Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tibetan Trouble - What India should do
Protests have erupted around the world against the ‘occupation’ of Tibet by China including in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, where anywhere from 30 to a 100 protestors have been killed by Chinese forces. This year marks the 49th year of Chinese occupation of Tibet, which is currently designated as an ‘autonomous region’ of China. India, due to geographical proximity and as host to the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has always been seen as a player in the ongoing struggle between the exiled Tibetan authority and the Chinese government. This latest flare up is seen as the most severe in decades and will certainly see the pressure on China increase. As the exiled home of the Dalai Lama, there is increased domestic and international pressure on India to take a more proactive role on the issue that has now snowballed into a major crisis for China.

The media coverage and user generated content on the internet has given a graphic visual on what exactly is going on in the ‘roof of the world’. Armored vehicles and heavily armed Chinese army and security forces conducting door to door checks are reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 where hundreds, some say even thousands of activists, students and labor union groups were killed, the memories of which have become hardwired into Chinese history. China has for long laid claim on Tibet and has considered the region as integral to Chinese territory. However, the indigenous Tibetans see themselves as a separate genealogy from the Han Chinese that forms most of Chinese population. The Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama as their spiritual head and he along with thousands of Tibetans were forced into exile in 1959 after the Chinese invaded and ‘reclaimed’ Tibet. Then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, offered moral and political support for the Dalai Lama and ever since he has set-up bases at Dharamshala and McCleodganj in Himachal Pradesh. The Tibetan community have periodically raised there voice on the occupation of Tibet and their message has been accentuated through Hollywood movie stars and western politicians that have raised the stature of the Tibetan struggle to an international level and appeal. However, pragmatic politics from India has ensured that in order to settle the decades long Indo-China border dispute a quid pro quo now exists where in, we recognize Tibet as an “autonomous yet integral region of China” while the Chinese recognize Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India. It is another thing that the Chinese have not lived up to their side of this understanding; nevertheless, we have maintained our side of this tacit understanding. With the Tibetan crisis now brewing India has taken a moderate approach on the crackdown. Much like our nuanced reaction to the violent crackdown by monks in Myanmar, India is wary of not wanting to be seen as muddling in China’s internal affairs.

Whatever be the merits of a hands off approach on the Tibet issue, there is no denying the fact that India will be a stakeholder in the outcome of any move to find a solution to the Tibet issue. India must accept that though, Tibet is an integral and autonomous part of China, the protests and uprisings by Tibetans in India is an issue of concern. The proposed march by Tibetans and monks to Lhasa could lead to a dramatic showdown if the marching troop reaches the Indo-Tibetan border and presses to cross the Line of Actual Control. India must come out strongly in support of the Dalai Lama and his claim that China is indulging in ‘cultural genocide’ in Tibet. The world over countries that have offered asylum to refugee populations either ensure that the migrants ultimately return to their homeland or offer open support for their plight. Palestinian refugees that had to flee the Palestinian territories in the aftermath of the 1967 war were given asylum in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, all countries that recognize the need for a Palestinian state and fully support their right to return in any solution that comes out the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A similar offer has to be professed by India, as we do offer asylum to the Tibetan community on Indian soil. While we remain gracious hosts, our opinion on the issue of a free Tibet has slowly waned to accept the Chinese stand on the issue. The cordial relations we share with China may get strained if we do take a strong approach vis-à-vis Tibet, but then this is a step that we must take for the Tibetan community that accepts as much from the Indian government. The other alternative mentioned is direct face to face talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities, an idea which remains fanciful given China’s rigidity on the issue.

The Tibet issue is bound to remain in the headlines given the scrutiny the world has thrown on every aspect of Chinese existence. From levels of pollution, to dealing with dictators in Africa, to poisoned toys being exported, the lack of free speech and media and their crackdown on religious freedoms are all issues that have gained increased space in the public domain in the past year. The Chinese have been quick to dismiss all such claims as Western propaganda and biased international press coverage. The Olympics in August this year will only ensure that the Chinese have to adopt a twin pronged approach. On the one hand they would want to welcome the world and the international press to showcase the economic might that China has become, with its fantastic stadiums and breathtaking architecture and infrastructure while at the same time black out questions on the freedom of speech and religious freedoms in the country. Given this dilemma the Chinese will find questions on Tibet even tougher to answer. China will have to realize that globalization and the fruits that come with it, have also an important caveat. The more one opens to the world the more the world will scrutinize your systems. The dissent that China sees is the result of that sobering lesson that globalization has to offer.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Russian Elections: Putin's Marketing Ploy
Russia has elected, some say selected, a new president to take over from incumbent Vladimir Putin. Dmitry Medvedev, a long term ally of Putin and first deputy prime minister under him, will take the reins in May after a landslide victory in the March 2nd polls. As predicted, the candidate that enjoyed the backing of Putin found it easy to take the country’s top job, in elections that the West has cast doubts on counts of fairness. The objections of the West aside, analysts feel that these elections will not dramatically alter the power structure in Russia, with Putin slated to become Medvedev’s prime minister in May. Medvedev himself, in his victory speech, pledged to carry forward the path shown by Putin, who enjoys a larger than life status in Russia. Putin, with the help of the United Russia party will be easily installed as prime minister and in all likelihood still decide policy and direction for his country. In so far as relations with the West may be concerned the reaction from Western countries has been mixed. While the Germans, French and European Commission have welcomed the new president, hoping to solidify their relations with a rising former superpower, the United States has not overtly congratulated the president elect and has voiced concerns over the state of democracy in Russia.

Putin has described his country’s version of governance as a ‘managed democracy’. A strong executive in the shape of a president that controls the government and its various arms and where free enterprise is allowed to flourish as long as they remain loyal to ‘national interests’. This understanding of democracy has led many to believe that Putin is a direct throwback to the Communist era where dissent is not an option and where a fair electoral system is present only on paper. Putin has argued consistently that the turmoil his country has witnessed after the break up of the USSR required a tough approach to get the country back on track. And he has numbers to back him. Russia is today the world’s eighth largest economy and its economic upturn has ensured a rising middle class. While the economic boom has got with it rising costs and inflation, Russians do claim to have regained a sense of pride in their country steadily climbing back to its erstwhile status of a superpower to match the United States and other European big wigs. Coupled with the massive reserves of natural gas and hydrocarbon reserves that the country holds on to, the Russia of old seems to back. This rise of Russia has left many in West worried. This worry materialized when Russia played up its gas diplomacy to the hilt in the last two years by stopping gas supplies to Georgia and Ukraine, both formerly in Russia’s sphere of influence but seen as moving closer to the West and the European Union. Russia asked for a fair price for its gas and signaled to the West that Russia’s natural wealth will no longer be ‘exploited’ by the West. These strong arm tactics were carried by Gazprom, the Russian hydrocarbon’s giant that is under the direct control of Russian government and by that extension under Putin. Interestingly, president elect Medvedev has been the chairman of Gazprom and European governments would therefore be familiar with the man.

The United States and Russia also share a tenuous relationship. What started off as bonhomie between George Bush and Vladimir Putin, both men were elected in 2000, soon turned sour over Russia’s role in crushing the separatists movement in Chechnya and failing to toe the American line. The independent minded Putin further crossed hairs with the West by curbing down heavily on free speech and on the oligarchs, the select group of Russia’s richest men who made billions in sell of state property after the fall of the Soviet Union under Boris Yeltsin. Yukos owner, Mikhail Khordokovsky’s case was highly reported in the United States. The West saw this as Putin’s attempts to curb a man who wanted to be Russia’s president. Yukos, the billion dollar oil and gas firm was nationalized and sold to Gazprom and Khordokosky was sent to a Siberian prison for a decade. Putin, in the face of the West’s disapproval showed to the world what the definition of a ‘managed democracy’ actually is. More recently, Russia and the United States squared off over the US’ plans of setting up military bases and missile silos in Poland and Georgia, which met with strong disapproval by the Russians. Last month, when Kosovo declared independence, the US sided with the Kosovars while the Russians backed the Serbs. Taking opposing views, keeping in mind respective national interests, be it on Iran or on issues in the UN, has become the norm between the two countries, thereby further straining relations.

With his second term ending this year, and a third not possible under the Russian constitution, Putin began the hunt for his successor. Amongst the many names that came up, Medvedev’s candidature best suited Putin. An old hand from Putin’s native St. Petersburg, Medvedev is a known loyalist and a moderate. Putin’s selection for his successor seems to be two fold. He chose a loyalist to ensure that he continues to call the shots as the prime minister, and it is entirely possible that Medvedev is keeping the seat warm for Putin to return as president in 2012. Also, he has chosen the 42 year old lawyer with no secret service experience so as to ensure that he does not create an alternate power base inside the Kremlin. The old guard of the former KGB and the present FSB secret service will remain loyal to Putin, from whom he derives maximum power. This will ensure that Medvedev remains reigned in. Putin will not make the mistake of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who chose Putin as his successor imagining the ex-spy to be a puppet under him. Putin managed to get the security and military establishment to back him and ultimately became the new power centre in Russian politics. Second, in choosing Medvedev Putin has also sent a signal to the West that he has installed a more moderate and liberal figure as president to perhaps begin some sort of rehabilitation of ties between Russia and the West. The new face of Russia is young, moderate and in keeping with the times. This while the real power continues to be Putin, albeit behind the scenes. It seems that Medvedev will act as the perfect marketing tool for Putin, whom the West found impossible to deal with. In light of this Putin may have created the perfect smokescreen for the West. Medvedev, at 42, marks a generational shift from the Communist days and his love for liberal talk and Deep Purple may just win him brownie points in popularity in the West. This while Putin can get on with the job of running his country.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Inclusive Nationalism not Regionalism
The pathetic and outrageous display of thuggery by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena cadres on the streets of Mumbai against north Indians marks another shameful chapter in the unending tryst of the ‘senas’ with their understanding of regionalism. Whatever the provocation for the display of brute force, the actions of Raj Thackeray’s party men does not bode well for a country that should be tackling pan-Indian issues like Islamic fundamentalism, secessionism and Naxalism as a strong united country rather than narrow minded regionalists that alienate and isolate people further and become root causes of civil unrest in the country. The role of migrants in Maharashtra and in economically developed states has been raging for decades. Punjab and Delhi are other examples that have witnessed high migrant populations along with development hubs across the country. The approach of regional parties and the upper echelons of civil society has been twin pronged. The regional parties ask for more representation of the “locals” and natural “citizens” of a particular state over the migrants that often claim a lot of jobs in these economic hubs. The other approach is the elitist one, where the migrants, often poor and low on the socio-economic ladder, are treated as eye sores and the root cause of all ills in society. Both arguments are specious and counter productive in the lager national perspective.

While one would not usually agree with the sentiments of the likes of Samajwadi Party’s Amar Singh, however, he made a valid point with regards to the Mumbai unrest. He said that the migrants from Hindi heartland do not come to metropolitans like Mumbai to beg, but to actually earn a decent living and carry an important role in the day to day lives of most middle class homes. While it is also true that mass migration not only puts pressure on the resources and infrastructures of a city or state, it has also led to increased crime by the migrant population. But that is a law and order issue and in no way does it take away from the economic contribution the migrant population contributes to the economy of a state/city. The elitist argument is especially specious. Proponents regard the migrants as an eyesore, these people are willing to use the services of these very migrants to drive their cars or clean their homes and contribute to their economic upliftment, but they do not want them to live in the same city as them! It is proponents of this same argument that also rue about the political class, but seldom realize that they do not even vote while the migrants are a more democratically inclined and aware lot. The other issue the unruly scenes in Mumbai have brought to the fore is the discriminatory nature of our perspective towards migration. Take for instance, an executive in a big corporate firm. If he or she is transferred to another city, he is more than welcome to be part of the culture and ethos of his migrant city. Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkatta and Chennai are full of private sector employees who hail from across the country. How is it that outfits like the MNS never raise a hue and cry about these “outsiders”? Is the quest for economic prosperity only the preserve of the rich and middle class and not of those who often leave everything behind to find a better life in the big cities?

Our nation faces numerable challenges in this new century, our young population will increase the workforce but will also require more jobs in the process. Concurrently, the infrastructure and resources are failing to meet the challenges of this promising future. Coupled with the rise of extremism and internal security issues like Naxalism, the challenges are complex and daunting. What is the need of the hour is inclusive nationalism, where every citizen of the country must meaningfully contribute to make India realize her true potential. Issues like regionalism and casteism are an impediment to this potential rise of the country. The leaders of our country need to get over the narrow considerations of caste and coalition compulsions and ensure that the State and state policy does not become an impediment to this enviable future of the country. Regionalism brings with it a deferential attitude towards the nation as a whole. It is only at times of war, like in Kargil, when the nation truly pulls together to fight an external threat. For local issues within the country most citizens are happy to live in the cocooned comfort of their state or region. Most people feel far removed from the threat of Naxalism or even bird flu as long as it doesn’t affect them. These are issues that require a pan-India resolve and change in attitudes and unfortunately for too long have we chosen to look the other way. It is time that we think of the country as a whole and not in bits and pieces. The rising importance of regional parties underlines the rising threat of regionalism. With national governments dependent on regional outfits, a pan-India vision gets myopic to state considerations. While the importance of regional parties will stay for the foreseeable future, we desperately need our national parties – the BJP and the Congress to not shy away from issues of national importance and more importantly not sacrifice issues of national interest at the altar of regional and coalition compulsions. One may take a dim view given the pandering that is on display by both national parties to woo regional allies, but the hope remains that ultimately for the larger good of the country, where the stakes are unmistakably high, the national parties will stand up and guide India to her true potential.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Rudy Shock?
Florida goes in for its crucial primaries today to elect its Republican nominee for the November US presidential elections. The Republican fray is wide open with four candidates vying to win the delegate rich ‘Sunshine State’ with the hope that a win in Florida will propel them to win the February 5th 24 state Super Tuesday election night. National frontrunner John McCain along with Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani are contesting this contest which can have far reaching implications. For the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, this contest holds the most significance. The Giuliani strategy has been to forego the contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and focus on Florida to propel him to a win on Super Tuesday. This strategy is one which is brave yet inherently risks the former mayor to be all but out if he loses the state. This all or none strategy has taken many analysts by surprise and elucidated chuckles from his rivals.

The Giuliani camp is ruing the fact that in a matter of a month the focus of these elections has moved away from national security and the war on terror, to the domestic issue of the economy. Giuliani was always quick to tout his national security credentials. As the “9/11 mayor” he told voters that he had the experience, resolve and courage to take on Islamic fundamentalism and protect the homeland from future attacks. The war in Iraq was the initial focus of many traditional Republican voters, considering they had put their neck on the line backing the current commander in chief, George Bush to invade Iraq. With the military surge bringing the desired peace, albeit with little in way of political reconciliation between the Shia and Sunni law makers, the Republicans were keen to project Iraq as a plan that faltered initially but has stabilized in time. But unfortunately for Giuliani, good news rarely makes headlines and so was the case in Iraq. Take for example, the largely peaceful Shia festival of Ashura, marred by violence in preceding years, barely made it to the headlines in the mainline news organizations, and very soon Iraq has now taken second position as an issue to the faltering US economy for voters. And in the economics sweepstakes Rudy cannot match the experience of Mitt Romney, a career business man and governor or John McCain a veteran of many economic and national reforms on various issues as a senator.

The other major disaster to hit the Giuliani camp has been his ceding of the top spot in national polls to John McCain and Mitt Romney. Till the beginning of the primaries in January, Giuliani enjoyed broad based support from the Republican base, although even at the time social conservatives had sworn against him. By the time the primaries in the four states finished, Giuliani finds himself at fourth position behind McCain, Romney and Huckabee. What a month can do in politics! Then again, the Giuliani strategy is based on the fact that he will gain momentum in Florida and use his national name recognition to win Super Tuesday. However, what works against this strategy is the fact that the Republican voters have been able to understand over the past month where a candidate stands on the big ticket issues in these elections. By concentrating on Florida, Giuliani has forsaken national standing for a narrow state consideration. And even in the likelihood of a win in Florida, it seems unlikely that the win will suddenly give Giuliani the momentum to win dozens of states come next Tuesday. The past primaries have shown that both on the Republican and the Democratic side, the balance remains even after four contests. The best Giuliani can achieve after a win in Florida is become “a” contender rather than “the” contender. Giuliani must feel the heat and if he can beat the rest to take Florida, he will become the comeback kid of these elections. At the moment, one feels that Giuliani might just be preparing to pack his bags and check out of the presidential race.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

US Presidential Elections Update

New York Times endorsements

The influential New York Times newspaper has endorsed
Hillary Clinton from the Democratic Party and John McCain from the Republican Party as their preferred candidates from the primary race. The endorsement marks a clearing of the race, which though, is far from over, as Clinton and McCain have shown an upward trend in their national appeal to voters, which ultimately will decide the final showdown between the two parties. Although, the New York Times can sway many undecided voters, the 2008 elections are an internet event. With most candidates taking their campaign to the World Wide Web and the explosion of online news media, blogs and think tanks, the undecided voters may just make up their minds on the internet rather than from what the traditional media tells them. That said, it does not take anything away from the importance the endorsements gives to the two candidates. The endorsement will be a body blow for Barack Obama, who after a string of editorial and celebrity endorsements would have got a definite fillip if the New York Times had helped him. But as most political analysts argue, the world will be a precarious place after the Bush administration leaves office. Externally, terrorism, the war in Iraq, North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear talks, relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process and the record oil prices will all need political acumen, experience and leadership that only McCain and Clinton seem to offer given the current fray of candidates.

The Obama “hit job”

Former US president Bill Clinton is currently campaigning for his wife, Hillary in the politically sensitive state of South Carolina that will hold its primaries this weekend. The former president has been in the news more often than his wife and that too for all the wrong reasons. First, it was Clinton taking on Obama’s record and rhetoric regarding the war in Iraq, where he called the idea that Obama was consistently against the war in Iraq as a “fairytale”. The Obama camp latched on to this comment and highlighted that Clinton had brought race into the campaign, by calling the Obama candidacy a “fairytale”. Following a vitriolic to and fro between Hill-Bill and Obama, Democratic leaders had to step in to tone down the temperature a few notches. Ultimately, the fight is between Democrats and the Republicans and not between two candidates of the Democratic Party. The fear is that the Democratic frontrunners have got so embroiled in a verbal barrage that who ever wins will find it difficult to expect the losing camps’ supporters to vote for him or her. Then again, Obama is breaking new ground by appealing to fence sitters and some centrist-Republicans. A feat few Democrats can boast of. If these new supporters see the manner in which the Clinton camp decimates Obama’s message for “change” and bipartisanship, they might just go back to their traditional party and vote Republican.

As if the tone of the verbal duel between the two Democratic front runners was not bad enough, Bill Clinton launched a fresh salvo at the Obama camp. He accused the Obama camp of plotting a “political hit job” against him and his wife and twisting facts to sensationalize the media. He accused the media of highlighting the fight between the two candidates as the main election issue, when actually the people of his country were more concerned about the war in Iraq and the economy. While Clinton’s message has resonance, once again the media picked up on the “hit job” part of the statement rather than what he said after that! So much for tutoring the media!

Thompson and Kucinich drop out

Republican candidate Fred Thompson and Democratic contender Dennis Kucinich announced the end of their quest for the White House. Thompson, the former movie and television star, was touted by many Republicans and conservative media houses as a potential winner. But his lackluster campaign proved to inspire no one and his relative laid back style of campaigning saw little interest from voters. Thompson vowed to run a different type of campaign. He did live up to that promise but in a way that his campaign managers did not foresee.

Dennis Kucinich was always a long shot in these elections, and he failed to get into double digits in any of the primaries that voted for a candidate. He was recently in the news for asking for a recounting of votes in New Hampshire, which unfortunately for him, became the butt of jokes in the late night comedy shows in the US.

Dates for the Race


South Carolina primaries – January 26th
Watch out for who takes the honors between Obama and Hillary in state with 50% African American voters and a traditional Clinton vote bank.


Florida – January 29th
This primary will decide the fate of former New York Governor Rudy Giuliani who has put all hopes in the Sunshine State. He chose to ignore the primaries in all other states to concentrate on this state which if he could win will help him gain momentum for Super Tuesday on February 5th. If he loses, he can count himself as a has been for all practical purposes. Latest polls show him trailing in third place behind McCain and Romney.

Maine – February 1st

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The UPA's Legacy Year
This year marks the final lap of the UPA’s dispensation at the centre. With elections scheduled to be held anytime in 2009, the UPA is busy planning to make 2008 a legacy year of sorts. It will use this year to highlight its policies and initiatives taken since it came to power in 2004 while pushing pet schemes that have not had the desired outcomes. The script for what this year might look like, at least the planned script, is evident from the noises coming out of Manmohan Singh’s cabinet colleagues. The UPA is keen to project its ‘aam aadmi’ tilt and will want the electorate to focus on schemes it has come out with for that important constituency. Also, given the fact that elections are in the offing for big states like Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, where the Congress fancies it chances of winning the popular vote, it would like to use its four year reign as a vote catcher. This legacy year will also see the BJP-led NDA highlight the UPA’s shortcomings like its pro-minority policy approach, minorityism, terrorism and the failure on foreign policy fronts.

The UPA kicked of the year with talks of setting up the 2nd States Reorganization Commission to initiate the process of creating smaller states much like the NDA did during its tenure. The much debated issue of the formation of the state of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh was highlighted in the media. Then again a delegation of the UP Congress made a presentation to Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to carve out Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand from Uttar Pradesh. This move was a calculated step to not only stem the tide of popular support from Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, it was also brought to the fore with the idea to use the issue in the coming elections in 2009. The Telangana issue has been a contentious one which found no solution during either the NDA or the present regime. While coalition compulsions in the NDA could not see the rise of Telangana, the UPA’s main constituent, the Congress which rules the state currently, was not too keen on the issue which ultimately saw the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti walk out of the ruling coalition. The UPA will face uncomfortable questions on Telangana, if it does raise the issue, from the opposition as to why it could not carve the state out in its years in power. In Uttar Pradesh, bereft of any significant issues to raise and the virtual decimation at the hands of the BSP has ensured that the Congress will use the 2nd SRC as its main election plank in the general elections. However, the Congress will have to contend with the fact that UP Chief Minister Mayawati has already welcomed the idea of carving up smaller states, blunting the Congress’ ‘small states’ campaign even before it began in the state.

The Congress, through the Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, raised quite a storm on the issue of minority quotas and the implementation of the Sachar Committee findings. As usual, Patil found himself in a quandary with the Human Resources Minister’s contradicting his stand on the issue. The Home Minister further tied himself up in knots by acknowledging that the quotas cannot go beyond the Constitutionally binding 50% but that the government will have to look at ‘ingenious’ ways of working around that limitation. The Congress had to distance itself from the Home Minister’s statements but the indication was clear that the government and the Congress would like to push the implementation of the Sachar Committee’s report and like to highlight its ‘pro-minority’ credentials. The UP has also been keen to highlight the rather ambitiously titled “Bharat Nirman” ad campaign. The campaign highlights the government’s infrastructure initiatives but has been careful of not repeating an “India Shining”. How this plays out in the electorate’s mindset is debatable, but the UPA has taken to the virtues of talking about development after the Modi campaign used it effectively in the Gujarat elections of 2007. There is also talk about highlighting the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, seen as the brainchild of Mrs. Gandhi, which has been hijacked unfortunately for the UPA by state governments who are claiming ownership of the project. A clever change in the name of the NREG by the state dispensations has made it look like a state wide initiative in many states, much to the chagrin of the Congress. A news story that did not make it to the headlines was on the Finance Ministry and PMO’s initiative to look at ways to make credit available to minorities on a priority basis. While currently, no mechanism exists to give credit on the basis of religion, the government does seem keen to bring about a mechanism to this effect. If the government does venture on this political landmine of an issue, the opposition will raise it as another example of minority appeasement sponsored principally by the pro-minority Congress party. Nevertheless, this scheme along with the rural health insurance scheme will find much focus in any future national campaigns.

The UPA has also been keen to keep its flock together. With the AIADMK making overtures to the BJP through Narendra Modi, the Congress would want to keep its Tamil Nadu ally the DMK in good spirits. This approach has ensured that the UPA will now see a new minister in DMK supremo’s daughter Kanomozhi taking the environment portfolio that was with the prime minister after A Raja moved out to the Telecommunications ministry. Also, the DMK has been allowed by the UPA to make supportive noises towards the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils and the LTTE, not wanting to roughen the edges of a somewhat steady alliance. However, the Congress has taken a baffling position vis-à-vis UP Chief Minister and BSP President Mayawati. The Congress and the UPA have been particularly accommodating towards Mayawati even in the face of a verbal barrage by the fiery chief minister, who even alleged that certain Congress leaders were out to have her eliminated. The Congress has helped Mayawati in the Taj Corridor case and the disproportionate assets case currently lodged with the CBI. However, their return on investment has been negligible and even damaging. BSP will and continues to push the Congress out of many national and state constituencies by appealing to the traditional Congress vote bank. This is evident in not only Uttar Pradesh but across the Hindi-speaking belt. By strengthening the hands of the BSP, the Congress seems to relying on the fact that she will not ally with the BJP in 2009. However, knowing her quest for power, Mayawati might not only eat into the Congress’ vote bank but also switch sides in 2009. By keeping her in good humor, the Congress is only feeding a monster that could turn on them.

On the foreign policy front, the UPA had put all its hopes on the Indo-US nuclear deal. With moribund talks not making much headway, the UPA is now looking for an honorable face saving exit from the deal. The chips are firmly positioned against the UPA on the nuke deal, with the Left clearly intend on forming a third front and not budging from its “deal or government” line and with talks with the IAEA going into extended sessions the deal may have to be buried unless the prime minister can find wiggle room to maneuver the passage of the remaining levels of negotiations quickly. If the deal does not go through, the prime minister will have to personally face a two sided attack for this foreign policy failure that he himself has nurtured. The Left will declare it a victory of sorts having stood firm on its position and bringing the government to do a volte face, while the supporters of the deal will highlight it as a missed opportunity to mend fences with the United States and the nuclear club. Though foreign policy has never really become a general election issue, the nuclear deal, which has the potential to break the UPA, will become a focus on the personal leadership of Manmohan Singh and on the UPA’s surrender to the Left.

The interesting aspect to this legacy year will be the timing of the elections. Most analysts suspect that they will be held in April 2009 or maybe even the end of 2008. The factors on which the timing depends are varied and non-linear. The future of the Indo-US nuclear deal, elections results in Rajasthan, Delhi and Chattisgarh, the Congress’ ties with its allies and the inter-party politics within the UPA will all decide the timing of the polls. Also, if the elections were to be held in early 2009, the election commission will have a new Chief Election Commissioner. With the current incumbent N Gopalaswami making way for either Navin Chawla or S.Y. Quereshi, both UPA appointees. Mr. Chawla has been at the receiving end of the BJP’s wrath with allegations of a bias towards the Congress and using his contacts within the Congress to help his foundation. If Mr. Chawla was to be appointed the Chief elections Commissioner, the BJP will raise this issue at all possible forums which could lead to further embarrassment for the government and may also alter the timing of the polls. But for all the punditry one still has to wait and watch how this year progresses and what surprises it holds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

India - China : Static Movement
The prime minister concluded his visit to China, where amongst other dignitaries he met with President Hu Jintao and his premier Wen Jiabao. The high profile delegation included the commerce minister Kamal Nath, foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and the National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan. The visit was broadly a three pronged approach that included – economic and trade relations, security and strategic relations and energy security. For all the hype that surrounded the visit and the quest to improve the decades old cold relations between the two countries, this visit was not particularly looked at a summit that would or could solve all outstanding issues. At best, this visit was to signify the importance of a continued dialogue between the two countries not only to resolve all outstanding disputes but also to seek common ground for co-operation. However, for all the rhetoric and positive bonhomie that the joint statement issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and premier Wen Jiabao reflected, there is no denying the fact relations between China and India remain at best cordial and more or less static. India seems to have conceded far too much in this process and has gained little economically or strategically under the UPA’s “Look East” and “One China Policy”. This visit can at best be rated average for the outcomes it failed to achieve, but promises, nevertheless, it got attested on paper.

The economic and trade relations between the two countries seems to now overtake all other matters between India and China. The two sides have made an ambitious target of achieving $60 billion worth of trade between the two countries by 2010. The current projected levels are at $40 billion at best by 2010 by most economic analysts. Then again the $60 billion target is not adequately transparent, as it does not signify the share ratio between imports and exports between the two countries, and also does not factor in the under valuation of the Yuan which hits both Indian imports and exports. The trade deficit between the two countries is in the negative for India and with India increasing cheap imports from China manifolds, the deficit will continue to rise. In that case, the Indian side needs to step up the pressure on China to remove trade barriers between the countries that are currently set unfavorably towards India. The joint statement also touched upon working out a Regional Trade Agreement between the two countries. This too must not be rushed into without adequate safeguards to ensure that India does not become a dumping ground for Chinese goods at the cost of the Indian manufacturing sector. Also, the Regional Trade Agreement must include a product safety clause between the two countries. Last year, the United States was flooded with Chinese products that were produced using poisonous substances like lead which caused an outrage and forced China to review its manufacturing policies and quality control standards. Surely, this issue must figure strongly in any future Regional Trade Agreement. The cause for concern vis-à-vis trade remains in the ambivalence towards action by the Chinese. So while India readily agreed to give licenses for Chinese airlines to carry cargo and flights within the Indian airspace, the Chinese never reciprocated the same with Jet Airways, making only conciliatory noises to the effect.

Security and strategic relations has been the thousand pound gorilla in the room for any move towards friendly relations. The border issue and the breeches on the Line of Actual Control seem to go on endlessly. China still does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India and remains ambivalent on Aksai Chin. There again, India seems to have given the Chinese a long leash, with the prime minister trying to divide border disputes on ‘populated areas’ basis. This sort of differentiation will hurt India in the years to come, as China may ask for a quid pro quo to settle the Arunachal issue by demanding Aksai Chin to become a part of China. We made the same mistake with the “One China” policy. By making Tibet an undisputed part of China, we not only stepped back from the overt support given by successive government’s right since Nehru to the Dalai Lama, we never got anything in return for this recognition. The understanding for Tibet to become part of China was to ensure that Arunachal Pradesh too became a part of India, however, China till as late as a few months ago still keenly contests India’s “claim” over Arunachal. The Tibetan faux pas was cleverly exploited by China and they connected Lhasa to the Chinese heartland and pumped in goods and materials that the desolate area had never seen. And by dangling the carrots the Chinese establishment effectively made the residents of Tibet move away from the message of the Dalai Lama. The joint statement did make some positive noises about India’s aspirations for the United Nations Security Council. This on its own is a welcome step, but will need a concerted effort by India and other aspirants to see the light of day. The Chinese help, though welcomed, does not go far enough and for India to find itself at the high table anytime soon, seems fanciful. Terrorism too finds a notional mention in the joint statement and here again the Chinese have not done much to help India’s cause by coming down strongly against Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism. The Chinese are a crucial ally of Pakistan and have for decades now passively watched the ISI and Pakistani army indulge in the promotion and protection of terrorism. It might have suited the Chinese to watch India embroiled in fighting terrorism, but with an unstable Pakistan possibly affecting Chinese interests in Pakistan, the scourge is a matter of concern for both sides. The Chinese also did not take too well to the joint military exercises between India, Australia, United States and Japan last year and an alarmed government decided to initiate military exercises with the Chinese late last year. Such shifting of strategies seems to represent a knee jerk reaction approach towards military policy. India must weigh in the pros and cons of military exercises with multiple nations and formulate a comprehensive and contiguous policy on how it approach military co-operation.

Energy security and climate change are the only two issues that see the two sides speaking virtually the same language. Both are an area of concern. A growing economy and a richer middle class have put pressures on India and China to ensure energy supply and security to fuel this growth. The result on the environment has been a reflection of this economic spurt. Both sides need to address both issues together, since whether we like it or not, India and China both feature hyphenated in climate change talks as being the major culprits behind global warming. It is in the best interest of both countries to work on this key issue together. Here too India needs to take a lesson out of Chinese foreign policy. The effective security of fuel supplies by investing in Africa seems to have paid off, and today the skyscrapers in Shanghai and Beijing owe much to sub-Saharan Africa for their existence. There is a lesson in the advantages of being the first mover in energy security, where limited resources have many suitors, India being the one of the biggest.

So, at the end of the three day visit, the prime minister can look back at his trip and be moderately optimistic about what he has achieved. He did not set out to solve all the problems; he went to China to make sure both sides keep talking. But then relations between the two countries under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have remained just that – talk.