only plant certain things on the waxing moon, not on the waning moon. On Sukla-Paksa.

Prabhupada: And the moon is vacant. By the influence of the moon, other vegetation is growing, and it cannot grow itself.

Hari-sauri: They admit that the moon rays have some kind of potency. They know that.

Prabhupada: No, it is stated in the Bhagavatam.

Consciousness energies are transformed, in the sense that their circumstances transform and bring them into new environments as different combinations of matter and ethereal energies. This transition happens on account of the consciousness association with matter and an ethereal plane, or in some cases a superior plane beyond the ethereal plane. But in the case of the former, the ethereal plane connects to the quantum plane of many possibilities, that eventually devolve into the classical four-dimensional space we inhabit which includes time, as former reactions to classical, quantum and ethereal connections play out for a given period of time.

Devotee (3): Srila Prabhupada, is the subtle bodies in the subtle world, are they made up of subtle atoms?

Prabhupada: Subtle body means subtle atoms. So, if we are in subtle body, whatever there is in the subtle body, everything is there.

The permanent shelter for consciousness, the Vedas indicate, is a world of quality and variety, with beauty and love and attraction, where consciousness expands in a form that is fit for a particular display of loving exchange. The ultimate transformation and sharing of experiences, which the Vedas call rasa, is of both the consciousness of the supreme consciousness and His other parts and parcels. This exchange takes place primarily between the origins of form and beauty, divinity Himself. He is a Personality who displays a full, unlimited and ever-increasing form and personality, which forever draws His parts, who now display the beauty of love toward Him in their respective forms, in ever increasing service and qualities.

Nothing is static here, the highest of all planes, where any of the consciousness particles can reside. The immaculate senses and beauty of divinity captivates the transcendental senses of His fully transcendentally formed parts, which take up residence, along with those who have never left His association, under the guidance of the personification of Divinities’ pleasure potency and Her expansions, or under the guidance and care of others who exhibit fully the five types of loving exchanges with divinity.

How it is possible for a tiny particle to reside with the supreme consciousness is explained by the founder and acharya of ISKCON Inc., A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

“So, in the animal life it is not possible to change one’s nature, which is given by the material energy, prakrti. Prakrteh kriyamanani [Bg. 3.27]. Karanam guna-sango ‘sya… Karanam guna-sangah asya sad-asad-janma-yonisu [Bg. 13.22]. Why? All living entities are part and parcel of God. Therefore, originally, the characteristic of a living entity is as good as God. Simply it is a question of quantity. Quality is the same. Mamaivamso jiva-bhutah [Bg. 15.7]. For example, if you take a drop of seawater, the quality, the chemical composition, is the same, but the quantity is different. It is a drop, and the sea is the vast ocean. Similarly, we are exactly of the same quality as Krishna.”

Our acharyas also indicate that in Krishna’s personal abode, His sweetness increases and His Majesty diminishes, thus enabling full, loving exchanges between the origins of consciousness and all His parts. This indeed is another inconceivable aspect of the Inconceivable Lord and Master of Consciousness.

Gauranga Sundar Das is Iskcon Inc Communication Director and SM IT Head.

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INDIA ON THE TRAJECTORY OF AN ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE

The Modi government has used the Covid-19 crisis to usher in bold and radical reforms, and unveiled its vision of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

G.V. Anshuman Rao

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India is poised to regain its status as the largest growing economy of the world by next year. The Narendra Modi government has laid the structural framework for roaring growth that is sustainable, technology-driven and job-oriented. More than anyone else, the Prime Minister realises that the post-Covid world presents a unique opportunity to make up for the missed chances of the past to push India resolutely on a high-growth path. He is also acutely aware of the rare opportunity provided by India’s demographic dividend to transform the country into an economic powerhouse in a short span of time.

The Prime Minister has firmly seized the moment and laid the course for investment-led growth. In his second successive term as prime minister, brought to power by a larger majority, he has bitten the bullet to unleash bold and radical reforms from which past governments have dithered. Modi has put his own political capital at risk, knowing that some of the reforms will lead to protests. He has put the interest of the country above everything else and has had the confidence and determination to deliver on his vision to improve the lives of people. Clearly defined goals have been combined with an urgency of action, time-bound implementation and efficient delivery and the results are already visible. The environment of entrepreneurship ushered by his policies has spawned startups and unicorns which are attracting large overseas investments.

A recent Credit Suisse research report said India has 100 unicorns with a combined market capitalisation of $240 billion, which is way above the earlier estimate of 30-40 unicorns. “These are only at the top of a fast-growing pyramid of 80,000 startups in India, which are incrementally now nearly 10 percent of new companies formed every year; the number of firms is up 70 per cent in eight years,” the report said. Opposition parties have been accusing the Modi government of “working for select industrialists” but the facts on the ground are totally different as revealed by this report. The startup ecosystem is flourishing and is creating new millionaires and billionaires who do not necessarily derive their wealth from family-oriented businesses. Large companies across sectors are also gaining strength. The research report referred to growing internet penetration, digital payments and biometric identity, improved physical infrastructure and skilled human resources as some of the key enablers in the growth of unicorns in India. The Modi government has sharply focused on each of these areas and made giant strides in the past six years.

The Credit Suisse report also said that the natural shortage of risk capital in India due to low per capita wealth has been addressed by a surge in private equity, mostly foreign. India-focused venture capital funds have raised $3 billion in 2020, the highest in the last five years and around 40 percent more than in 2019, according to a report by Bain and Company.

The success of Indian startups in turning into unicorns (valued at $1 billion or more) and the massive global private equity investment drive last year increased the interest of global investors in the economy’s startup ecosystem even though it was a pandemic year. According to data analysed by consulting firm Praxis Global Alliance, around 59 international investors made their first-time PE-VC investment in India in 2020, despite curbs on Chinese investment due to border tensions. The corresponding number stood at 43 in 2019. The data showed that the top 10 new global investors in 2020 participated in around $7 billion worth of deals while it was $1.2 billion in 2019.

India needs growth of around 10 percent for nearly three decades to end poverty and raise incomes substantially and this cannot be achieved without a boost to manufacturing and exports. South Korea grew at an average rate of 9.6 percent between 1960 and 1990 and China grew at a rate of about 10 percent between 1980 and 2010. In contrast, India’s average growth rate for the past 30 years has been 6.5 percent. In 1995, the value of China’s imports and exports of goods totaled $280.9 billion or 3 percent of global trade. By 2018, its total trade in goods had jumped to $4.6 trillion or 12.4 percent of global trade. In contrast, India’s share went up from 0.6 percent to 1.7 percent. Also, 75 percent of Indian exports have been in areas where the global export market was just about 30 percent.

The Modi government has used the Covid-19 crisis to usher in bold reforms and unveiled its vision of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat. It has come out with an ambitious PLI (Production Linked Incentive) scheme to create global champions across industries that will have the size and scale to penetrate global markets, something that China has successfully demonstrated in the past two decades in several sectors. The PLI scheme has been carefully devised and the government has expectations that the amount of about Rs 2 lakh crore earmarked for the scheme for the next five years would result in increasing production by about $520 billion. 13 carefully chosen sectors have been brought under the ambit of the scheme.

The Prime Minister said at a webinar earlier this month that the government is working at every level to promote industries through measures like ease of doing business, reducing the compliance burden, creating multi-modal infrastructure to reduce logistics costs and constructing district-level export hubs.

India is already witnessing a massive thrust to infrastructure in terms of new roads, bridges, airports, ports, rail and metro lines and high-speed freight corridors due to the policies of this government. The government has simultaneously rolled out ambitious plans of infrastructure spending with the National Infrastructure Pipeline envisaging an investment of Rs 111 lakh crore on infrastructure projects by 2024-25. The urgency of the government’s actions is evident from the Union cabinet’s recent decision to give approval to the setting up of a development finance institution (DFI) to fund infrastructure projects. The DFI will be fully owned by the government initially and the shareholding will gradually be brought down to 30 percent. The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID) will be set up with a corpus of Rs 20,000 crore and an initial grant of Rs 5,000 crore and the government expects it to use the sum as a lever to raise up to Rs 3 lakh crore in the next few years.

Reforms have been initiated in the banking sector too and the government is absolutely clear about its direction. It is for the first time that any government has talked of the privatization of some banks. Due to the government’s strategy of “recognition, resolution, recapitalisation and reforms”, the NPAs of public sector banks fell by over Rs 1 lakh crore during the first nine months of the current fiscal to Rs 5,77,137 crore from Rs 6,78, 317 crore.

A reflection of investor confidence in the government’s economic policies is the rise in FDI. India witnessed a 13 percent rise in foreign direct investment to $57 billion in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a UNCTAD report. India and China were the only two countries which saw FDI rising in the pandemic year, while the rest of the world, including developed economies, saw sharp declines.

There has been a lot of positive change in the business policy environment in the country, especially in the past six years. The government is paying attention to urbanisation as it is a driver of growth. The country has moved to be among the top 50 countries in the global innovation index.  India’s ease of doing business ranking improved from 142 in 2014 to 63 in 2019. It is possible now to open a bank account in a few minutes and norms for opening new businesses have been liberalized. Much-needed reforms in mining, coal, labour laws, and agriculture have also been announced.  When I came to India from the US about four decades back, it was the peak of the Licence-Quota Raj and an open and welcoming business environment was difficult to envisage. While some policy reforms were brought in 1991, hard reforms have been ushered now.

India can reclaim its status as the fastest-growing major economy in 2021-22 if the OECD projection of a 12.6 percent expansion in GDP is realised. After plunging into recession for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century due to the Covid crisis, India recorded a rise of 0.4 percent in the GDP in the last three months of 2020. The country has the potential to be a USD 1 trillion digital economy by 2025.

The latest estimate by UNCTAD has said that India’s economy, estimated to contract by 6.9 percent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will record a “stronger recovery” in 2021 and grow by 5 percent. The September 2020 report by UNCTAD had said that India’s economy was forecast to contract by 5.9 percent in 2020 and recover to 3.9 percent in 2021.

The government has a sharp focus on innovation and growth of industry in sunrise sectors so that India can be a lead exporter in sectors where other countries do not yet have a comparative advantage. It has created a policy environment for sustained high growth and for the country to produce global champions. 

The author is a political analyst and the former chairman of Andhra Pradesh Electronics Development Corporation.

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AN INSIGHT INTO PUBLIC SPACE DESIGN OF INDIA AND BRAZIL

In ‘Deciphering Design with Dikshu’, Andre Aranha Correa Do Lago, the Ambassador of Brazil to India, talks about his interest in architecture, and the uncanny similarities between vernacular Indian and Brazilian architecture.

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India and Brazil are often termed as long-lost twins with similarities edging back to almost five centuries. Portugal’s Pedro Alvares Cabral was sent to India by the King of Portugal after the return of Vasco Da Gama from his pioneering visit to India. Subsequently, the Portuguese connection with India led to the exchange of several crops in the colonial days. Both countries, eventually, began their journey of development post the colonial era, Brazil in 1945 and India in 1947. And not just this, the list of shared diversities goes on—the megadiverse countries enjoy tropical weather and are united by their love for architecture, well reflected through their thriving public spaces. 

In ‘Deciphering Design with Dikshu’, Andre Aranha Correa Do Lago, the Ambassador of Brazil to India, converses about his interest in architecture, the uncanny similarities between vernacular Indian and Brazilian architecture and shared aspirations on public spaces with architect Dikshu Kukreja, managing principal, C.P. Kukreja Architects.

“As a Brazilian, I grew up in a generation where architecture was the biggest symbol of a country. Being born in 1959, that was the time that Brasilia, the new capital, was about to be inaugurated. This got everybody in Brazil to take interest in architecture; Brasilia somehow also symbolised the country Brazil wanted to become—a country with personality, modern values, and innovation. And so, I am from a generation where architecture was everything. This was also a time when there was great appreciation for colonial architecture in Brazil. Overall, architecture was very present, even though my father was a diplomat but my mother would talk about architecture at home,” says Andre Do Lago.

But have we all been conscious of how our public spaces affect us and the significant role they have played in our communities? The Ambassador adds, “Like India, Brazil is a very large country. But most of Brazil has very kind weather. So, the public spaces become very important as most of the times we are outside. Each city is very proud of its public spaces and it’s quite interesting to see how you have traditional public spaces in old cities and how, over the years, we have developed man-made public spaces—which is a great challenge. How can you design a good public space that people can adopt?”

The desire for architectural innovation is leading to increased adaptation of modern architecture in consideration of the region’s topographical and cultural demand. Architecture, since time immemorial, has been a major part of defining one’s identity and there is a dire need to understand the same. Discussing the various factors driving change in public space architecture, Dikshu adds, “Indian society has thrived on public spaces, whether it’s streets, our plazas or the public meeting space at the corner of the street that leads you from your neighbourhood to the main avenue, these spaces have been intricately woven into the fabric of our cities. And these have now transformed in the 21st century.”

Today, 90% of Brazil is urbanised; it grew much faster while it retained the Portugal effect over the Baroque from Spain. The transition has been very quick and holds an experience from which one can learn and learn from its outcome while planning urban spaces in India. The Ambassador explains, “I believe public spaces are one of the greatest challenges of contemporary architecture like in India and Brazil most people live in cities that are quite recent since our countries were agrarian societies that little-by-little evolved into bigger cities. There is always a reference to old squares, old streets, and how people are resistant to architecture or urban interventions. And it’s quite unfair as there are public space designs which have come up to work very well with their surroundings. This is a great challenge. In the case of India, there are so many cities of more than 10 million people, how do you create spaces that make them happy to be in the city and not miss old kinds of spaces?” Dikshu agrees,“This approach about having a local influence goes a long way in better understanding people’s needs as a community.”

Due to favourable weather conditions, the idea is to create spaces that not only enrich the experience of the place but are also well received by its people. Designing a public space is one of the most challenging tasks for a planner and a designer.

“I believe India and Brazil share a common notion and that’s diversity. In the case of Brazil, there has been a lot of immigration while in India, the diversity is homegrown. We might be countries on the opposite side of the globe but it’s intriguing to discover these similarities. I remember while working on a project for a Brazilian MNC Perto, how there was a resemblance in design thinking and approach. The communities in India and our idea of celebration—beaches and parks in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Bengaluru form an important part of our lives.” says Dikshu.

He further adds,“If 20th century belonged to modern architecture, I believe 21st century has to belong to a more participative and contextual architecture, that’s the way to look at it. We can’t be sitting in our ivory towers trying to design for the world, we need to be closely interacting, especially when it comes to public spaces. After all, when we are designing something for the public, how can we not have their participation in it?”

Ambassador Andre Corrêa Do Lago, an architectural enthusiast, is currently serving on the Pritzker Prize Jury and has always looked forward to being in India for its rich cultural and architectural heritage. He was pleasantly surprised when he visited the city of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, established around 1501, and recalls his experience: “Only India can have a place like Orchha with such quality of architecture,” he adds, “In any other country, it would have easily been in the top three most beautiful cities. However, in India, with such a plethora of heritage, it is not and that’s what I love about it. The country has these series of surprises.” 

As we progress as a society and there seems to be a need for increased infrastructure, Dikshu urges for a more responsible approach, “On this planet, architecture is not just about intervening and creating more new-built environment but also about restoring. We don’t have to have a fancy for demolishing stuff, we can always preserve buildings. And buildings alone do not make great architecture—it is the public spaces and the urban design intervention.”

This conversation has been hosted in one of the top 20 most beautiful rooms in the world. Watch the entire episode of deciphering Public space design in India and Brazil by logging into www.designwithdikshu.com.

Join Dikshu Kukreja in his journey of creating awareness towards design by following him on Twitter (@DikshuKukreja) and Instagram (@dikshukukreja) and spreading awareness about design. You can also directly connect with him and find answers to your design-related curiosities by using the hashtag #designwithdikshu on Instagram or Twitter.

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‘INDIA SHOULD BE THE ONE RATING OTHER DEMOCRACIES’

Author, scholar and former chairman of Prasar Bharati, A. Surya Prakash questions the credentials of several democracy reports emanating from the West, saying India, being the world’s largest democracy, should have institutions to rate other democracies.

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Swedish institute VDem recently published a data-heavy report, noting India’s shift from being an “electoral democracy” to an “electoral autocracy” and categorising it among the bottom 50% of the world’s countries on its liberal democracy index. But is this an honest reflection of India’s socio-political condition or a biased representation, part of a larger narrative against India being created by the Western media? In a recent interview, author, scholar and former chairman of Prasar Bharati A. Surya Prakash presented a critique of recent democracy reports and the picture they paint of India.

A. Surya Prakash.

“In the VDem report, Denmark is place at number one. Its constitution says that the Evangelical-Lutheran Church shall be supported by the state. Our constitution prohibits any link between religion and state. In fact, Article 28 in the Constitution bars religious education in any educational institution wholly funded by the state. One of the foundations of democracy is such a separation of religion and the state. So, it can be said that secularism is absent in Denmark,” Surya Prakash noted. “The RSF (Reporters Without Borders) and VDem reports also place Maldives way above India. Article 9 of the Constitution of the Maldives says only Muslims can be citizens. The state is wedded to the tenets of Islam in the Maldives. If that is so, is it a democracy? And one ahead of India?” he questioned.

As another example, he pointed out that in the constitution of Sweden, the third-best democracy according to VDem, Article 5 says that the king or queen shall be the head of state, thus making it a monarchy, not a republic like India. He also highlighted how the Swedish constitution dictates members of the monarchy the religion they must follow and mandates government permission before marrying. “Here, we can choose the religion we wish to adhere to or not to have any and be atheists. And imagine the Indian Constitution telling one individual or community that you need government permission to marry,” said Prakash.

“The US State Department says slavery is endemic in Burkina Faso! And it is suppose to be the 36th among democracies, while we are 142nd,” he said, critiquing the RSF report further.

The former Prasar Bharati chairman also highlighted how the Directive Principles instruct that the means of production be evenly distributed for equal development. Unlike monarchies, which create different classes of people, India has equality before the law, he added. “We are also civilisationally secular.”

Surya Prakash then elaborated on eight elements—an inviolable commitment to freedom of expression and conscience, an unambiguous constitutional commitment to secularism, separation of religion and state, a republican form of government, a constitutional right to equality before law, gender equality, right to life and personal liberty, and universal adult suffrage—which are “the foundations on which democracy is built” and established that the Indian Constitution has all these elements.

Freedom House, which moved India from “free” to “partly free” in its 2021 report, had cited deterioration in “political rights and civil liberties… since Narendra Modi became Prime Minster in 2014.” Regarding allegations about curbs placed on the freedom of expression and the press, Dr Prakash countered, “Just go on Twitter every day and see the hashtags attacking Prime Minister Modi. There are millions of supporters of PM Modi and the ruling BJP and millions of others opposed to them. We are a liberal, open democracy. Don’t such institutes see this?” He added, “In 2014, the daily print order of newspapers was 150 million. In 2018, it went to 240 million. There are 200 news channels. Have those people never seen our primetime debates? The match that is on between the Opposition and the ruling parties every day. And they say we are not a deliberative democracy.”

He also slammed VDem’s report for indicating a lack of political freedom in India and raising doubts on the electoral process. “This is absolutely ridiculous. They are not aware of our constitutional reality and federal structure. Other than the BJP, there are 44 political parties governing us in the states. If the ruling party at the Centre is dictating terms, how did YSR, TRS and TMC get a majority of Lok Sabha seats in their states? The federal government itself is run by a coalition. Why are they unable to see this plurality? Saying we have no political freedom is the biggest joke…You may say anything you want about us but do not question the integrity of our elections. No citizen should accept this.”

Warning Indians to not fall for the “traps” laid by these democracy reports, Surya Prakash also criticised the questions raised against the integrity of the Indian judiciary. With references to Article 368 of the Constitution, and landmark judgements like the Kesavananda Bharati and Minerva Mills cases which evolved the doctrine of basic structure and the Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Raj Narain case which upheld the judiciary’s check on the power of the government, Prakash underlined, “We are a great nation with great institutions. Let us be proud of this.”

Responding to a question about why such reports tend to be lopsided and misleading, he opined, “Those who are producing these reports have never actually travelled in India. They are making their own assessments. Over the years, there has been a certain contempt for India. They always thought we are a primitive society—even Churchill did—incapable of running a good democratic system. But we are proving them wrong, also on the social and economic fronts. We have kept the nation together when everything around us is collapsing and nations formed on the basis of religion are breaking away.”

So, as a nation, should India contest these reports and the perception they create or ignore them? “In the first 60 years or so, there was a certain Nehruvian model of governance, especially with regard to our response to the international community. And it meant putting up with a lot of things we should not have, like such reports condemning India,” said Surya Prakash, emphasising that India must not ignore them anymore, but reject and question them.

“We are the largest democracy in the world, the most diverse society. It is for the rest of the world to see how we manage this, how we have brought about a certain synthesis and harmony. My view is that as the largest democracy, we should have institutions to rate other democracies—and first to define democracy itself,” he said.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Prakash sent a direct message to the “custodians of democracy” coming up with such reports. “Please don’t lecture us. Look at your own constitutions and reflect over what I have said. If you run India down, you are running democracy down. We are the most vibrant democracy and plural society in the world. Don’t think you can knock us off our pedestal. Those who ran our government in the past have allowed you to get away with this, but we have to challenge this now.”

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