How China went back on its commitment

…and India doesn’t even realise that it has been had

Did anyone notice how China’s support for the India-US nuclear deal has been matched by its backward movement on settling the border dispute? While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came away with a “Chinese nod for him to underwrite India’s independent foreign policy”—as the Indian Express put it with dreadful (and unintended) irony—the Chinese breach of promise over settling the border dispute went unnoticed. The clever men in Beijing have every reason to be happy with Dr Singh’s visit: they gave away nothing while appearing to give a great deal, and in the bargain, ensured that they clawed back what little they had conceded in the border dispute. The best part for them was that despite all this, it was the Indian media that was celebrating!

Here’s the net outcome of Dr Singh’s visit: China has gone back on its position that the eventual border between the two countries will not disturb existing population centres. It did not show any enthusiasm to exchange official maps—a step that would have set the parameters of a final settlement. It is now not only quibbling over the meaning of the term population centres, but also sending its troops to demolish Indian bunkers. It is bleeding obvious that China wants to keep the dispute alive.

The gains that India achieved under the Vajpayee government have been lost under the UPA. Dr Singh’s visit only confirmed that. China could do this because it realised that Pakistan could no longer be used as a strategic lever against India after 9/11. It also realised that it could use the divisiveness of India’s domestic politics instead. The Left parties were anyway batting for Beijing, the BJP played into its hands and the Congress Party lacked the political sagacity to forge a non-partisan consensus on the nuclear deal. The Communists have reason to be pleased with the visit. But for others, there is no reason to celebrate.

The passage of the nuclear deal was only a matter of time. It was essentially a fait accompli for Beijing. Yet the UPA government and sections of the media projected Beijing’s blessings as a way to secure the approval of the Indian Communists. This came at a terribly expensive price: India didn’t lift as much as finger while China turned back on what it had agreed on the border dispute.

Related Posts: K Subrahmanyam, Brahma Chellaney & Manoj Joshi

Defence industry woes: beyond the blame game

The real issue is competition (and the lack thereof)

It is unfortunate that those making arguments for positive change feel compelled to blame participants of the status quo for all that is wrong with it. The most famous example of this—and its unfortunate consequences—is the India-US nuclear deal. The prime minister’s office under Manmohan Singh sought to justify the need for this deal by casting doubts on the record and the capabilities of India’s nuclear scientific establishment. Not only did it create resentment in a constituency whose co-operation is vital for the success of the deal. It didn’t play too well with the public either, as people were more likely to trust India’s scientists on the topic than its politicians and spin doctors.

Now Bharat Varma, a respected analyst and editor of the Indian Defence Review, disses DRDO in an article in which he makes a very important point: the need for greater competition in the defence industry. Blaming DRDO for ‘failing the Indian military’, though, was unnecessary and will draw undue attention to the less relevant part of his article. There is little doubt that DRDO’s performance could have been better. But holding DRDO responsible for failing the armed forces is like holding Hindustan Motors responsible for India’s lacklustre car industry during the license permit raj. The real fault lies elsewhere. Given the right incentives, sleepy state-owned behemoths can reveal surprising agility. [Related Post: A player who is also a referee]

Capt Varma’s offers good suggestions as to how these incentives might be changed. One word: competition. It is fair to say that India has the industrial capacity to support the most exacting needs of the armed forces. What has really failed the Indian armed forces is the government’s failure to harness the vitality of the private sector and combine it with the achievements of DRDO and the wider public-sector scientific establishment. [Related Posts: Liberalise the defence industry; On government husbandry]

Public awareness of military and security issues is relatively shallow. The interest of reformers would be better served if the public debate generates more light than heat. Given the gravity of the issues involved, a slugfest that places the armed forces and DRDO in opposing camps is wholly unnecessary. You are now bound to see DRDO’s supporters respond to Capt Varma’s article by pointing out how the armed forces prefer foreign hardware. And the debate can get passionate.

It is more important to target the Indian government, the political class, and the scandal-happy media for a concert of ineptitude, political point-scoring and sensationalism that is responsible for the armed forces not getting the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck.

How to beat China in the borderlands

Be more like India

How should India respond to China’s building of road, rail and communications infrastructure in areas adjoining the unresolved Himalayan border? Excerpt from an article in the July 2007 issue of Pragati:

Clearly then, there is an urgent need for India to review the way in which it engages China.

Meanwhile, the Indian government is caught in a reactive mode—building infrastructure in remote border regions in response to China. If done with due care to the environment this is a positive outcome of the rivalry between the two countries. Yet roads and railways do not always buy affection and China in any case can build them much faster than India can.

A far more effective way for India to bring its most distant citizens into the national mainstream would be to empower them through tangible political equality. Reconstituting the Rajya Sabha along the lines of the American Senate—and giving states like Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland the same number of seats as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the rest—will not only be far more effective than big, leaky development programmes but is also more democratic. It is also be a move that China cannot match. [Pragati]

Related Post: The Catapult excoriates the Indian government for playing down reports of recent Chinese incursions into Indian territory

Socialism and the Supreme Court

Expunging socialism from it should matter to all those who take the Constitution seriously

Whether it was Indira Gandhi, Joan Robinson or Shashi Tharoor who first came up with the aphorism, India’s highest constitutional authorities proved it right this week.

Refusing to entertain a petition that sought the deletion of the word “socialist” to describe the Indian republic, a bench of the Supreme Court—presided over by the chief justice of India—said, “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by Communists. In broader sense, it means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy.” The next day India was described as the “fastest growing free market democracy” by the president. Whatever you might say about India, and its opposite, it turns out, is equally true. (Also true, perhaps, is another aphorism: that the truth is somewhere in between.)

What the president says at NRI conferences is of little import. What the Supreme Court says matters a lot. So it is rather disappointing to see the Supreme Court’s decision and justification for not entertaining the petition to restore the Preamble to the Constitution to its original state. While the bench did admit (via Lex) a petition to review the requirement that all parties swear by Socialism in order to register with the Election Commission, this is as much about principle as it is about practical matters like election rules.

Socialism, the bench said, “hasn’t got any definite meaning. It gets different meaning in different times”. It is strange that the bench should think this justifies keeping the term. If it has no definite meaning, and can mean different things at different times, then it stands to reason that such terms should be kept out of an eternal document like the Constitution. Going by the bench’s logic, would it be justified to amend the Constitution again and declare India a “sovereign, socialist, secular, generous, benevolent, popular, liberal, political, equal, fair, reasonable, indefinite, nice, happy democratic republic”? This might sound flippant, but if there are grounds to keep words that lack definite meaning then why only socialist, why not these other fine adjectives that too broadly mean welfare measures for citizens?

Indeed, the Constituent Assembly debated—and discarded—the idea of including the word “socialist” in the Constitution. And the bench’s position squarely contradicts Ambedkar’s. Socialism, the chairman of the Constituent Assembly held “cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself”, because it amounts to “destroying democracy altogether”. The meaning of the word “Socialism” has not changed since Ambedkar’s time. The Supreme Court bench has failed to give this question the attention it deserves.

The preamble is the place where India describes itself. One would think that the adjectives used there mean something definite. If they don’t, then there’s no reason to keep them there.

Related Posts: Any party you like. As long as it’s socialist. (views, views & views; and the judicial challenge)

Look East, and frown at Malaysia

Malaysia has the right to decide its own immigration policy. And India has the right to react

Update: Malaysia clarifies that there is no ban on Indian workers

It is laughable. A day after the Indian defence minister completes his trip to Malaysia, that country announces a ban on the intake of workers from India. Existing workers will be asked to return to India after their work permits expire. The Malaysian government took this decision—it claims—in late December 2007. It probably held back the announcement to ensure A K Antony’s visit took place. Yet, the timing of the announcement—a day after India agreed to train Malaysian air force pilots, among other things—should be embarassing for Mr Antony. Continue reading “Look East, and frown at Malaysia”

Call the team back!

India must pull out of this series…for the sake of good cricket

The Catapult makes an important point about geopolitics in a post on how India was subject to all-round cheating in Australia:

In a way this is symptomatic of the way India approaches its foreign relations, trying to belong to institutions and abide by the rules of a world order shaped by other powers to suit their own agendas and hoping that its “good behaviour” will be recognised and rewarded rather than like China which threatens to undermine it unless it is satisfactorily accommodated in the global power structure. And no prizes for guessing who is getting the better bargain. [The Catapult]

The Indian cricket authorities have been content to try and exploit the economic opportunities that result from India’s market power. That they failed to ensure that umpires and referees didn’t cheat the India team says something about BCCI’s attitude towards the ‘politics’ of the game.

Queuing up outside the the ICC’s office with an appeal in hand is not the thing you do after something like this. It would serve the interests of Indian cricket (and that of cricket itself) better if India were to just call the team back and call off the rest of the series. Why?

Because it’s not merely about revoking the three-match ban on Harbhajan Singh. But because the BCCI must ensure that atrocious umpiring and match refereeing don’t recur in future.

Bad umpires and ungentlemanly behaviour are much better deterred by calling the series off. This is a far more credible signal precisely because it is a costly signal. So far, the BCCI has not distinguished itself in this episode—torn as it is between its role as the dominant controller of the Indian cricket market and the steward of the Indian cricket team. It issued half-a-threat and then half-retracted it. In doing so it revealed its intentions: that it is not really serious about backing its cricketers or ensuring that Indian teams don’t suffer in future. It just wants the dismal show to go on…

It is not for BCCI to worry about geopolitics. It is not the time to strike some “wishy-washy” compromises. If the BCCI cares for Indian cricket, it would do well to bring the players back home. [Update: As expected, BCCI tries and contents itself with a compromise]

Related Link: The Other Side on Monkeygate: Things BCCI can do

Give ’em Kashmir, for stability’s sake

To believe that an American tilt against India will stabilise Pakistan is to ignore the new realities

As expected, some commentators have begun suggesting that the way for the US to regain influence in Pakistan is to “tilt” towards its ‘national security’ interests by, you guessed it, rethinking Washington’s India policy. Never mind that much of the assistance that the US has transferred to the Pakistani military establishment is already doing exactly that. Even amid all the turmoil after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the United States found it appropriate to announce the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan.

Now Kaveh Afrasiabi cannot be ignorant of all this. So when he calls for Washington to rethink its India policy, what he really means is that the US must take Pakistan’s side over Kashmir.

Bhutto never criticized U.S. policy that seemed to elevate India in the region, thus many in the Pakistani military elite saw her in a negative light.

Bhutto’s assassination has tipped the scales in favor of the ruling politico-military elite focused on national (security) interests. The latter’s overriding concern now is to have some breathing space domestically.

The United States needs to seriously consider recasting its India policy in favor of a more balanced approach, while steering clear of Pakistan’s domestic politics. Otherwise, the United States risks further alienation of Pakistan’s political elite. [SFGate]

Dr Afrasiabi is wrong on several counts: there is no reason to believe that appeasing the politico-military elite will stabilise Pakistan. As the American media is discovering belatedly, the crisis runs deeper. And more than rethinking its India policy, American politicians, officials and commentators would do much better not to engage in loose talk about snatching Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. That worries the politico-military establishment a lot more than Kashmir.

It is amazing how Dr Afrasiabi overlooks the costs of rethinking. Surely, he doesn’t expect such a policy change to be inexpensive to Washington?

We don’t need no indecisive slobs (2)

Cite Pakistan’s failure and draw your favourite conclusion

What’s with editors of leading Indian newspapers? After Mr Gupta, the articulate Vir Sanghvi falls into the same trap: of declaring that democracy is better than dictatorship (linkthanks Pragmatic) and then tripping up while attempting to draw other conclusions. This time about the fates of states vis-a-vis their policy towards the United States.

There were only two major Asian countries that rejected the US prescription for development and foreign policy: India and China. And look where they are today. And look at America’s client states.

Of course, Nehru made mistakes. But can anybody really deny that the principal reason why India and Pakistan, once part of the same country, have followed such divergent paths is because of the choices both countries made in the years following independence?

At first, India’s priorities may have seemed (from a middle-class perspective) wrong-headed and muddled. Pakistan’s may have seemed glamorous and instantly gratifying. But, in the long run, we ended up as the superpower. And Pakistan as the failed state. [HT]

Leave aside that India is far from being a superpower. But citing Pakistan to prove that America’s ‘client’ states in Asia have done badly for themselves is shoddy analysis. Japan and South Korea too were American ‘client’ states in the second half of the twentieth century. Look where they are today. And look at us. South Korea, mind you, was a military dictatorship—much like Pakistan—for much of that time. That, it turns out, did not prevent it from jumping from a poor country to a rich one within the span of one generation. And then look at Taiwan and the other Asian Tigers—it turns out that pro-American states have done rather well for themselves.

Just as it is wrong to blame the United States for Pakistan’s failure, it is wrong to credit Nehru with India’s relative success. Assessing Nehru’s role in India’s development requires the space of several books. But one would think it reasonable to credit several hundred million ordinary people of India for doing little things right that contributed to their country being where it is. It is also reasonable to blame a small number of people for doing big things wrong that left India much behind what it could have been.

Pakistan’s situation could arguably be used to highlight the importance of democracy. But this is not an issue in India. But Mr Sanghvi appears to use it to justify a lot of things in omnibus. Therein lies the danger of comparing India to Pakistan. Almost anything will compare favourably. The irony is that Mr Sanghvi does this in an article that starts off by saying how the whole world, include Indians themselves, don’t make this comparison anymore.

We don’t need no indecisive slobs

India may be forced to suffer poor leaders. But there’s no need to celebrate them

You don’t expect this kind of extra-ordinary ordinariness from a column called National Interest by the chief editor of one of India’s top newspapers.

Now, think, who finally won. The indecisive, inarticulate, ineffective slob (Vajpayee) who did not seem to have an answer to anything, or the macho, confident, smart, decisive, modern smartie (Musharraf) who seemed to have an answer to everything?

There are many interesting, and important conclusions to be drawn from this complex argument. But the most significant is this: a modern nation needs democracy and so it needs its politicians, however clumsy, corrupt, effete and power-crazed they may be. Because a military dictator can also be all of these things. The difference is, the political leader draws his power from the democratic process, so he has a stake in preserving that system, howsoever cynical he may be. The general draws his power by throttling the democratic system and its institutions and you can see the results of that in Pakistan. [IE]

Not only is the conclusion ordinary but also mistaken. That a Pakistani dictator would collapse under the weight of the systemic and his own contradictions was never in doubt. The fact is that a doddering Musharraf would have been as much in trouble as the dashing one is in. The Chinese leadership realised this in time. The Soviets realised it too late.

The failure of a dashing Musharraf doesn’t mean all dashing heads of state will fail. Nor does it mean that India should put up with “indecisive, inarticulate and ineffective slobs”. (Vajpayee can’t be accused of being ineffective, but leave that aside.)

There’s a collective failure in the Indian political class in its inability to throw up decisive, articulate and effective leaders with a national appeal—an aspect of which Ravikiran Rao deals with in this month’s issue of Pragati.

For every dashing failed dictator, you can find many more dashing successful democratic politicians. Mr Gupta’s National Interest column should perhaps have asked why is it that modern democracies are able to throw up a Bill Clinton, a Tony Blair, a Junichiro Koizumi, a Nicolas Sarkozy and an Angela Merkel while India is throwing up I K Gujrals, Deve Gowdas and Manmohan Singhs. And it now presents us with an octogenarian Advani.

On recrafting Australia’s relations with India

It’s as much about institutional capacity as it is about issues of the day

Rory Medcalf from Sydney’s Lowy Institute for International Policy wrote an open letter to Australia’s new foreign minister. Excerpts:

Your Government has the opportunity to ensure that Australia becomes permanently serious about India, and to manage any ill-feeling that might arise in New Delhi from ruling out uranium sales.

Early reassurance, at the highest level, that Australia wants qualitatively improved ties with India. Any misperception that Australia might focus on China at India’s expense needs to be scotched.

Proper resourcing of Australia’s diplomacy with India: this has several facets. India is not just another country. The billion-plus scale of its population is echoed in its cultural and geographic diversity and the size and complexity of its mass media, political and business interests. In this context, and if your agenda is ambitious, the tradition of representing Australia’s interests in India with modest diplomatic, bureaucratic and financial resources cannot last. It is time to consider a full India branch in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and a diplomatic presence beyond New Delhi. If Canberra sees fit to deploy diplomats (rather than narrowly-focused trade representatives) in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, why not Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata? Finally, DFAT has not cultivated a single Hindi-speaker in a decade. Yes, India’s elite speaks English. But much of the political life of the country uses the vernacular, and to consider it not to be worth schooling a single Australian diplomat in that language is a false economy, not to mention an insult to a major world civilisation. (Hindi is also a backdoor to Urdu, and Australia’s diplomatic and security agencies desperately need talent in that language.) [Lowy Interpreter]

Medcalf’s arguments echo what this blog wrote during the Mohammed Haneef imbroglio: Australia must invest in institutional capacity that to engage India. Mr Stephen Smith would do well heed the contents of Rory Medcalf’s memo.