Coronavirus took nearly three months to affect 400,000 humans worldwide, but in just one week the world reported more than 400,000 cases. In India too, the situation was well under control till six weeks back, thanks to strict lockdown measures initiated by the Central and state governments. Today, it is sadly getting “out of hand” with over 9.36 lakh cases reported in India as on Wednesday and counting, and we’re standing third in the list of Covid-19 positive cases after the United States and Brazil.
It compels me to question if “we have given up on corona to battle other pressing challenges like China on the LAC and got busy again playing the political game of thrones”. Perhaps, it’s the result of a little complacency and leaving the task half done before the “most elusive” vaccine comes as a saviour for mankind. It’s time to shun the ad-hoc approach and go back to the strict mode of restriction compliance; all states must be on-board by treating it a national calamity and threat to all citizens.
The emergency situation from the East is again showing signs of the second round of Covid threatening more lives even though many are still contesting if it is “resurgence”. Australian states on Tuesday tightened restrictions on movement as authorities struggle to contain a fresh outbreak of Covid-19 in the country’s southeast that has pushed the national tally of cases beyond 10,000. Australia has enforced a six-week lockdown. China-ruled Hong Kong, which was in news for the draconian National security Law imposed by the Beijing administration, has seen fresh spike in Covid cases and it has affected the business, including the entertainment and leisure sector, so much so that Disney Amusement Park in Hong Kong has been shut down. Even Singapore is battling with fresh cases and on Tuesday the local administration confirmed 347 new coronavirus cases, taking its total to 46,630. There is more from that region as a city of some 250,000 in metropolitan Manila is set to go back under lockdown this week, just six weeks after emerging from a three-month lockdown. In fact, many more are returning to lockdown again.
Tokyo, for example, has recently reported hundreds of fresh cases and saw the highest number of cases reported in a single day. Many new cases are linked to the entertainment district, including 12 women who work as hostesses in ‘maid cafes’.
India, meanwhile, is moving into what we have been avoiding so far — den of danger — as nearly 28,500 cases were reported in a single day on Tuesday and healthcare experts are anticipating this to go further up before what many are predicting a slump finally. The latter is just a forecast with not many authentic observations and theories made to support it. Even in many Indian states, it’s back to lockdown with state capitals of Bihar and Kerala in strict lockdown while Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have fixed days for lockdown restrictions to arrest the pandemic spread.
There are many lessons, which we failed to learn and virtually ignored as politics prevailed over prevention, which was PM Narendra Modi’s mantra in the first phase of lockdown. All was well till then. But in a country like India, where prevention was the only way out to delay and balance the virus outbreak and its effect on population respectively, sadly the political class indulged in unwarranted debates surrounding the issues of livelihood, migrants and “freedom of movement” in a democracy. What have we achieved in abruptly ending lockdown restrictions at least a fortnight before it was to end? The chaos and super-spreader events like the Bandra Station (Mumbai) chaos, Anand Vihar border mess and the Markaz mayhem have failed to answer if those were genuine in nature or staged to upset the political stability and India’s global recognition in fighting the pandemic?
The Modi administration was in a driver’s seat then and was already getting worldwide recognition for what it did to contain the virus against all odds, including a creaking health infrastructure.
As the habit of political leadership goes, we played politics with our own people without having anything in hand and in this, both the Centre and states departed from their cooperative federalism, which was the main “medicine” to contain the virus till then. As the Centre and many states differed on lockdown and started citing the United States and many European countries on lifting of restrictions there, the Modi administration too slowed down a bit and went in the ease mode to avoid public ire. Perhaps, the trigger was the widespread reportage of migrants’ mess and their stories becoming a drawing-room discussion. The government took a step back and what followed for a while led to what state of health crisis we are facing today. That was unfortunate and uncalled for.
Strict adherence to official guidelines and execution of restrictions can only help the country contain the virus and not let enter the stage as predicted by a study of MIT Sloan School of Management, which says: “India may record the highest number of fresh cases in the world by the end of next year, with 287,000 infections a day.” That may not become the case, many argue with optimism. But it is also not certain that the prediction may not come true. We never thought that India would go into this stage, standing next to the US and Brazil and is fast moving to take the second spot. Still, the good news for India is that the mortality rate due to Covid-19 is the lowest in the world, at 15 deaths per million people. More than 22,000 people have died, with the recovery rate improving from 47.4% on 31 May to 62.78% on Thursday.
But that should not be the reason for the slack approach as India is also the country not being generous and open on testing. The BJP state office in Patna reported 75 positive cases; in Mumbai Raj Bhavan nearly 18 positive cases were reported after tests were done and in the Bihar Governor’s house nearly 20 were found to be corona-positive. More cases will give you an idea of how reluctant we are to admit the danger of the virus on our health as we are not ready to compromise on our “freedom of movement”. In one marriage in Bihar, nearly 300 people got corona-infected and it claimed the groom’s life. That is touted as the super-spreader in Bihar, which is suddenly the new Covid hotspot with total cases touching nearly 20,000.
Little do we know that in our quest to enjoy our “freedom of movement”, we actually threaten dozens of other lives, who become risk carriers of hundreds more, and so on. The world has started to take corona as a reality and many developed nations are gearing up to live a life with the virus, but with the utmost care, prevention and restrictions, if a certified vaccine is manufactured.
India too should realise that the pandemic is not going to end any time soon. If anything, it is accelerating. We cannot deny the threat outside our doors, on streets, in markets, and at offices. Unfortunately, we started taking life as usual and business as normal. In fact, we failed to invoke “social responsibility” in real sense. Perhaps our “irresponsible behaviour” is responsible for taking the world to the stage we are today — nearly 13 million cases, with more than 550,000 lives lost. India is blamed for adding a big share in this worldwide health disaster, which was not the case about a month ago.
A vaccine may end the pandemic and the plight of millions worldwide. But that is not coming so soon. Second, it has to be effective and made in large quantities to be made available worldwide in a real equitable manner and distributed to arrest the virus globally. We then also have to battle the pertinent question: Will it require one dose or multiple doses and how much immunity will it confer and for how long?
At a time when there are 17 vaccines doing the buzz, in truth, a vaccine is not guaranteed by the end of this year or by this time next year. Can we afford to be complacent against the virus till then? Prevention and strong selfimposed restrictions of social distancing will stand to be the SOS to keep the virus and its effect in check till then. If needed, a phase 1-like lockdown can be the answer.
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Is ‘blended finance’ a possible solution to the financial crunch in agriculture sector?
If one sector has invariably encountered a finance shortage, it is agriculture. The gap between what is received and what is needed has been widening. No doubt, the government recognises it. Despite the recognition of such a stark issue, it has been seven decades since the problem has been continuing unabated.
Banks did not like financing agriculture because of the risks and uncertainties. Our country’s agriculture sector is subject to the vagaries of nature. Erratic precipitations, the lopsided irrigation system, and the magnitude of shocks like droughts and floods have made farmers’ life precarious and magnified their exposure and vulnerabilities. Banks never like such uncertainties.
But it is not just the climatic problems and natural disasters. Uncertainties come in other forms too. For example, the market is never stable. Variation in rainfall affects the level of production. Hence, the supply in the market also changes. Every year we see cases of skyrocketing prices of crops and vegetables. Someday it is onion, some other day it is tomato or potato.
To add to the above problems, we have loan waiver policies issued from time to time. There are price regulations and trade restrictions. The crux of the matter is that agriculture is not the comfort zone for the financers. Under such circumstances, the farmers suffer. Also, there are not many entrepreneurs who venture into agriculture enterprises. No wonder there are few takers for core agri-startups. Most agri-startups are related to the application of information technology, like app-based aggregation.
One way to deal with such a financing shortage is to change the mode of finance. Instead of only debt or equity, we can have a mix of them. There are also possibilities of blending it with grants and concessional loans. We call it “blended finance”.
When entrepreneurs start a business, they put their own money into it. That is called equity. But equity contribution is not always sufficient to initiate a business. One needs other forms of finances also. While equity financing is feasible, equity does not provide a guaranteed return; instead, a risk premium is attached to such financing. Hence, one can take debt to avert the risk of equity. In equity financing, one receives a dividend when there is a profit, which is also not guaranteed. In short, equity financiers bear the risk of the business along the stages. Debt financiers have less chance of taking the risk upon finance. While they are guaranteed a constant return, they are also subject to risks of business failure.
Grants come to the fore to reduce such a risk. With a small grant, one can start a business, and once such a business shows some success, it is easier to attract additional finance in the form of debt or equity. Theoretically, a mix of grants, debt, and equity, blended finance, can be used to solve a slew of problems of agricultural financing. An estimate suggests that blended finance has the potential to plug an annual financing gap to the extent of USD 2.5 trillion in emerging or developing economies. If such is the potential, every bank and every financier should support and encourage blended financing mechanisms. It should become a mainstream product of financial institutions. But that does not happen. Financial institutions, usually do not like such a blended finance structure.
A recent study of an integrated fish farming project in Odisha (Mainstreaming Blended Finance, published in Journal of Rural Studies, May 6, 2022) received financial support from NABARD, the apex refinancing agency of India. Additionally, the project received concessional loans, a smaller grant, and contributions by farmers, which can be compared to equity. The total project cost was about INR 50 million. The project was a success in terms of returns to the farmers and recovery of the loans. But the banks hardly followed such financing models.
Internationally, too, such blended finance structure has become popular. Smallholders in Ghana accessed blended finance facilities to procure high quality seedlings of export-oriented crops and Nigeria fish farmers used it for meeting the income shock and food security. There are several such examples. The potential is high, but we need to be careful of the factors that hinders such a facility to be followed commercially.
It requires multi-agencies collaborations and a lead agency to manage it. Unfortunately, our financial institutions are neither trained nor oriented in managing such complex-looking transactions. The study mentioned above says that many bankers, during the consultation, admitted that they appreciated the power of blended finance, wanted to join the bandwagon, and even lead such initiatives. But their hands are tight because of strict financing protocols. If blended finance becomes a mainstream product, government support and clear policy directions are necessary. It has proven its mettle and is considered the most feasible and effective approach to financing risk-prone agriculture in India. If all agriculture financing agencies come together and make a rule, implementation becomes easier and taking care of financial shortages is a possibility. Let’s give it a try. Indian farmers and Indian agriculture need it.
Prof Pradeep Mishra is faculty of Rural Management at XIM University Bhubaneswar. Prof Kushankur Dey is faculty and Chairman of Centre for Management of Agriculture at IIM Lucknow.
INDIA IN AMRIT KAAL
From the time Narendra Modi has become Prime Minister for the first time in 2014, his speeches on Independence Day have gone beyond listing the achievements of the government and walked into a territory where a very strong reformist streak comes to the surface, with the aim being to reform Indian society for the better—a push that can come only when someone has had a very close connect with the grassroots, which the PM has had throughout. Before 2014, who would have thought that an Indian Prime Minister could pick up issues such as sanitation, cleanliness, and even the problem of single use plastic during the most important speech that he delivers in a year—on Independence Day? But he has been doing so over the years—picking up various issues, seeking reform, promising action, and eventually making policy and getting them implemented on the ground. Take the Swachh Bharat movement for example, a promise, which when translated into policy has resulted in the world’s largest toilet building exercise, and notwithstanding the carping by critics, a very successful one too. This single campaign has been a life changing exercise, for the better, for a huge swathe of the population, something many of us used to a modern, urban lifestyle may not always realise. What we are witnessing is a constant push towards development, where incremental steps will not suffice, but quantum leaps have to be taken for sabka vikas with sabka saath and sabka vishwas. It is in this context that the Prime Minister’s vision of India in 25 years, when India completes 100 years as an Independent nation has to be seen—the vision that he spoke of from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day. It’s the beginning of Amrit Kaal that will culminate into 15 August 2047. He spoke of the “paanch pran”—roughly translated as five pledges or five vows—that will take India towards this goal. These are: making India into a developed nation; removal of the slavery of the mind; feeling proud of our heritage and legacy; unity in the form of Ek Bharat, Shresth Bharat; and the citizen’s duty towards the nation.
To pick up the point of the goal of becoming a developed nation, it is not every day that such a challenge is given to a country with a population as huge as India’s, with a per capita income of $2,227 (World Bank, 2021). Certain economists take $12,000 per capita income for a country to be considered as developed. By that standard, China, with a per capita income of $12,556 (World Bank, 2021), has achieved developed status. In other words, India has to reach China’s current economic status ($17.7 trillion GDP) in another 25 years to be called a developed nation.
Tough? Yes. Impossible? No.
It is all about taking quantum leaps—of making “huge resolutions”—which the Prime Minister believes can be taken given the way India has achieved vaccinating 200 crore people in little over a year, the way electricity has been given to a record number of people in record time, the way the work towards renewable energy is going on, etc.
If we look at India’s growth trajectory, there is reason to hope. It is after all the fastest growing major economy in the world, in spite of the setbacks it has faced in the last few years because of Covid and because of the fallout of the Ukraine-Russia war. India’s projected growth rate for 2022-2023 is expected to be in the range of 9%. Economists say that India needs to aim for a growth rate of over 10% for at least a decade to grow to at least a $10 trillion economy in another decade or so. Even otherwise, the $5 trillion target by 2025 does not look unachievable, given that India is hovering in the range of $3 trillion already. But it will not be an easy task, because of the resistance to reform that comes from certain sections of the political class and from vested interests within the bureaucracy and others who are part of the system. Think of the farm laws and how misinformation and disinformation scuttled a huge opportunity the country had to increase the income of the marginal farmers. In fact, reforming the agriculture sector, which employs around 50% of the country’s workforce, will automatically fast-track our growth trajectory. Let’s also not forget manufacturing, another area where India can grow at a much faster pace. The need of the hour is decoupling from China and creating the right kind of environment for businesses that are looking to shift out of China and go to countries that have the potential to absorb the humungous investments that they have to offer.
If these two core issues start getting sorted out, almost everything will start accelerating in the right direction. And this is where India believes that the Prime Minister’s innovative governance has planted the seeds to actualize the vision of India becoming a developed nation in this Amrit Kaal.
Smoke and fire in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is emerging as a battleground for China, Pakistan, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis, rising discontent and security threats nationwide. In the north, Gilgit Baltistan (G-B) residents are living amid fears of the region being ceded to China to repay loans which Islamabad is struggling with. In the southwest, Balochistan is in flames, with the locals vehemently protesting against the absence of any employment opportunities in the Chinese projects, and forced disappearances of the Baloch activists.
However, there is a fourth front to Islamabad’s panic, beyond G-B, Balochistan, and economic woes. It is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) that has become the crossroads for Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, and various militant groups, each fighting a different battle. As the region becomes a battleground, the great power competition is also returning.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the third largest populated province in Pakistan, with Gilgit-Baltistan to its Northeast, Afghanistan in the Northwest, Balochistan in the South, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to the East, Punjab, and Sindh to its east and southeast. This makes it one of the most volatile regions in the world. The majority ethnic group in the province is Pashtuns, which is also the primary ethnic group that forms the Afghan Taliban.
While endowed with substantial natural resources, it contributes to only 10% of Pakistan’s GDP. As the government focused on Sindh and Punjab provinces over the past decades, this province has remained largely undeveloped.
In 2018, the Pakistani government decided to merge the adjacent semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into KP. For long, the FATA (locally referred to as “Qabalistan” or the “Land of Tribal Militias”) served as home to various militant groups fighting against the US-led campaign in Afghanistan. A Pashtun leader remarked in 2016 that if Afghans are harassed in other parts of Pakistan, they should come to KP province as no one can ask them for refugee cards here because this province belongs to the Afghans.
THREAT OF TEHRIK-E-TALIBAN
While Pakistan has shared a close relationship with the Afghan Taliban for decades, it has hit rock bottom over the past year. Islamabad is now finding it the hard way that their interests do not converge with the Afghan Taliban as much as they hoped. Beyond disagreements over the border demarcation, a critical issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan is now the stance toward the TTP. With the stated objective of removing Islamabad from the KP province and establishing an Afghan Taliban-like governance structure in Pakistan, TTP has conducted regular attacks in Pakistan over the years and is now the most prominent militant group fighting against the Pakistan state.
In 2018, TTP formally excluded the call for a “greater jihad” in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s global jihad from its manifesto. In 2020, the group re-emphasized that it no longer pursues any regional or global agenda beyond Pakistan. But this has been primarily seen as a strategy to divert global attention to other militant regional actors like the Islamic State-Khorasan.
TTP claimed hundreds of attacks on the Pakistani army and other agencies last year. It has been considered behind the April 2021 hotel bombing in Pakistan’s Quetta, which was about to be visited by the Chinese ambassador. More recently, in April this year, the group attacked a Pakistan army convoy, killing seven.
The Afghan Taliban denies its influence over the TTP or uses it as a rebel proxy. However, as the TTP consists of the Pashtun brethren who fought against the US-led coalition, the reluctance in Kabul to act over increasing Pakistani and Chinese demands to eliminate the TTP is evident. On the other hand, TTP has resisted any attempts by the Afghan Taliban to influence the TTP agenda. Its leadership even threatened to switch loyalties to the IS-K if the TTP is pushed to compromise its agenda against the Pakistan state.
A WORRIED BEIJING
Beyond Islamabad, the emerging dynamics in KP have caused panic in Beijing for multiple reasons. While China continues to witness opposition toward the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Balochistan and G-B, Chinese personnel and resources in the KP province have been increasingly targeted in recent years. In July 2021, a bus carrying Chinese workers was attacked, resulting in the deaths of 10 Chinese nationals and leaving 28 others injured.
Beijing sees TTP as an instrument of proxy terrorism. While Beijing pressurizes Islamabad to neutralize the Baloch threat, it has sought to influence both the Afghan Taliban and Islamabad to act against the TTP. TTP also worries Beijing as it maintains relations with the IS-K, a group which has jihad in mainland China on its agenda to avenge China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims. The TTP is believed to have associations with The East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), which has conducted several attacks in China over the years and seeks independence of Xinjiang and the liberation of the Uyghur Muslims.
For China, the growing TTP-ETIM-IS nexus can prove fatal not only for its BRI ambitions but also for its internal security. It remains to be seen what steps Beijing will take in the absence of any concrete steps by Pakistan and Afghanistan to neutralize threats against Chinese interests. In the shadows of the much-highlighted Taiwan visit by US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, another significant visit, albeit with less fanfare, took place later that week.
The event was the US ambassador Donald Blome’s visit to Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.
The ambassador highlighted the US government’s extensive economic and development assistance, which has benefitted the residents of KP. As Pakistan’s financial woes grow and Chinese projects face difficulties, there have been whispers in Pakistan to turn to the West for help. Recent reports even alleged that Pakistani officials could abandon the CPEC if the US offers a similar deal.
With Pakistan increasingly isolated on international platforms and bereft of options for international support, the TTP and IS-K threat have significantly raised Pakistan’s threat profile. Islamabad is now seeking the Afghan Taliban’s help in mediation with the TTP as it continues to suffer losses against the TTP.
Meanwhile, The Afghan Taliban stresses that it does not want to interfere in the India-Pakistan issues. Recently, Afghanistan warmed up to India last month by extending a welcome to India-trained Afghan cadets who returned to Kabul. These developments have raised tensions in Islamabad.
Like the BLA, Islamabad alleges that the TTP is an Indian tool to foment unrest and instability in Pakistan. For the Afghan Taliban, the TTP and India are increasingly becoming leverage options against Pakistan. As India views progress on anti-terrorism as a prerequisite to engagement, it will seek the Afghan Taliban’s commitment against the use of Afghan land for any activities that are against India’s security and interests.
New Delhi will wait for Islamabad to realize the perils of supporting terrorism as it now threatens Pakistani interests. With Islamabad now having too much on its table, it is being forced to rethink the “all-weather friendship”.
Divyanshu Jindal is a Research Associate at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.
Voters cheated, time to amend the defection law
The anti-defection law doesn’t provide for defection after a pre-poll alliance.
JDU leader and Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar is at it again. Nitish Kumar was sworn in as Chief Minister for the eighth time after resigning and then joining hands with RJD. In 2017, Nitish Kumar had dumped RJD after winning 2015 Assembly elections as part of Mahagathbandhan against BJP. In 2013, Nitish had snapped ties with BJP though he won the 2010 election mandate in alliance with the saffron party. It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Biharis considering the twists and turns of Nitish Kumar over the past decade. No ideology, no cause and no party seems sacrosanct for a thorough opportunist like Nitish Kumar. Sadly, the political system is indulgent of politicians like this for narrow short term gains even though clearly understanding that it wasn’t the voters’ choice. Voters have no say once elections are over and politicians like Nitish take advantage of it. The law has no recourse or restrictions to ensure this doesn’t happen despite the fact that this phenomena isn’t restricted to Bihar.
In 2019, the Shiv Sena and BJP fought elections in alliance as part of the Mahayuti. The incumbent Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis stayed true to his promise “Mi Punha Yein” when the voters gave a clear majority to the alliance. In the first press conference after election results, then Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray opportunistically declared that other options are open to him. In the following months, he completed the betrayal by forming an alliance with INC-NCP combine. A popular comedy show among Marathi manoos “Chala Hawa Yeu Dya” few months later would joke: “I distributed sweets after my son failed because most of the students in the class failed and we are therefore the majority.” While the joke was on Chief Minister sitting in audience, it’s the common man’s mandate which was humiliated when parties rejected by people formed government. There is a sickening level of apathy towards the common voters when politicians like Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish nonchalantly shift allegiance.
In a thriving democracy, every elected representative has rights to hold and act on his/her individual opinions. The allegiance to parties and interest groups should not be cast in stone. However, a free-run to individual interests, opinions and ideologies by elected representatives will only lead to chaos and anarchy. While an individual voter can be elusive in his choice of candidate and do shift their voting preference from one election to another, an elected representative should be subject to checks and balances to ensure he stays true to the role at least during the term of office. The Anti-defection law added to the constitution as the tenth schedule in 1985 was precisely to arrest the practice of legislators changing political affiliation. It was in response to the toppling of several state governments by party hopping MLAs after the election of 1967. As per the 1985 act, defection of one-third of the elected members was considered a merger which didn’t invite penalty. The 91st constitutional amendment act 2003 changed it to two-thirds. The anti-defection law has been remarkably successful in its purpose as no elected representative wants to lose his seat. However, the law doesn’t provide for defection after a pre-poll alliance. In short, retail defection of few MLAs aren’t allowed. Wholesale of MLAs by party leaders after misleading promises to voters is allowed. Horse traders will have a bad day while those selling the whole stable of horses like Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish Kumar are having a field day.
In the case of Bihar & Maharashtra, the biggest losers are the common voters who believed the pre-poll promise and accordingly transferred their votes to appropriate parties. Indian democracy has been deepening and successful evident from diverging patterns in State and National elections. The Indian voters even in less developed states have matured over the decades and vote strategically and also understand what they are voting for. We are today a largely literate country unlike the post-independence India where symbols where the only markers to distinguish party in a nation where illiteracy was the norm. The Indian political system has improved over the years to attract promising young men and women into the echelons of power. In a democracy, the classic voter dilemma is the choice between an individual candidate vs the choice of a political party, its ideology & its policies. In the elections of a village sarpanch or even a councilor, the preferred choice tilts over an individual and his work but the state and national mandate depends on the larger vision of the political party, their promise and their manifestos.
With increasing sophistication in the way elections are fought and won and higher awareness among the masses, the practice of opportunism needs to be curbed to retain the trust of the voters. An anti-defection law to ensure people aren’t cheated in pre-poll alliance is the need of the hour. Smaller parties with only handful of MLA’s or MPs who don’t have a reserved symbol nor recognition as State party or National party can be kept out for the purpose of greater autonomy. Every party with the requisite percentage of votes to be recognized as “National party” or “State party” should be brought under its ambit so that the likes of Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish Kumar aren’t allowed to steal the people’s mandate.
The author is BJP spokesperson, advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, and executive director of Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation.
HISTORY WARS OVER JAWAHARLAL NEHRU’S LEGACY
While the 75th Anniversary of our Freedom was an occasion to celebrate, it has also unleashed a bitter round of legacy wars between the BJP and the Congress. With the BJP playing down Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his contribution to nation building, the Congress has retaliated with a blitzkrieg of videos, panel discussions and articles on all that Nehru stood for. For good measure, they have added old interviews and footage of Indira Gandhi as well. There is a reason for this. During the Independence Day build up, the BJP had been talking about how Nehru was to be blamed for partition, how Jinnah would never have pushed for partition had Nehru and Gandhiji made him Prime Minister of a united India and so on. If you heard some of the spokespersons on TV the entire blame for the partition was heaped on Nehru’s shoulders while giving him none of the credit for our independence. As the debate raged on during TV studio debates, the Prime Minister did make it a point to mention Nehru during his Red Fort speech while naming all those who fought for India’s Freedom. But those looking for such signs also noted that he did so after mentioning many others including the Right Wing icon, Veer Savarkar. The PM noted that the people of the country are thankful to Bapu, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Babasehed Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar who gave their lives on the path of duty (“kartavya”).
There is a backstory to this. For long, the right wing academicians and intelligentsia have noted how textbooks and signboards under the Congress rule have focused mainly on the achievements of one family to the exclusion of all the others, except perhaps Mahatma Gandhi. The political implications of course was that this was the narrative that kept Nehru’s descendants in power and electoral relevance. So when PM Modi and Amit Shah talk about waging war against Parivar-vad (dynasty), then it’s not too difficult to see that the focus is primarily around one name and his legacy. There is also an argument that the course correction needed to be done. Why did the country have to wait for a BJP Prime Minister before we saw Sardar Patel & Netaji Subash Chandra Bose being honoured? During the Modi era, we have also seen statues of other forgotten legends such as Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan who was sent by Sardar Patel to Srinagar and got Maharaja Hari Singh to sign the Instrument of Accession to India at a time when the Maharaja was dithering in Pakistan’s favour. Justice Mahajan was also a member of the Radcliffe Commission that was set up to demarcate the border between India and Pakistan. It was he who convinced the Commission to allocate Gurdaspur to India. If Gurdaspur had gone to Pakistan, then there would be no way to reach J&K through India. Last month, the Jammu BJP unveiled a statue in Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan’s honour though one of his sons had been a member of the Congress for a brief spell. Again, it is the Modi government that has earlier released a stamp in Justice Mahajan’s name.
Ditto for Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh a Jat Leader and a freedom fighter who donated part of the land for the Aligarh Muslim University. Raja Mahendra Pratap was a reformer who worked in the field of education and also took part in the freedom struggle. He established India’s first provisional government in Afghanistan (1915). Ignored by the Congress, it was only in 2021 the PM and state CM Yogi Adityanath laid the foundation stone for a school to be named after him in Aligarh.
There are many other regional leaders who have been so honoured by the Modi government. One could argue that there is an electoral agenda behind these moves, but at the same time, one has to concede that these are gestures that are long overdue. If only the Congress had honoured others along with their own dynastic icons. But there is a catch here—while honouring others, the BJP is doing no service to the nation if it continues to pull down the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru. The party should also caution some of its rabid elements against targeting Gandhiji. Both Nehru and Patel can co-exist in history books. That is the diversity of democracy and that is the legacy that each of our freedom fighters laid down their lives for. Besides, you cannot lay the foundations of a new India by pulling down its very roots.
India-China relations: The dangers ahead
While a war between China and India doesn’t look imminent, if war were to break out between the US and China over Taiwan, misunderstandings on the China-India frontier would rise, and pressure on India from the United States and other Quad allies would be intense.
The world, especially the West, is fearful of what Vladimir Putin will do next and any added fallout from the spreading Ukraine war. Then, there has been China prowling Taiwan’s defense zone with major exercises with live ammunition and missiles. However, could there be worse dangers elsewhere risking war and even global Armageddon? Try China going to war with India given a history of tensions between the two, including a border clash, last year. A serious collision of such nuclear powers could prove earth shattering.
Indeed, let us look at important recent statements, including from the Chinese leadership. Outlook India wrote of “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s exhortation to the military to “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war”. This is worrying. The same article by Saibal Dasupta adds that “Xi’s statement comes at a time when troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China have intruded 3-4 km into Indian territory in Ladakh.” Combine this with China’s encircling of Taiwan with major military maneuvers around the visit to Taipei, of Nancy Pelosi, second in line to the US president. China seems much more sensitive and assertive these days to backing its positions on territorial disputes, including with its military.
On the Indian side, the reaction by the government to the Chinese incursion last year and the resulting death of 20 Indian soldiers has been seemingly controlled. No belligerent statements have been declared by New Delhi on this, at least publicly and for now. But for the Indians, their actions may speak louder. According to CNN, “The United States is to take part in a joint military exercise with India less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the South Asian country’s disputed border with China.”
Furthermore, the Modi government had already participated in 2017 in a revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as the Quad. As well, in 2021 joint patrols with Quad allies of Australia, Japan and the US were conducted with India’s navy. New Delhi has clearly not been standing still as Beijing expands its territorial claims in the South China Sea and beyond or in reaction over years to repeated Chinese incursions or “questionable” nearby activities into or near the territories of India or under claim of India. Further, Beijing shows more willingness to take stronger actions to encourage Taiwan’s full integration. So, in such contexts are India’s policies simply defensive to its giant neighbour?
Let us, however, look at Beijing’s perspective. I do this consistent with the concept put forward by Robert McNamara in the documentary, The Fog of War. McNamara, former US defense secretary, reflected in his retirement years about the need in war (or to prevent it) to have a certain degree of empathy for the enemy. After all, China feels evermore an existential threat from the West to its way of life and existence including the dominant position of the leading party, the CCP and its leadership. It watched with horror what played out in places like Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Syria. And it watched its Marxist sister state, the Soviet Union disintegrate with added chaos from US neo-cons’ attempts to turn Russia into some parallel western model. China feels it is on the defensive to what it describes as the US- led hegemony.
While war between China and India does not look imminent, think about this. If war were to break out between the US and China over let us say Taiwan where would that leave India? As a member of the Quad security alliance and given its defensive worries about China, the pressure from the US and its other Quad allies would be intense. Misunderstandings on the China-India frontier would be at greater risk. Certain elements in the West among neo-libs or neocons might try to aggravate tensions between Beijing and New Delhi. With a conflict in the Taiwan Straits, Washington might wish to split Beijing’s focus to two fronts including the Indian-China border. After all, in the seas around it, China would likely have a superior military advantage against the US.
So, what to do? First, consider China and India have huge and fast-growing militaries. Both have many nuclear warheads, though China has twice as many, as reported by the Times of India. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported India as having the third highest military spending in the world. India is therefore no slouch militarily and if significantly or fully unleashed on China, would be highly destructive to Beijing. Strategic experts in Washington fully understand this. Do they think India, like Ukraine, would be another useful proxy to wear down another major rival? And such a clash would also stunt India from becoming too powerful for Washington and its allies, especially in its region.
Instead, India should provide signals that it is not going to be drawn into being used like Ukraine as a proxy battle ground for major powers. This means it should not engage beyond the October exercise of joint training with the US on the subcontinent. That is if it cannot cancel them. It should leave the Quad but if it cannot, then qualify its involvement by restricting its military presence to the Indian Ocean, and south of the latitude of the territorial waters off China’s Hainan Island. It should make it clear it will not get involved in the mainland-Taiwan dispute and strongly reiterate the pro-One China policy.
On the other side, China should show much more restraint of its military operations near the Indian border and even on road and other nearby developments. It should make more efforts to expand trade with India which has China as one of its top trade partners. A yuan-rupee exchange facility might be set up to further help India deal with the worsening exchange rate of the rupee against the US dollar. The two must also remember that they both have huge pockets of poverty or low-income individuals, so the imperative for peace is even more important to keep the steady economic expansion for both.
India and China suffered colonialism and neo-imperialism from the West and should be sharing more ideas consistent to South-to-South resuscitation than mutual, unnecessary battering to the bottom. Therefore, both have many reasons to avoid getting entangled or trapped into a war with each other. Can that be said of certain interests in the West and elsewhere? Washington and NATO should restrain themselves at looking at such an outcome of rapprochement between Beijing and New Delhi in zero-sum terms. The world would be better off and surely India and China would be to work concretely harder for mutual peace and development.
Peter Dash is an educator based in Southeast Asia. He has written for many publications and was a researcher at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs.
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