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Post Dokhlam Roadmap for India

Post Dokhlam Roadmap for India

In an earlier piece the reasons for India’s firm stand on the Dokhlam standoff were explored. It must be acknowledged that this misadventure by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has created an atmosphere of suspicion and enormous distrust between China and India. The million dollar question that lingers on is the impact of the standoff on the complete spectrum of ties between two as well as other countries in Southeast Asia. The potential diplomatic as well as economic fallout will be watched closely.

Firstly, the diplomatic fallout. There is no doubt that the élan and sophistication displayed by the Government of India in the handling of the standoff has yielded a big diplomatic dividend for India, not seen in decades. It must be stressed that this windfall is short-lived and India must strain every bit of its political and professional foreign policy expertise to consolidate this into concrete long term benefits. A business as usual or a fatalistic approach would certainly fritter away the gains.

The US and Japan definitely see India as the wronged party in the dispute and have commended it on its refusal to buckle under PLA pressure. India must cash in on this new respect it has gained from these two key nations and recast its foreign policy doctrines and take a fresh look at military and strategic alliances.

Soon after the standoff, the second trilateral meeting between US, India and Japan issued a statement on September 19th 2017, reiterating their resolve to keep “the free flow of lawful commerce in the region and around the globe, including the South China Sea”. India must use this anti-China posturing of this group to its favor and garner wider support of friendly powers against an expansionist China.

Further, the trilateral meet in an apparent reference to China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), called for respecting “international norms and sovereignty and territorial integrity on connectivity initiatives”. This again is in India’s favor given that the bulk of the CPEC runs through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), which is a disputed territory. India must prepare an action plan to counter CPEC and brief world capitals to gain their support for India’s position.

India’s foreign policy establishment must also labor to translate this windfall into powerful levers for negotiation at the decades-old border / Line of Actual Control (LAC) talks with China. India must negotiate from a position of renewed strength and extract the most in its favor, at least in the Dokhlam sector.

The annual naval exercise MALABAR could be expanded to include new members or a conduct a new set of similar naval exercises with participation from more countries. India should specifically invite ASEAN members to join the exercises. This will enhance the reach of India’s blue water navy by providing greater global operability, reach and enhanced maritime expeditionary capabilities. Most importantly it will get India the concurrence of Southeast Asian countries in building a powerful deterrence against China.

The US, long aware of the prowess of the Indian military, has been actively persuading the political leadership to espouse a more pro-active policy that involves sending Indian troops on combat missions outside India. It will not be a surprise if India reviews its current stand on sending its troops to join other countries in combat roles.

Post Dokhlam, Indian troops may be fighting alongside other friendly powers, particularly the USA in Afghanistan. If India agrees, then it could not only help restore order in that war torn country, but also help keep watch on Chinese and Pakistani forces in POK along the CPEC. This will also open up a new dimension in India’s counter terror operations by monitoring the western and northern borders of Pakistan.

The Dokhlam standoff has left its ugly scars on bilateral trade between the two countries. India and China, over the years, have built a huge trade relationship.  Currently India has   running deficit of over $60 billion. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar recently attributed this ‘alarming’ trade deficit to restrictions on trade and market access in China for Indian companies.

Similar complaints have been heard from the US and other large economies.  China has a mammoth trade relationship with the US – with the latter holding a huge deficit of nearly $350 billion (2016). Recently, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer called China an “unprecedented threat to the world trading system”. So the US will definitely be empathetic to India’s travails against dumping of Chinese goods.

The standoff in Bhutan has only incentivized India to openly join hands with the US and Japan to seek punitive corrections and protectionists relief against China. It will be no surprise to see India use this as a powerful instrument of its trade & economic diplomacy against China.

It must be mentioned that these diplomatic and trade offensives by themselves may not help India stop Chinese intrusion into its territory or stop dumping of cheap Chinese goods. But they will certainly ensure that it is not business as usual for the Chinese or the PLA.  India must strive to build a “loose coalition” that will help in the UN or impose economic sanctions against a self-acclaimed world power.

However, India must understand that it has to fight its battle by itself. It cannot count on other countries to fight by its side, notwithstanding the rhetoric we hear today. From that perspective, India must continue to pack power into its military since the world – and China in particular – only respects military power. History shows that authoritarian states behave themselves when the adversary is equally strong.  The recent conciliatory stand by China, no doubt shows that it is respectful of Indian military might.

But this is not to say that every intrusion or challenge should be resolved by the military. There is a time and place for military operations, so too for diplomacy and negotiations in international affairs.

In balance however, it would be prudent to choose diplomacy and negotiated settlements over military solutions. This is well understood by the PM Modi and President Xi Jinping. Hence reaching out to China and charting a course of mutual growth and prosperity would be the common sense yet pragmatic approach. This is precisely what India had pursued, albeit with the backing of the iron fist of its military.

If China chooses to accept India’s friendly gestures, it will be the dawn of a new era. But whatever measures the two countries take to rebuild bilateral relations, the scar of Doklam will remain for a long time to come. It is now incumbent on China, not India, to rebuild its trust and reputation that lay in tatters in the heights of Dokhlam in Bhutan.

Indians will remember the Dokhlam stand off for a long time to come.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in China, Economics, India, Indian Army, Modi

 

Decline of Anti-Modi Protests

Anti-ModiIndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to make waves in world capitals with his charm offensive. In his recent and historic visit to Israel, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, he was given an unprecedented welcome.  Israel has officially designated him as a world leader and accorded appropriate diplomatic protocol. He has been treated on par with the United States President and the Pope. This is a great honor for India and to PM Modi. All these indicate the slow but sure rise of Modi on the world scene.

The rise of India in the eyes of the world is something every Indian should be proud of. But many have not forgotten that India and Indian leaders were never considered to ever significantly impact global affairs. PM Modi, in particular, only attracted scorn and street protests during state visits. He was and continues to be hounded by established global media houses with their acerbic op-eds.

But the recent state visits of PM Modi – particularly to meet President Trump and then to Israel have been remarkable for a different reason. Unlike his previous visits to UK or the US, this time around, there were only symbolic protests in Washington DC and none in Israel. The almost total absence of street protest seems too obvious to ignore. Even the Arab countries did not seem to mind his visit to Israel.

The growing popularity of Modi as a world leader is only partially responsible for the dwindling protests. The sheer number of people at his venues to meet him have been legendary – the Madison Square Garden event is still fresh in memory. The overwhelming support he is able to generate at every venue and the credibility it has spawned, seems to have had an impact on the anti-Modi protesters. But as mentioned, that is only part of the reasons. It is worthwhile to examine some of the other key reasons that have led to a decline in the protest against Modi.

India is an economic power house today. Many nations including the US and the European Union are keen to foster trade and economic ties with India like never before. The global economic scene is at best dismal. China is leading the large economies in one of the darkest recessions the world is likely to witness. The Arab nations, with oil prices tanking to lowest levels in recent memory, are not far behind in riding the misery train to recession. In this scenario, India chugging along at 7% GDP growth rate is a sure savior and the world seems to be eager ally with India.

The Trump administration in the US is surely breaking away from the past and redefining international relations and is determined to create new diplomatic and trade alliances with friends and allies alike. The bedrock of the relationships is unadulterated economic and trade benefits for the US. President Trump is sincere in bringing home jobs for his people. In that context, India is seen as a unique player that could help re-ignite the US economy. It is fully plausible that for its purely selfish reasons the American administration has put a tight leash on the deep state and its notorious non-governmental organizations or NGOs that have been fronts for their agencies to create trouble for recalcitrant world leaders.

Pakistan based agencies that have been central to instigating and funding terror activities as well as protest against Modi have been effectively corralled. It is well known that Pakistani agencies use hawala transactions to move funds for their sinister operations against India. Like Modi’s killer media strategy, the Indian intelligence agencies and diplomatic establishment deserve full credit for quietly working behind the scenes to identify and track these activities. India is reported to developed a comprehensive financial crimes database using state-of-art computer technologies like big data – similar to the one that the US has in place. Any illegal financial / hawala transaction now runs the risk of being viewed as a potential terror funding transaction and could be shared worldwide. Even local politicians using hawala transactions will now be on their radar.

The demonetization in December of last year has had a tremendous impact on hawala transactions that fueled these protests. Not only has this killed the domestic hawala industry, but also provided sophisticated tracking of these transactions originating from key financial centers like Dubai and Singapore.  Unfortunately, the Indian media, in their eagerness to shame Modi, seem to have missed the real story. Instead, they are barking up the wrong tree, trying hard to prove why the demonetization was a big disaster and economic blow to India.

Further the sharing of this database with the US and other Western powers means that a hawala transaction originating in Pakistan or Dubai with recipients in India or the US may automatically invite the simultaneous scrutiny of several intelligence agencies across the world.  Data mining technologies now help agencies to locate problem zones and offending outlets in advance. This has been a big deterrent to hawala operations and the funding for protests is one important collateral damage.

The increasing terror strikes in Europe, specially the UK, has also in a sense been a blessing since these countries are now eager to co-operate with India.

In the last two years India has successfully stitched up good diplomatic relations with Middle east and Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and UAE. The new understanding provides for combating terrorism, regular sharing of intelligence and agreements to extradite prisoners and criminals who have specifically violated foreign exchange regulations. This diplomatic offensive has also brought down the funding for street protests elsewhere in the world.

Further, the political situation in the Middle East is fluid and the emergence of severe tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran has forced a change in their focus. This is evidenced by lack of even symbolic protests from the Arab world to Modi’s historic visit to Israel. With years of tanking oil prices, surplus petro-dollars seem to have vanished. This has greatly impacted the nefarious activities originating from Pakistan.

The anti-Modi protests have been orchestrated by several forces. For now, they seem to be at a disadvantage and are hence lying low. But the acerbic op-eds and distorted reporting by global media houses and their Indian cousins will continue as business as usual. On its part, India has to be vigilant and not let its guard down. There are vital lessons to be learnt in weaving together a diplomatic canvas, aided by technology, to combat illegal terror funding. Sometimes, the collateral benefits are the drying up of street protests against an emerging world leader.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2017 in India, Modi, Pakistan, Terrorism

 

Will Rajinikanth’s entry into politics kill the Dravidian parties?

Will Rajinikanth’s entry into politics kill the Dravidian parties?

The political situation currently obtaining in Tamil Nadu is akin to a rudderless ship lost in a stormy sea. The splits in the ruling AIADMK, the naked power struggles among the feuding groups, the holding of MLAs at secret resorts, cancellation of the bypoll for the deceased chief minister’s constituency due to corruption, income tax raids on an incumbent state Chief Secretary and more – all have only made a laughing stock of the state.

With all the drama and breaking news going on, the governance of the state does not appear to be on the agenda for the ruling party leaders. The state had a 62% deficit in monsoon rainfall as of December 2016. Further, the shortfall in Cauvery water receipts in 2016 has adversely impacted samba crop. The state’s own revenue (SOR) has shown sluggish growth thanks to years of populist schemes and handouts. The current state budget (2017-18) has a 2.9% revenue deficit i.e. of almost Rs. 16,000 crores. The government seems blissfully oblivious of the looming economic uncertainty as they are busy fighting for their political survival.

After the passing away of Jayalalitha, under circumstances still shrouded in mystery, the state is largely on administrative paralysis. The cause for this paralysis is only partly due to the splintering of the ruling AIADMK. The real culprit is the larger political and administrative ecosystem that has atrophied over the decades. The slow grind of the state has been long in coming. It is in this context of the state’s uneasy economic outlook and political disarray that the entry of film star Rajinikanth assumes significance.

But a brief review of the Dravidian politics over the last few decades that has eaten into the vitals of the state, will throw light on how the future is likely to play out. Dravidian politics as we see today, is a brain child of the old British divide and rule policy and has been spreading venom for decades disguised as a political ideology in south India. Based on the flawed and scientifically discarded Aryan invasion theory, it sought to divide the people into Dravidians or natives and non-Dravidians for short-term electoral gains. Regional separatism, anti-Hindi movement, rationalist movement etc. were thrown in to buttress this bogus ideology.

The resulting cocktail was in essence an unadulterated anti-national and anti-Hindu manifesto whose sole purpose was to fracture the polity and keep the divisions alive. The regimes of that two main Dravidian parties – that proffered varying shades of the above bogus ideology – is a shameless narrative of corruption, deception, loot, extortion, illicit businesses, voter fraud and what have you. It was a complete web of dishonesty that masqueraded as political ideology, very much like the case in any other state in India.

The people who have long been desperately yearning for a genuine alternative, were only given a Hobson’s choice – choosing between the lesser of two evils. The obvious casualty, over the years, has been the governance of the state. As a consequence, Tamil Nadu is today punching way below its weight in many areas nationally – infrastructure, healthcare, agricultural, digitization, GSDP or for that matter any developmental metric.

The ruling AIADMK dispensation is a house divided against itself and it is only a matter of time before it collapses like a house of cards. At the other end, the leading opposition party – the DMK is also in its last innings as a political entity. The party veteran, Karunanidhi, is 94 years old and in extremely poor health and unable to keep the party united. After Karunanidhi, political pundits expect a potential three-way split – one faction led by Stalin, the other by Alagiri and the rest by his daughter Kanimozhi together with party loyalists who would have nowhere else to go.

Apart from the steady erosion of public support due to anti-incumbency, it appears that the clean sweep by the BJP in the national elections of 2014 seems to have added to their discomfiture. The massive mandate in favor of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is also a frightening development for the Dravidian parties since they know that the BJP is at their door steps.

But for the BJP, Fort St George in Chennai is still some distance away. It may have to wait its turn to run the state. For a safe entry, they have to tag along with a charismatic leader who is blessed with a mass appeal who can open the doors for them. Hence it makes perfect political sense for the BJP to align with Rajinikanth, at least for the time being or until he formally joins them.

Despite the shrill noises and entry barriers erected by the entrenched parties, Rajinikanth’s entry into politics has been widely welcomed. Many view it as probably the best thing that has happened to the state politics in decades.

However, Rajinikanth too will not have an easy path to the Chief Minister’s office. No doubt, in the current political conditions, he is a very charismatic leader who commands the biggest chunk of followers – hence votes – and could potentially emerge as the leader of the single largest party. But he has the onerous task of outwitting the entrenched political rivals. This could be a major challenge.

But therein lies the opportunity for the BJP to step in and assist Rajinikanth, at least in the initial days of its long war to win the rights to rule Tamilnadu. A formal alliance between Rajinikanth and BJP could hold the secret recipe for winning the election. Indications are that either Rajinikanth will join the BJP or form a party that will firmly align with the BJP. The latter seems most probable. However, a lot will depend on how the BJP and Rajinikanth succeed in putting up a good partnership.

A change definitely seems in the offing, but only after the Presidential elections. The central government will probably give some more time for the rudderless AIADMK to make a complete fool of themselves and earn the fullest disgust of the people. President’s rule in Tamil Nadu will be imposed most likely a few months after electing the new President of India.

Decimation of the Dravidian parties appears certain and may be just around the corner. But the urgent need of the hour is the rebuilding of the state’s economy, particularly the agricultural sector. A huge challenge awaits the new Chief Minister. Rajinikanth will have the opportunity to transform and rebuild a new and resurgent TamilNadu.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2017 in India, Modi, Tamil Nadu

 

Modi’s Killer Media Strategy

Modi’s Killer Media Strategy

It is no exaggeration that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the one among the select band of leaders– probably a cherry picked few among Indian politicians in recent memory – who have been hounded by the main stream media (MSM) – both print and electronic. In that sense, he shares a common experience and can empathize with President Donald Trump of the US. But their similarities probably end there.

The two leaders are upright public figures who take their responsibilities and public duties seriously. Both have been repeatedly pushed to the wall by the media. But their responses and how they handled MSM has been vastly different.

The all-powerful President of the US has often taken to social media – and particularly Twitter – to vent his anger against the media. He has gone so far as to brand them liars and peddlers of ‘fake’ news. His huge twitter following -32 million followers and counting – has keenly followed every minute of these exchanges.

But Prime Minister Modi’s response to an offensive media, on the other hand, has been totally different. He has not publicly uttered angry remarks or expressed his frustration on twitter. Yet Modi’s stealth, yet killer media strategy seems to have sapped the very life out of the main stream media in India. This can be vouched by discerning insights gleaned over the last few years by piecing together publicly available data on declining readership / viewership, as well as the prime-time space yielded to new players like Republic TV in the tough Indian television and entertainment market.

Ever since Modi came to the limelight as the Chief Minister of Gujarat state and started making waves, the media and his political opponents have been after him.  In hindsight, they were probably the first to correctly identify him then as a future prime minister material and set in motion their game plan to stop him.  Hence his hounding by the media and his political adversaries who often, worked hand in glove.

As a shrewd politician, Modi never had illusions about the role of the press. He had experienced first-hand how a press that was ‘friendly’ to his political opponents had almost destroyed his political career. But that was when they held complete sway on the media outlets and network infrastructure. On becoming the Prime Minister, he sought to marshal all available resources and deploy a clever strategy to gain a toe hold for his own view of the world. He embarked on one of the most comprehensive overhauls of the information dissemination machinery, rebuilding it from scratch, one brick at a time.

Barc1As with his anti-corruption drive, Modi relied heavily on technology. The range of tools he has used is mind boggling – from social media to mobile apps and everything in between.  But the real show stealer is his use of Twitter. With over 30 million followers, he has one of the biggest twitter followings in the world. Every tweet from the Prime Minister will reach an audience that is more than the combined weekly viewership of all major English news channels in India. See table below, courtesy Broadcast Audience Research council India (BARC). Most importantly, he is assured of a distortion free transmission to his target audience.

Modi has not simply stopped at building a huge following. He has engaged them creatively to sustain and retain this massive following. For example, there is a two-way flow of information as he often seeks to crowd-source ideas from them. Many have contributed topics and discussion items for Modi’s monthly radio broadcast program, Mann KI Baath. His radio address is a runaway success particularly in rural India where large numbers gather to listen to him.

The biggest coup d’état of sorts is his use of YouTube.  Videos of every public event addressed by Modi, his foreign travels, visits of dignitaries, election campaigns – all are posted to his YouTube channel. The Narendra Modi channel with over 650,000 subscribers is another huge captive viewer pool he has meticulously cultivated. This platform by itself has helped Modi take on the biased electronic media, obviating the need to commit time and resources to fight and fix distorted versions that the media in India has been dishing out for so long.

The Narendra Modi mobile app is equally powerful. With nearly 10 million downloads just of the android version, it delivers his messages directly to the mobile phone and tablets.

Modi’s personal familiarity and comfort level with information technology has been central to the evolution of this alternative media resource. In India’s political spectrum there are very few who can match or even come close. The Prime Minister’s media strategy reveals a shrewd awareness of the ingredients for success – India’s high tele-density (84%), high broadband subscription (192 million) as well as a huge younger ‘demographic dividend’ of the population. His personal political acumen knitted all this into a killer strategy that now dominates the discourse in India.

In totality, Modi has created an alternative media resource, a complete information dissemination platform and infrastructure, that has bypassed and even ignored the mainstream media. He has successfully retained the audience and slowly over the years has changed the narrative and now controls it. Modi successfully turned the tables on the media.

There are important lessons for both the media and politicians in a technology driven century. With new technological innovations popping up regularly that can disrupt existing business models or the way things ‘used to be done’, it is imperative to not take things for granted. A determined leader with a clear vision, riding on the back of disruptive technologies can usher in changes in any sphere of human endeavor – faster than many can imagine. And that could be a daunting challenge for the media. The media can no longer have a free run in pushing an agenda driven spin, for the hounded can now strike back. The spin doctors may have to pay the ultimate price of becoming irrelevant, as the Indian experience testifies. Therein lies a media lesson for President Donald Trump and other political leaders of the world.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2017 in India, Media, Modi, Press

 

Jayalalitha’s Demise And Political Realignment In Tamil Nadu

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The passing away of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalitha on December 6th has cast a pall of gloom over the state. At 68, she was relatively young and had lot of public service left in her. But fate willed otherwise. The passing away of Ms. Jayalalitha signals a phase of uncertainty and tumultuous changes over the coming days that can recast Tamil Nadu politics forever. It will most certainly reverberate in Delhi too.

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Posted by on December 17, 2016 in India, Jayalalitha, Modi, Tamil Nadu

 

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