Elon Musk Might be the Most Powerful Human in History

It is unusual to see Elon Musk go on the backfoot. The richest man in the world (at the time of writing, he was worth $245 billion) is usually in control of everything all the time, even when his major businesses such as the electric vehicle maker Tesla, or the rocket launching and space exploration company SpaceX stumble, miss deadlines or fail to meet expectations. In such situations, his businesses and, indeed, he himself, always seem to bounce back and prove their critics wrong. Last week was different, however. Musk seemed to have shot himself in the foot and put at risk his newest business, the social networking site, X, known as Twitter before he acquired it last year.

In a wide-ranging interview at a New York Times event last week, Musk burst out against a number of major advertisers who are temporarily boycotting X following Musk’s apparent endorsement of some anti-Semitic posts as well as his policy to relax moderation or filtration of what people post on the site. Musk repeatedly used the “f word” against advertisers and said that he refused to be blackmailed by them. 

After Musk paid a staggering $44 billion for Twitter, he sacked 80% of the company’s staff, renamed it X, and lost more than half its advertising revenues. Now, after his most recent expletive-laden retort against the boycott, more advertisers may desert X, whose business model is highly dependent on advertising for revenues.

Yet, this doesn’t seem to faze Musk who is probably the world’s single most powerful and influential private individual. Musk is the founder, CEO, and chief engineer of SpaceX, the co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, the founder of The Boring Company, the co-founder of Neuralink, and besides being the co-founder and initial co-chairman of OpenAI, this year he founded his own artificial intelligence company. xAI, which has debuted its own AI chatbot, Grok.

His businesses, particularly the electric vehicle maker Tesla and rocket builder and launcher SpaceX have impressive heft. Tesla, which began commercial operations in 2008, already has a 20% market share of the global electric vehicle market (last year it produced 1.4 million cars); and more than 50% of the US EV market. SpaceX has launched more payloads than any country or company in the world, all put together. Most of these payloads were its own Starlink satellites (more on that later). Neuralink, his venture that aims at implanting a chip in the human brain so that people can communicate with electronic devices and computers simply by thinking, is already beginning human trials. And, the Boring Company has embarked upon low-cost multi-level tunnel passages to offer cost-effective transportation in the US.

Musk’s businesses and ambitions are grand. His aim is to make humans a multiplanetary species beginning with a project to colonise Mars. In his Optimus project, he has been developing humanoid robots that are able to self-calibrate their arms and legs and have superior visual sensing abilities. And Tesla is developing driverless cars that Musk hopes will minimise road-related fatalities drastically. He is driven and inspired by thoughts that seem to be straight out of futuristic science fiction.

Besides his businesses, what distinguishes the 52-year-old South African origin entrepreneur’s growth is the power and influence that he wields in the world. Musk’s influence on the world and geopolitics is hard to measure, but it is undeniable that he has a significant impact on various fields and industries, such as space exploration, electric vehicles, renewable energy, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and cryptocurrency. However, his influence also comes with challenges and controversies, as he sometimes acts in ways that are unpredictable, risky, or controversial.

One instance of his influence and controversy is the use of Starlink satellites in Ukraine. Starlink, which operates a large constellation of satellites in low-earth orbit, has been used by Ukrainian civilians, government, and the military to maintain internet connectivity and communication during the war with Russia, which started in 2022. Starlink has been used for humanitarian purposes, as well as defence and attacks on Russian positions.

Last year, however, SpaceX disapproved the use of Starlink for offensive warfare and declined to extend its availability outside of the country’sUkraine’s borders, including in Russian-occupied territories like Crimea. This stance was criticised by Ukraine as it prevented them from carrying out military operations in those areas. SpaceX also reportedly turned off Starlink service near the Crimean coast last year to disrupt a Ukrainian sneak attack on the Russian naval fleet, fearing that Russia would respond with nuclear weapons. This decision was believed to be driven by Musk’s conversations with senior Russian officials.

If that is true, the significance of it is crucial: here is one private individual, Musk, who is, in effect, able to decide the course of action in an ongoing conflict between two nations by controlling how one of them communicates and uses satellite infrastructure that he provides. 

Many have questioned whether Musk has the right to decide who can use his technology and how, and whose interest is he acting on behalf of. 

The US government has also leaned heavily on Musk’s support.  The Pentagon has contracted with SpaceX to provide Starlink service to Ukraine, as well as to its own military forces. The use of Starlink in the Russo-Ukrainian War is a complex and evolving issue that reflects Musk’s influence and controversy in the world.

In space exploration, while SpaceX has become the biggest player in the world, surpassing countries such as Russia and China, it has become the US space authority, NASA’s main destination for outsourcing activities such as launches, exploration and much of its space missions. It is like the execution and operational arm for America’s space mission. And, for the record, SpaceX is a private company of which Musk owns 42% and has 79% of the voting power.

In geopolitics, Musk’s influence has been growing, fuelled by his heft in business and technology. Last year in October, he was alleged to have had a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he proposed a peace plan (Musk himself has denied that it happened but he is believed to be in touch with senior Russian officials). Last month he met Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and toured sites of the October 7 Hamas attacks with him. He is also believed to have discussed AI aspects of security. 

Musk, who has significant interests in China where Tesla has a big operation, also enjoys a rapport with China’s supreme leader Xi Jingping as well as with other world leaders, including India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This summer after Musk met Modi in New York, he said he was a fan of Modi and that he intended to bring Tesla and Starlink to India as soon as possible. 

Musk’s power and influence are likely to grow in the future, as he continues to pursue his ambitious goals and projects, such as colonising Mars, making humans a multiplanetary species, and achieving the technological singularity. 

For now, his acquisition of Twitter may seem like a misadventure but that could be a momentary phenomenon. Musk has plans to transform the platform into a financial services network that combines social networking and financial transactions. He has also hinted that he wants to enter other areas such as politics, education, and media. The debate about whether he is a good or evil force continues but undoubtedly his influence and impact on the world is undeniable and unique.

What If Trump Becomes Next US President!

What Will Become of the World if Donald Trump is the Next US Prez?

The focus in India, for the moment at least, is on the outcome of the elections in five states. Many believe that the results of the assembly elections this month in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram can indicate what could happen in the parliamentary elections in May 2024 when the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (along with a few allies), which is completing its second term in government, will aim to win a third term at the Centre. Predicting elections can be a mug’s game because they can be unpredictable but 2024 is not just about elections in India. It is a year full of elections around the world, and the outcomes of some of them could have a profound impact across the world, India included.

In 2024, according to the Economist, there will be more than 70 elections in countries, which together have a population of 4.2 billion. That is more than half of the 8.04 billion that the United Nations estimates live on our planet. Of all of those elections, the one in America will probably have the biggest impact on the rest of the world.

The US presidential election is scheduled for November 5, 2024, which is nearly a year away but speculation and predictions about who could be the next person in the White House already abound. According to the latest polls and betting odds, former President Donald Trump is the favorite to win the Republican nomination and has a competitive chance of defeating President Joe Biden in a hypothetical 2024 rematch. Trump leads by small margins in battleground states and nationally, despite facing two impeachments and legal drama. There are several ongoing legal battles that he has to fight but this does not seem to bother his staunch supporters.

Among the Republican hopefuls, Trump has the highest approval rating among Republican voters, with more than 50% support in the national primary polls. His closest competitor, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, has fallen below 20% nationally. No other contender for the Republican nomination is at or above 10%.

On the other side, President Joe Biden will be running for reelection as the Democrat candidate but his chances are quite uncertain. Biden will turn 82 next year. His approval rating has been low. He has faced criticism on his handling of various issues: the Coronavirus pandemic, which America dealt with quite sloppily; the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which led to a resurgence of the Taliban and the deterioration of human rights, especially for women and minorities; and logjams hindering lawmaking in the legislative process in the US legislature.

Biden also has to contend with the age factor that acts against him. Trump, who will be 78 next year, is not young either but there have been rumblings in the media and even in the Democratic Party that question Biden’s fitness–both physical and mental. Some Democrats would probably want to go with a fresh, and perhaps, younger candidate but there has been no alternative and with the campaigning on both sides already well underway, it may be too late to switch horses.

What then if Trump is indeed back in the White House for the second time as President of the US? It’s a complex question because he could impact America and the rest of the world in several ways. The world is witnessing several issues of critical importance. There is a war on between Russia and Ukraine for nearly two years since the former attacked the latter in February 2002; since October, Israel and the militant group, Hamas, have been at a war with the most horrific manifestations in Gaza; China has been consistently and steadily trying to put in place a “new global order” that aims at challenging the US and the West’s dominance in geopolitics; and an alignment of China with Russia, Iran, and other Arab world nations is emerging.

Against this landscape if a Trump regime is back in America, it could have a critical impact on the state of the world.

ALSO READ: An Indicted Trump Could Still Be US President

Trump is widely expected to further continue his America First strategy of foreign policy, diplomacy, and trade. What that means is he will focus on reducing US trade deficits by raising tariffs on imports; his policies could make America more unilateral and confrontational; and he could be more transactional rather than be driven by other objectives in dealing with foreign countries. This means America, which does the heavy lifting in alliances such as NATO, and organisations such as the UN, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), could reduce its commitments to them and, thereby weaken them. As it could by retreating from its commitments to the Paris climate accord.

If a Trump regime (or for that matter any Republican regime that might be elected to power) reduces the commitment to NATO, it could jeopardise the future stability of Europe. Here’s how. According to Article 5 of its agreement, if a NATO country is attacked, it means that it is an attack on all members. This means that all NATO members will consider the attack as an act of self-defence and will take actions to assist the country attacked, including the use of armed force if necessary. Trump’s position on Article 5 of NATO has been unclear and inconsistent.

In March 2016, before he became President, he said that NATO was obsolete and that Russia no longer posed the threat the Soviet Union did. He also questioned whether he would protect smaller states from Russia if they did not pay their fair share.

Trump’s support for Article 5 is conditional and dependent on his perception of NATO’s relevance and performance. He has not consistently expressed his commitment to the alliance and its core tenet, which could undermine its credibility and deterrence. He has, however, publicly stated that that the war in Ukraine “must end” but that “this fight is far more important for Europe than it is for the US”.

If Trump scales down US’ commitment to NATO he could further damage the trans-Atlantic relationship by imposing trade tariffs, sanctions, and, importantly, by recalling US troops from Europe. These could play into the hands of Russia, which could get emboldened to attack other former Soviet territories. It would also weaken NATO and threaten the stability in Europe.

Trump’s stance on China is less predictable. He could pursue a more aggressive approach by imposing further tariffs and restrictions on Chinese ownership and investment in the US, as well as challenging China’s actions in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang. This could escalate the trade and technology war between the two countries, as well as increase the risk of a military conflict or a new cold war.

Some of what the stance could be towards China could be influenced by Trump’s close relationship with Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Trump had once said that he believed Putin rather than the US Intelligence agencies about Russia’s alleged interference in US elections, which Putin had denied. A benign approach to Russia would further fan its expansionist actions such as the attack on Ukraine. And with China an avowed supporter of Russia it could influence Trump’s stance against China itself.

In the Middle East, Trump could resume his “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran by withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal, which restricts Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and one to which Iran’s compliance has been questioned. If Trump opts for more sanctions instead of a mutually agreed deal (between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, UK, US, plus Germany, together with the European Union), tensions could flare up further in the region and Iran could resume its nuclear activities. In the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, Iran, which has a history of backing militant groups opposed to Israel, could get involved more overtly than it has till now.

What could a Trump regime mean for India? One possibility is that Trump would continue to elevate America’s ties with India and the growing partnership between the two countries, especially in the areas of defence, security, and trade. Trump has been supportive of India’s role in the Indo-Pacific region and has recognised India as a major defence partner. He has also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies, such as the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act. Trump and Modi have also developed a personal rapport and have held several joint rallies, such as the “Howdy Modi” event in Houston and the “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad.

Yet, a Trump administration could also create more challenges and uncertainties for India, particularly in immigration, climate change, and regional stability. In the past, Trump has imposed tariffs on some Indian goods, such as steel and aluminum. He has also threatened to revoke India’s preferential trade status under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).

Trump has also tightened the visa rules for skilled workers and students, which could affect the prospects of many Indians who seek to work or study in the US.

He withdrew from the Paris climate accord and accused India of being one of the world’s biggest polluters. Trump has also been inconsistent and unpredictable in his approach to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and China, which could have implications for India’s security and interests in the region.

To sum up, a Trump in the White House could be like a bull in a china shop (pardon the pun).

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Hardliner ‘Indians’ in UK and US Politics

Why Are There So Many Hardliner ‘Indians’ in UK and US Politics?

For a brief while in 2015-16, a swathe of the Indian media went nearly hysterical in its fervour to cover Bobby Jindal’s campaign to run for US President as a Republican candidate. That campaign didn’t last long because Jindal soon dropped out of the race but the pronounced enthusiasm with which the Indian media tracked his campaign was noteworthy. Jindal was the son of Indian immigrants and that Indian connection seemed to mean that what he did was newsworthy to the Indian media and their target audiences. To Jindal, it didn’t mean a thing. In fact, he didn’t give a fig for being of Indian origin. Born to immigrant Hindu parents (his Indian name is Piyush), he had not only changed his name to a western sounding one but also converted to Christianity, and, at least during his campaign, assiduously distanced himself from his Indian roots.

Much of the Indian diaspora that could vote in the US usually does so for the Democrats and not the Republicans so they were neither his vote bank nor did he target them. His target was the right-leaning Middle American voters. Yet, in India, we adopted him as one of us despite the fact that he himself all but shunned his roots. Famously, a newspaper quoted him then as saying that he did not believe in hyphenated identities such as Indian-American and that his parents came to the US from India four decades ago “to become Americans and not Indian-Americans”. 

There are not very many people of Indian origin high up in American politics but the numbers are growing. Kamala Devi Harris, the incumbent US vice-president and a Democrat, is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican-American father. Nikki Haley (whose birth name, which she has ditched, is Nimarata Randhawa) was born to Sikh parents, and is a former governor of South Carolina, and is now running for President as a Republican. She too became a Christian and shuns her Sikh origins. In 2001 she reportedly listed her race as “white” on her voter registration card.

One of Haley’s rivals in the race for getting the Republican nomination is Vivek Ramaswamy. A 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur who appears to have surfed the waves of the Great American Dream with perfection, Ramaswamy is a millionaire, a vegetarian, and a Hindu, but whose right-leaning views veer more towards Donald Trump’s than most of the others who are vying to be nominated as the Republican candidate. Ramaswamy distances himself from being an Indian-American and has hardline views that call for reducing US’s involvement in international conflicts such as the one in Ukraine or in the Middle East and for tightening the policies on immigration. 

There are similar examples of Indian origin politicians in the UK, whose Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, himself is of Indian origin. Sunak’s government was recently rocked by a controversy when his (recently sacked) home secretary, Suella Braverman, also of Indian origin, faced criticism for her controversial comments on asylum seekers, homeless people, and pro-Palestinian protests. She also accused the Metropolitan Police in London of bias in their action against protestors. Another former Indian-origin UK home secretary, Priti Patel, also of the Conservative Party, had to resign in 2022 after a series of controversies. Patel had taken a very hard stance against immigrants and asylum seekers, including a now-aborted plan to deport them to a third country.

Both in the US and the UK there is a rise of second generation Indian-origin politicians who are born in those countries. This is akin to what is happening in other fields: business and industry, professional disciplines, and so on.

Many ascribe this to what is described as the “model minority myth”. It is a sociological phenomenon that refers to the stereotype of some minority groups, particularly in the US, and pertaining usually to Asian Americans including those of Indian origin. These are successful, well-adjusted, self-reliant, and well-assimilated groups that do not need a helping hand in terms of economic aid or social assistance.

The concept of “model minority myth” originated in the US in the 1960s and 70s when a different kind of immigrant emerged. For instance, the formally educated Indians such as graduate engineers and doctors who migrated to the US for higher studies, completed those, and then stayed on to build successful professional careers. The phrase was used to compare and contrast them with other minority groups such as African-Americans and Latinos.  

The model minority myth has been used as a simplistic way of discriminating and neglecting marginalised minority communities. A crude explanation of how it is used is this: by propping up instances of, say, successful Indian-origin or Chinese-origin minorities as a model and questioning why other immigrant communities are not able to emulate them. This sort of thing oversimplifies the issues of race, circumstances of immigration, socioeconomic class privileges, and many other differences.

However, the emerging breed of Indian-origin politicians in the US and UK with pronounced right-wing views and often pandering, as Republican presidential aspirant Ramaswamy does, to middle America’s voters, or as Braverman or Patel do to the more hardline conservative sections of the British electorate, could be described as examples of model minorities. 

Consider this: what would the backlash against a white British native-origin politician be if he or she said the same things that Braverman did? Would it not be more severe? Or, if the consistently “anti-woke” statements that Ramaswamy makes were made by, say, one of his white rivals in the Republican Party aspiring for nomination as presidential candidate? A friend in London joked the other day that Braverman or before her, Patel, were doing or saying things that their party leaders probably wanted to do but couldn’t because of the backlash that they would face. In other words, the Ramaswamys, Bravermans, and Patels, were willing to be convenient pawns, albeit of the “model minority” variety.

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Tricky For Journalists To Cover A War

How Tricky It Is For Journalists To Cover A War

Last week, Israel accused four freelance Gaza-based journalists who have worked with Western media outlets of having advance knowledge of the Hamas attack on October 7, which triggered the ongoing bloody conflict in Gaza. The journalists, mainly photographers, were accused of collaborating with Reuters, Associated Press, CNN, and the New York Times, all of them media outlets of considerable repute.

The accusation, made by Israeli communications minister Shlomo Karhi, was based on a report by a pro-Israeli media watchdog group, Honest Reporting, which stated that the journalists and, therefore, the organisations they were working for had prior knowledge of the horrific attacks by Hamas. In the past also, Honest Reporting has accused newspapers such as the New York Times and other western publications of an anti-Israel bias in their coverage of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

The accusations have serious implications. In the October 7 attack, 1,200 Israelis died and more than 240 were taken hostage. It has led to a bloody battle with Israel seeking retribution by launching a full-scale attack against Hamas but the collateral damage from which has killed, displaced or injured thousands of civilians.

On their part, the four media outlets—Reuters, AP, CNN, and the New York Times—have denied any prior knowledge of the attacks. They emphasised that there were no arrangements in advance with the journalists to provide photos. The New York Times described the accusations as “untrue and outrageous,” highlighting the risk such unsupported claims pose to journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza.

Covering wars such as the one that is ongoing in Gaza or the one that is raging for nearly two years in Ukraine after Russia attacked the country in February 2022 is fraught with risks. Of course, the primary risks that journalists face are obvious: the possibility of getting caught in the attacks, suffering injuries, or even getting killed. But there are other risks. How credible are journalists’ war-time sources?

In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the picture of what is happening can vary sharply, depending on what the source is. If it is the Russian propaganda machinery, which also includes pro-Kremlin bloggers “embedded” in Russia’s military in the war zone, then you will get the pro-Russia view; if it is sourced from Ukraine, then it is likely going to be an entirely different view.

In Gaza, journalists covering the conflict face significant challenges. First, there are the restrictions. Israel has not allowed foreign journalists to enter Gaza. As a result, Western correspondents (as well as Indian media outlets that sent their representatives there) have reported extensively on the grief of Israeli families, but they miss a vital aspect of the story by not being able to witness the situation firsthand in Gaza. Without experiencing the prayers Palestinians make when they lose loved ones or learning about the life stories of those who have been killed, the coverage of Gaza remains incomplete compared to the coverage of Israel.

Israel has been steadily suppressing news reporting in the Gaza Strip. Journalists have faced danger, with some killed or wounded, media premises destroyed, and communication disruptions. There is a looming threat of an all-out media blackout in Gaza.

Journalists also face entry bans in Gaza. Since Israel blockaded the area 16 years ago, journalists cannot enter the Palestinian territory without authorisation from Israeli authorities. In addition, there could be further restrictions on Muslim journalists as three Muslim journalists from MSNBC—Mehdi Hasan, Ayman Mohieddine, and Ali Velshi—were suspended. This decision coincided with escalating tensions in the Gaza area.

On the other side too, Hamas, the ruling group in Gaza, has imposed (and later rescinded) some restrictions on journalists covering the conflict. After the recent conflict in Gaza, Hamas issued sweeping new restrictions on journalists in the Palestinian enclave. These rules included not reporting on Gazans killed by misfired Palestinian rockets; and avoiding coverage of the military capabilities of Palestinian terror groups. However, these guidelines were rescinded after discussions with authorities in Gaza. The Foreign Press Association (FPA), which represents international media, expressed that such restrictions would have been a severe limitation on press freedom and safety. Hamas confirmed the reversal and stated that there are currently no restrictions.

For journalists, trying to cover a war objectively and without bias could be an oxymoron. Most journalists are dependent on one or the other side of the warring nations. If reporters and photographers are in Israel covering what is going on in Gaza, you can expect their reports and dispatches to reflect the Israeli view of things; if they are on the other side, then the views could be quite different. Over the past nearly two years, making sense of who is making progress or suffering more losses in Ukraine has become a complex business: you either get the Russian view or the Ukrainian view, none of which might be the “true” picture.

The Cosmic Blueprint of Xi Jinping

There is a photograph that you can find with relative ease on the Internet. It shows China’s supreme leader and President Xi Jinping, flanked by Russian President Vladimir Putin, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and some two dozen top dignitaries from around the world. The photograph is from the third Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation that was held on October 17 & 18 in Beijing.

It also marked the 10th anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure and investment project announced by Xi in 2013. Many see this as part of China’s and Xi’s larger vision of a blueprint for a new world order to challenge the existing international system that it feels is unfairly skewed in favour of the United States and its allies.

Xi’s vision transcends mere governance and is more of a cosmic plan to reshape China’s role, influence, prominence, and, indeed, dominance of the world.

China was once happy to hide its capacities–economic, military, and cultural–and bide its time. It is no longer content to do so. Xi, who is on an unprecedented third term at the helm of his nation, wants to redefine the norms, dismantle existing “western biased” hierarchies and meld together a world where China’s rise is unstoppable. This vision unambiguously pervades every forum, conference, policy formulation, and international strategy that China now espouses.

The Belt & Road Forum was no different. The heads of states who attended it hailed China’s strategy and Xi’s vision. Notably, the United Nations’ Secretary General was a participant at the forefront of the forum.

For the West, Xi’s gambit resembles a tectonic shift. American wars overseas, erratic foreign policy shifts, and deep political polarisation have eroded confidence in US global leadership. Moreover, within the US, opinions, support, and allegiances are sharply polarised and divisive, raising questions there and elsewhere in the world about the relevance and effectiveness of a US-led world order. Is its approach sustainable? Can it navigate the tempests of climate change, geopolitical tensions, and humanitarian crises?

As China’s assertiveness grows, the West faces a choice: adapt or resist. Xi’s alternative model—multilateralism reframed as great-power balancing—tempts some. Yet, lurking beneath are shadows of Beijing’s iron-fisted rule—surveillance, censorship, and repression.

Where does India fit into this? Thus far, India’s approach has been cautious as it tries to balance ancient wisdom and modern ambitions. India seeks economic ties with China while guarding its strategic interests. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) looms large—an infrastructure web that binds nations but also raises sovereignty concerns. India is not a signatory to that initiative.

India’s strategy has been a sort of tightrope walk where it has tried to tango with both the West and with Beijing. It wants to harness economic opportunities from both, yet remains wary of Beijing’s territorial assertiveness and military buildup in the Indo-Pacific.

Xi’s vision does resonate with a large swathe of regions and countries around the world, including predominantly developing nations in Asia, Africa, and South America. His vision exhorts countries to forge creative coalitions—beyond simplistic divisions of democracies versus autocracies. North Korea and Iran share this stage with moderate, modernising nations. The global future, Xi suggests, demands nimble alliances.

In this scenario, India, which has had a rich history of alliances with international partners, has to traverse a shifting landscape. As the most populous nation in the world and with hundreds of millions of young people with high aspirations, India would ideally like to have a louder voice in the emerging new order, and not merely be a spectator. For that to happen, perhaps it is time for India to review its tightrope-walking style of geopolitical strategy and be more decisive.

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Making Sense of Ukraine and Gaza

Making Sense of Ukraine and Gaza When the Media Turns Fickle

Is the focus of the international media fickle? Since October when the Israel-Hamas war broke out in Gaza, much of the international media’s focus has moved from Ukraine to the Middle East. Russia’s offensive in Ukraine began in February 2022 and in three months, it will have lasted for two years, which is by any measure a very long period. The war there shows no sign of abating but the global media’s focus appears to have shifted to the Middle East. Reports on Ukraine and what is happening there don’t make it to the front pages of newspapers, news websites, or as the top stories on TV news channels.

Journalists sometimes explain these shifts as a response to reader (or viewer) fatigue that can set in when people are bombarded constantly with news about one situation, in this case the conflagration in Ukraine, which has been hogging prime time news and front-page headlines for months. There could be other reasons for the shift in focus.

The Middle East conflict is one of the most long-standing and complex issues in the world, involving many sensitive and controversial topics such as colonialism, imperialism, self-determination, self-defense and the Holocaust. It is also more dynamic and unpredictable: a conflict such as the ongoing one in Gaza can quickly escalate and involve other neighbouring nations such as Iran or others belonging to the Arab world. Also, the degree of involvement of global players such as the US in the area is higher. So is the polarisation among the world’s nations on the issue of who they support–Israel or Hamas. 

In journalistic terms, the Middle East generates more news and updates compared to the relatively localised and contained situation in Ukraine. The situation in the Middle East, for instance, can directly impact the interests, stability, and security of several countries both in the regions as well as in the West. Instability in the Middle East can affect global oil prices and trade and, therefore, the global economy in a far bigger way than Russia’s ongoing offensive in Ukraine. Thus, it could be a more relevant and urgent issue for media outlets and their consumers.

Still, the loss of media attention on Ukraine could have an impact on the struggle against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. International awareness of what is happening there is of importance for Ukraine in order for it to continue to get support from its international allies and sympathisers. If the focus of the global media on the region falters, Ukraine could find it hard to counter Russia’s propaganda and disinformation aimed at undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty.

What is happening in Ukraine right now? Let’s do a quick recap. Since February 2022, Russia has launched a major military offensive against Ukraine, violating the 2015 Minsk agreements that aimed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, as well as deployed tanks, artillery, drones, and cyberattacks. It claims that it is defending the rights of the Russian-speaking population in the Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian government since 2014. 

However, Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of aggression and territorial expansion, and have imposed sanctions and provided military aid to Ukraine. The fighting has intensified in recent weeks, especially along the Lyman front in northeast Ukraine, where Ukraine says it has repelled several Russian attacks with heavy casualties on both sides. The situation remains tense and volatile, as diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the crisis have failed so far.

How could it end in Ukraine? There are different scenarios that could emerge in the region. First, with neither side showing signs of compromising or giving up, the war might continue for months or years as Russian and Ukrainian forces grind each other down. The economic and humanitarian costs of this could be enormous.

In a scenario where, say, Russia wins by launching a very large-scale offensive and overruns most of eastern and southern Ukraine, including the strategic port city of Mariupol. If Ukraine is unable to resist or counterattack, and its Western allies offer only limited support, Russia could consolidate its control over Crimea and create a land corridor to it. Ukraine would be left weakened and isolated, and its aspirations to join NATO and the EU would come to nought.

If, however, Ukraine, with the help of its Western allies and partners, manages to repel or deter a large-scale Russian invasion and inflict heavy casualties on Russia, the Kremlin would face further international isolation and condemnation, while Ukraine could gain confidence and recognition and move closer to joining NATO and the EU. 

The other less predictable factor is, however, how China’s clearly proclaimed support of Russia will play out in the emerging scenario. Beijing has endorsed its friendship with Russia but as of now it has not directly played a role in the ongoing conflict. If Russia decides to scale up its offensive by invading other countries in the neighbourhood, such as Belarus or Moldova, or uses nuclear weapons, things could go out of hand and the war could spin into a global crisis of dangerous proportions.

What is happening in Gaza right now? The conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, is one of the longest and most intractable in the Middle East. The latest round of violence erupted in October 2023, after a series of provocations and clashes in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Hamas and other militant groups fired thousands of rockets at Israel, while Israel responded with airstrikes and ground operations in Gaza. The war has killed more than 1,200 people in Gaza and 50 in Israel, and displaced more than 300,000 in Gaza and 100,000 in Israel. The war has also sparked unrest and violence among Israeli Arabs and Jews, and increased tensions with neighboring countries and regional powers.

How could it end in Gaza? In one scenario, it could end with a ceasefire agreement, which could be mediated by Egypt, the US, and the United Nations. The agreement could lead to opening border crossings, relaxing the blockade of Gaza and ensuring rebuilding of its infrastructure and disarmament of Hamas. However, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, or the prospect of a two-state solution in the region would still remain elusive and that could mean that the embers of discontentment and conflict would continue to smoulder. Violence could erupt again and a rerun of the current conflict could happen anytime.

 In the unlikely event that one side achieves a decisive victory then there could be other scenarios. For instance, if Israel eliminates Hamas’s leadership and capabilities, or if Hamas inflicts significant damage and casualties on Israel. The victory could also be influenced by the level and nature of the international involvement and pressure. The victory could create a new balance of power and reality on the ground, but it could also generate more resentment and resistance among the defeated side.

There is another disturbing scenario that could emerge and that is if the war continues indefinitely, with neither side able to defeat or deter the other. The war then becomes a chronic and low-intensity conflict in the region, punctuated by occasional flare-ups and quiet spells. This scenario would take a heavy toll on the civilian population, the economy, and the environment, and would hobble the prospects of peace and coexistence. It could also make the region more vulnerable to interference and involvement by external powers such as the West or China.

If, however, both sides see the benefits of a negotiated settlement, it could augur well for the regions. If a serious and sincere negotiation, involving all the relevant parties and stakeholders, is possible, and if it could address the root causes and grievances of the conflict there could be a possibility of a long-term comprehensive solution. 

Such a negotiated accord would need mediation by a third party, say the US, the UN, or the Arab League. The aim of such a settlement, however, would have to be mutual recognition and respect, a stop to hostilities, and, most importantly, the creation of an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel. All of those, at least now, seem to be a tall order.

As the two wars continue and the media focus on each vacillating, the world must hope that neither of them turns into a full-blown conflagration. For that would be a catastrophe for all.

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Why is India’s Reaction to the Death Sentences in Qatar So Muted?

Mystery and opaqueness surround the recent death sentences meted out to eight Indians, all of them former Indian Navy personnel, by a Qatari court. The exact charges against the eight, some of them recipients of prestigious awards given by India, are unclear, although some media reports say they were arrested in 2022 and charged with espionage. Some of them have even suggested that these men, working for a private company whose task was to oversee the induction of Italian U212 stealth submarines into the Qatari Emiri Naval Force, were charged with spying on the submarine programme for Israel.

Mystery and curiousness also surround the muted reaction of India to the Qatari court’s decision. Last Thursday, the Indian government said it was “deeply shocked” and that it would take up the verdict with Qatari authorities but it has refrained from making too much noise about it or criticising Qatar in any public statement. In fact, India has ensured that its actions do not appear to meddle in Qatar’s judicial matters related to the case. The Indian intelligence system and government authorities, which recently demonstrated overt belligerence in regard to Canada’s allegations that Indian agents may have been behind the killing of an Indian-Canadian man, classified as a separatist by India, have been quite low key in their reaction to the Qatari death sentence decision.

What’s also mysterious is the reaction in Indian media. As of last weekend, there were hardly any comments or editorials on the issue in the country’s largest and most well-known newspapers and news channels. Everyone seemed to be keeping their heads down on what certainly is a shocking development. Were the eight men, who were employees of Al Dahra, a consulting firm working with Qatar’s military, really spies? Could it be that they are being framed? What do their associates, former colleagues, family members have to say? What is the pedigree of Al Dahra? What kind of work has it done in the past? 

Questions such as those are ones that many Indians would want to know the answers to. Yet, you would be hard-pressed to find any in India’s media.

What is the status of India’s relations with Qatar and is India afraid of jeopardising those? Let’s take a deeper look. Historically, India and Qatar have been friendly. Petroleum and natural gas account for more than 60% of Qatar’s GDP and India, a big oil importer, buys more than $5 billion worth of oil from Qatar, which has also been increasing its foreign direct investments in India (according to one report, Qatar has invested $1 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail). Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have visited Qatar and Qatari leaders, including the Emir, who is the country’s monarch and head of the kingdom, have visited India. 

Is it just the risk of upsetting the cordiality that the two countries enjoy that has made India’s reaction to the death sentences so low key? Or could it be something other than that?

India’s stance on the current conflict between Israel and the Hamas, where it has come out in support of Israel, is diametrically opposite that of Qatar’s. India has unequivocally supported Israel’s right to defend itself against the terrorist strikes by Hamas.

Qatar, like several other members of the Arab League, a loose confederation of 22 Arab countries, does not even recognise Israel. In fact, Qatar has recently hosted Hamas leaders, offering them safe refuge. Qatar is firmly aligned with Hamas and irs conflict against Israel. In that context, Qatar’s charges against the eight Indians of spying from its soil for Israel become even more serious. 

India’s support for Israel marks a change from its past stance. India has always supported the Palestinian cause but in recent years it has grown closer to Israel and taking the Israeli side marks a notable change in its diplomacy in the Middle East. 

Could the death sentences for the eight Indians be an indicator of how the Arab world would now view India. In recent years, India has tried to maintain friendly relations, mainly based on economic considerations, with both Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia as well as Israel. Now, with the conflict in Gaza threatening to blow up into a larger conflagration that could include nations such as Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others, things could get more complicated. For India’s diplomatic stance in the region that could be uneasy.

Can India continue to balance on the tight-rope as it attempts to maintain good relations with both sides, the Arab world as well as West-backed Israel? Perhaps the muted response of the Indian authorities to the death sentences is symptomatic of the uneasiness. 

There are More Ultra Rich Indians

For those who derive vicarious pleasure in tracking the ultra rich, the list of individuals in India who make that list just got longer. Hurun, a research group that also makes lists of the mega rich around the world, released its India list and the top ranker on it is Mukesh Ambani of the Reliance Group. Ambani, whose wealth is estimated at $98 billion (he is still way behind the richest man in the world, Elon Musk, whose net worth is estimated at $226 billion). 

The figure, $98 billion, translates into 8,156,442,000 Indian rupees or 8156.44 crore. If you’re looking for more completely useless trivia regarding India’s ultra rich you might like to know that this year Ambani has overtaken last year’s richest person, Gautam Adani, one of his business rivals who was also in the eye of controversy recently when reports emerged that his group may have manipulated its stocks illegally. It was those allegations that affected the value of his companies and, hence, his net worth. 

The list of India’s top 10 ultra rich include, among others, Cyrus Poonawala, who owns a biotech and vaccine making company; Shiv Nadar, the founder of an infotech empire; Gopichand Hinduja of the Hinduja Group of companies; and Kumar Mangalam Birla of the Aditya Birla Group.

The Hurun ranking identifies 1,319 Indian individuals with wealth of $120m or more, which is 216 more than last year. Indeed, India now is estimated to have more than 250 billionaires. Interestingly, the fortunes of the ultra rich in India have not been built via conventional routes. Whereas in most countries the rich get rich from owning businesses such as industry, finance and information technology, in India, a greater proportion of the very rich have built their fortunes in consumer goods, primary products such as metals, minerals, and oil, and healthcare. 

The other aspect of the ultra rich in India to note is that they are still far behind China. According to Hurun, India’s 250 billionaires are eclipsed by China’s 1,133 and USA’s 716.

Want more trivia? Hurun is a research, media and investment business that is best known for its Hurun Rich List, a ranking of the wealthiest individuals in China. It was started by a Shanghai-based British national, Rupert Hoogewerf (whose Chinese name is Hu Run).

Trinamool’s New Controversy

Controversy is not new for West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress (TMC). Led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the party has been in power in the eastern Indian state for 12 years. But during this period it has also been embroiled in controversies. These include large-scale violence in the state, particularly during elections; and alleged misconduct by Banerjee’s nephew, Abhishek, who has faced allegations of financial irregularities. 

The latest controversy involves one of the party’s members of parliament, Mahua Moitra, who has been charged by an opposition lawmaker with asking questions in parliament in exchange for bribes. According to the charges, Moitra asked several questions targeting the Adani Group belonging to Gautam Adani in exchange for gifts and cash from another businessman. 

While Moitra has denied these allegations, a parliamentary ethics committee started hearing the case last Thursday. 

According to political experts, the committee cannot punish Moitra even if it rules against her as it does not have executive powers. Its recommendation will have to go before the house, which can decide to accept or reject it. In the instance Ms. Moitra is expelled from parliament, she can challenge the decision in court. Meanwhile, the emergence of this new controversy is expected to dent the image of the TMC, which is a key constituent of India’s opposition alliance, I.N.D.I.A., which was formed by 26 opposition parties to challenge the BJP in next year’s parliamentary elections.

Whatever Happens in Five Assembly Elections, Modi Could Still Get a Third Term

“It’s the semi-finals,” says a journalist friend in Delhi. We were chatting on the phone about next month’s assembly elections in which five Indian states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram will go to the polls. The sports reference relates to the big finals, next year’s parliamentary elections, due in May and in which more than 900 million Indians will cast their votes to elect a new government for India and in which the Narendra Modi-led regime in power would be keen to win a third term.

Many in India believe Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), would likely sweep the parliamentary polls again. Still, much could depend on how the next round of assembly elections pan out.

The BJP, on its own, or as a dominant partner, or in alliance with other parties, rules in 15 states and one Union Territory (India has 28 states and eight UTs). And while Modi and his party have for long pursued a mission of trying to win in as many states in the country, and for a while it seemed like that ambition would come true, in recent assembly elections, they have not fared exceedingly well. Notably, in May this year, when elections were held in the southern state of Karnataka, it was the Congress that won it with a landslide victory by getting 135 of the 224 seats and recording its biggest win since 1989.

In fact, the outcomes of assembly elections that were held in the past two years have been mixed for the BJP. To be sure, it did win some of these. In Goa, in May 2022, it retained power by winning 27 of the 40 seats; in the trouble-torn northeastern state of Manipur, in March last year it won a second term; in Uttarakhand too it became the first party to be re-elected when the state elections were held in March 2022; in the most populous state (and one of the most electorally important ones) of Uttar Pradesh, it retained power for the second time led by chief minister Yogi Adityanath who is perceived as a hardline Hindu nationalist but has also proved to be popular and successful; and in Gujarat, which is Modi’s home state, the BJP won again and has now been in power for 28 years.

Besides Karnataka, there have been other setbacks as well for the BJP. In Punjab last year, for instance, it was the Aam Aadmi Party, which swept the polls defeating all three, BJP, Congress, and the Akali Dal. In Himachal Pradesh, in November 2022, it was ousted by the Congress, which came back to power after losing its majority in 2017. Also, in the southern states, with the exception of Karnataka, where the BJP has managed to form governments in the past, the party’s spread has been insignificant.

In India, elections, besides being held on a humongous scale, are complex and the outcomes depend on myriad factors. Incumbent governments often face the wrath of disappointed voters; castes and communal conflicts play a decisive role; and, particularly in the states, local issues dominate. Indian voters often vote differently in state elections from what they do in the parliamentary elections. The Modi-led regime, for instance, won 282 of the 543 parliamentary seats in 2014 when it came to power, and did even better in 2019 when it got reelected by winning 303 seats.

My friend, the Delhi journalist who calls next month’s state elections the semi-finals, reminded me about how Modi’s draw among Indian voters has not shown signs of weakening. His impressive personality (of being a strong leader who eclipses all of his opponents) and his government’s achievements appeal to people and these factors could decide who wins the finals when parliamentary elections are held next May. Yet, what happens in the five states that go to the polls next month could also have a bearing on whom voters would choose then. So, what could be the likely outcomes of these five state elections?

In the large central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, it is the BJP that now rules. Led by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the BJP has been in power there for four terms. However, things are not simple for it. The last assembly elections in the state were actually won by the Congress but that government collapsed in 2020 after 22 Congress legislators who were loyal to the erstwhile Congress leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia, resigned when he jumped ship and joined the BJP. This reduced the strength of the Congress from 114 to 92 in the 230-member assembly, while the BJP had 107 MLAs. The BJP then staked claim to form the government with the support of other parties. So its tenure has been tenuous.

Chouhan could face significant anti-incumbency headwinds in next month’s elections. Also, under Kamal Nath, a veteran party leader, now 76, the Congress has been consolidating its base in the state and many believe the party could pose a big challenge to the BJP. And although Chouhan is popular and influential in the state and is known for his welfare schemes and development initiatives, especially for farmers and backward classes, his party’s central leadership in Delhi often doesn’t see eye to eye with him. These are factors that could jeopardise a BJP victory in the state.

In Rajasthan, the situation is equally complex. The state’s Congress chief minister is Ashok Gehlot who has been in office since late 2018, after leading his party to victory in the state election. In the early part of his regime, his then deputy chief minister, the Congress leader Sachin Pilot, and Gehlot had a falling out with the former rebelling over issues of power-sharing and governance. Pilot was removed from his post and the party’s future in the state was under a shadow. However, since then the two have reconciled. On the other hand, it is the BJP in Rajasthan that is in an unstable state because the party faces several challenges and uncertainties ahead of the 2023 assembly elections.

One of the factors is the role played by BJP leader Vasundhara Raje, a former chief minister and the most prominent leader of the BJP in Rajasthan. She has been sidelined by her party’s high command and has not been projected as the chief ministerial candidate. She has also been in conflict with some of the central leaders, such as Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who is seen as a rival to her in the state. Many of her supporters have been denied party tickets, and she has not been actively involved in the election campaign so far. This could queer the pitch for the party in the coming elections.

There is also an anti-incumbency factor against the BJP. Although it is not in power in the state now, it has ruled Rajasthan for 28 years since 1995 before the current Congress came to power in 2018 and it has faced criticism for its poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising unemployment, high inflation, low economic growth and rampant crime. The party has also failed to address the issues of farmers, backward classes, women and minorities. That and the fact that Raje could divide the BJP vote could be factors that could go against the party and favour the Congress.

In Telangana, a state that was formed in 2014 after a long and intense movement for a separate statehood from Andhra Pradesh, neither the BJP nor the Congress have any significant possibility of gaining ground. The ruling regional party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), has dissolved the assembly and called for early polls, hoping to cash in on its popularity and avoid any anti-incumbency. The TRS is confident of retaining power on the basis of its welfare schemes and development initiatives, especially for farmers and backward classes. The main opposition is the Congress-led alliance, which includes the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS). The alliance is challenging the TRS on the issues of unemployment, corruption and family rule. The BJP is also trying to increase its presence in the state, where it won only five seats in 2014. But some opinion polls have given a comfortable majority to the TRS, while others have suggested a tight race.

In the northeastern state of Mizoram the Mizo National Front (MNF), which is a regional party that follows the Mizo nationalist ideology, is in power with the party’s leader Zoramthanga as the chief minister. The MNF won 26 seats out of 40 in 2018. While the Congress has a bigger presence than the BJP in the state, recent inter-tribe violence and conflicts in another northeastern state, Manipur, could influence which way Mizo voters would swing. There could be mistrust and lack of faith in central parties such as the Congress and BJP and that could go in favour of regional parties such as the MNF.

In Chhattisgarh, another central Indian state, the Congress came to power in 2018, after winning 68 out of 90 seats by ousting the BJP, which got only 15 seats. The current chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, is expected to lead his party to another victory in the state over the BJP.

So, let us suppose the BJP fares badly in next month’s elections. Say, it loses in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh, and fails to make any significant inroads in Telangana and Mizoram, what would that mean for Modi when he braces up for the parliamentary elections in May? Would the semi-finals have a bearing on the finals?

There are many who go by the logic that Indians vote differently in their state elections where local issues dominate and differently at the central level where it is Modi’s personality, image, and the confidence he exudes that will matter (in most opinion polls he emerges as by far the strongest Indian political leader).

The other thing is what has become known as the TINA (or There is No Alternative) factor. Coined in the 19th century by the classical liberal thinker and Darwinist Herbert Spencer, the phrase is associated with the policies and persona of the Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher used this phrase in a speech to the Conservative Women’s Conference on May 21, 1980, where she appealed to the notion saying, “We have to get our production and our earnings into balance. There’s no easy popularity in what we are proposing but it is fundamentally sound. Yet I believe people accept there’s no real alternative.”

While the phrase is often used in political and financial contexts to justify decisions, in the Indian political context it could be interpreted as there being no alternative to Modi when it comes to the parliamentary elections.

The Modi government has been in power for nine years. During this time, it has introduced some long-awaited reforms in the country. Some of its achievements include the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), and the Swachh Bharat campaign. The Indian economy has witnessed an impressive rise, and India is now the fifth largest economy in terms of GDP. However, the Modi government faces a plethora of challenges such as unemployment, inequality, farmer distress, and rising inflation. There has also been an increase in communal tensions, especially between the majority comprising Hindus (80% of the population) and Muslims (a bit less than 15%).

Yet, there is no obvious alternative to him. The alliance of 26 Opposition parties, fashioned under the acronym, I.N.D.I.A., which also includes the Congress, intends to fight the BJP in the parliamentary elections as a united front but is itself riddled with rivalries, differences, and lack of consensus. More importantly, it does not have a personality that it could project to take on Modi. Will what happens in the semi-finals affect what happens in the finals? Probably not.

A Guide to Israel-Hamas Conflict and What it Means for India

The conflict between Israel and Hamas is a complex and long-standing one, involving historical, religious, political, and territorial issues. For over a hundred years, Arabs and Jews have been conflicting over ownership of the Holy Land, which is a region in the Middle East that is sacred to adherents or followers of four religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Baháʼí.

Where is the Holy Land? It is located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River. In modern day, it includes parts of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. It is called the Holy Land because it is where God is believed to have interacted with his people in various ways throughout history. For Jews, it is the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants. For Christians, it is the land where Jesus was born, lived, preached, died and resurrected. For Muslims, it is the land where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, and where many holy sites are located. For Baháʼís, it is the land where Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of their faith, lived and died.

What is the background of the conflict? Israel is a Jewish state that was established in 1948 in the Middle East, following the end of the British mandate and the United Nations partition plan that divided the land between Jews and Arabs. The Arab states rejected the plan and attacked Israel, but Israel defended itself and expanded its territory. Since then, Israel has fought seven major wars with its Arab neighbours and faced resistance from Palestinian groups that claim the right to self-determination and statehood in the same land.

Hamas is an Islamist militant group that emerged in 1987 as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schoolteacher, who preached implementing traditional Islamic Sharia law in all aspects of life, from everyday problems to the organisation of the government. Hamas emerged during the first Palestinian uprising (intifada in Arabic) against Israeli occupation. Hamas rejected Israel’s existence and wanted its destruction through armed struggle and terrorism. Hamas also opposes the moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) that governs part of the West Bank. Unlike Hamas, the PA wants a negotiated settlement with Israel.

What is Gaza? It is a coastal strip of land that borders Israel and Egypt and is home to about 2.3 million Palestinians, most of whom are refugees or descendants of refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war. Gaza has been under Israeli blockade since 2007, when Hamas seized control of the territory from the PA after winning parliamentary elections in 2006. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons and rockets into Gaza, while Palestinians say it amounts to collective punishment and violates their human rights.

When did the current conflict start? On October 7, Hamas, in a surprise attack on Israel, fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns; and also breached the border with Israel, sending in hundreds of gunmen who killed and kidnapped civilians and soldiers. Hamas claimed its assault was in response to Israel’s continuing oppression of Palestinians and its plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

As a counter-offensive, Israel declared war on Hamas and launched a massive aerial campaign against Gaza, targeting Hamas leaders, hideouts, infrastructure, and media outlets. Israel also warned Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate their homes or face imminent destruction. Israel said that its goal was to restore deterrence and security for its citizens, and that it held Hamas responsible for all casualties and damages.

What has been the impact of the conflict? It has had a devastating impact, both on the Israeli side as well as the Palestinian. And, as expected, the ripples have affected the rest of the world. Latest estimates say more than 1,200 Israelis have been killed, mostly civilians, while more than 1,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza, many of them children. Many thousands have been injured or displaced by the violence. The situation in Gaza is dire, as electricity, water, fuel, and medical supplies are running low. The international community has condemned the escalation and called for an immediate ceasefire, but so far no diplomatic efforts have succeeded in ending the hostilities.

How has it affected the global economy and India? The Middle East is a vital source of energy and a key transit route for global commerce. Instability in the region could have serious consequences for oil supply and demand, as well as for consumer prices and inflation.

India, as one of the world’s largest importers of crude oil, is particularly vulnerable to such shocks. A sustained rise in oil prices could hurt India’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, increase its fiscal deficit and current account deficit, weaken its currency, and trigger social unrest.

There are other complexities for India because of its strong ties with both Israel and Palestine. This poses a diplomatic challenge for India’s foreign policy. India was one of the first countries to recognize Palestine as a state in 1988, and has supported its cause at several international forums. But India also maintains cordial relations with Israel, which is a major partner in defence, agriculture, technology, and innovation.

India has expressed its concern over the violence and urged both sides to exercise restraint and resume dialogue. India has also pulled out of a chess tournament in Egypt due to security reasons, while some Indian pharma companies have faced difficulties in exporting their products to Israel due to trade disruptions. If the conflict continues or blows up into a bigger war, things could get worse.

The bottomline: The conflict between Israel and Hamas is complex and has a long history. It has huge implications for regional stability, global security and the state of the world economy. While the damage and devastation on both sides is immense and can get worse if the conflict blows into a larger war, for countries such as India, which have trade ties and depend on oil imports from the region, it could spell serious economic damage. The international community must work together to end the violence and facilitate a lasting peace based on a two-state solution that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

It May be Time to Look at the Newsclick Raids Less Hysterically

The megaphones have been laid down now. The selfies and clips of journalists and others protesting in Delhi are no longer going “viral” (that unpleasant word used to describe when something spreads without much control) and the media have gone back to looking for the next big thing. As this week began, their focus, at least briefly, turned to the mass assault by Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist, militant, and nationalist organisation, and the dark shadow of yet another war that could well be in the making.

Perhaps the slight sense of distance from last Tuesday’s raid by the Delhi Police against Newsclick, an Indian news portal, those who run it, and several people who work for it, is an opportunity for a bit of retrospection. The raids created massive ripples all over, particularly in India but also across the world. A protest meeting was organised; megaphones were deployed; and parallels were drawn to a 21-month period during 1975-77 when India’s then Prime Minister, the late Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency, and when, among many other deplorably repressive acts, many Indian journalists were arrested; newsrooms were commandeered by government censors and free speech was muzzled.

Many, including at least one of the few editorials in big Indian newspapers that deplored the raids, have called the police action an “undeclared emergency”, and lamented that it is an act of vendetta and unbridled harassment. Other, more shrill voices cried that it was yet another blow to freedom of expression, in particular, freedom of the Indian media, and an attempt by the government to silence journalists that are critical of the government.

The Newsclick raids were probably triggered by charges that the organisation may have received financing from an international pro-China investment group, which allegedly has questionable motives. Whether Newsclick received funds from that group or whether its activities were influenced by it are questions that have been raised and the Indian authorities have been investigating these. The raids were a part of that probe.

If pro-China organisations have infiltrated the Indian media and are influencing editorial policies that could conceivably be anti-India, it is a matter of great concern. It should not be anybody’s case that the media ought to be non-critical of or subservient to a country’s government. It definitely should because that is the role of the media: of holding a mirror to the face of power. And if the media in India are constrained from freedom of expression by those in power that is deplorable and unacceptable.

ALSO READ: Why Indian Media Pussyfoots Around Adani

What if there are instances where anti-government sentiments or editorial strategies are fuelled by pro- Chinese propaganda? Can that not be an attack on a country’s sovereignty? If Russia, say, influences a US media outlet by financing it and nudging its editorial policy, would the US authorities think it is all hunky dory in the celebration of freedom of expression? These are the sort of issues that those who wielded microphones to shrilly denounce the police action against Newclick should ponder.

There are two other issues, apparently related to this, but really they should be viewed separately.

The first concerns the raids themselves. Swarms of policemen arriving at the homes of dozens of journalists, including consultants, freelancers, and rookie journalists who worked for the news outlet and had little or nothing to do with its finances or how it was run is like deploying a nuclear missile to kill a mosquito. It is nothing less than pointless harassment and show of power, ostensibly aimed at scaring innocent individuals.

In the end, the police arrested two individuals–the top executive who owns and runs the organisation and one of his senior aides. Both of them have been detained under a law aimed at preventing unlawful activities, and it is believed investigations are continuing. If the authorities intended to investigate Newsclick’s funding, they ought to have done just that instead of coming down like a bulldozer against people who might have been no more than inconsequential cogs in the machine.

The second thing that the incident has led to is the focus on how constrained or not the Indian media is. The thing is that a considerable amount of that constraint is self imposed. Those who work as big fish in large Indian media houses would never publicly admit it but anyone with average intelligence knows that much of India’s largest media groups fight shy of criticising the regime in power, its policies, and actions. Some of those who run newsrooms in such groups may personally have views that are not supportive of many of those things but rarely do they make those views public via the media that they run or the content that they create for their audiences.

It is speculated that some of this happens because of tacit, “invisible” and unspoken influences that a ruling regime may wield. In some instances, it could come in the form of simple economics–a dependence on the government and its institutions to provide advertising revenues; in other cases, it could in the form of coteries that are formed when interests of business groups that run media groups intertwine with or are dependent on government policies; in yet other cases, it could be common political interests between those in power and those who run media.

The recent raids and the furore over them have swung the focus on these two things: recurring instances of highhandedness by the enforcement authorities; and the benign willingness of many media groups not to ruffle the feathers of those who wield power. Both are deplorable and undesirable.

Without a Clear Leader, I.N.D.I.A. is Doomed to Fail

I’ll start with a promise to readers. In this column I shall use the full form of India’s less-than-three-month-old alliance of opposition parties only once. The alliance, comprising 26 opposition parties, national and regional, calls itself the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. If you have time you can waste some of it on figuring out the clumsy grammar, syntax, or meaning of that phrase and decide whether or how you would like to translate it to mean anything for 70% of India’s 1.4 billion people who do not have even a nodding acquaintance with English. Now that we’re done with that, we’ll stick with the acronym to which that inelegant phrase reduces, I.N.D.I.A. 

Nowadays, it’s fashionable and, indeed, de rigueur even, to bash Opposition leaders in India. Have a gander: Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, who is in his mid-fifties and is considered young by his benign party colleagues, is seen to be someone who is a continuous work-in-progress, apparently taking far greater time to mature than an average high school student; Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, the firebrand leader of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is unpredictable to the point of often being shrill and silly, but providing moments of ironic or slapstick humour like recently when she was seen jogging in slippers and a sari in Madrid, accompanied by her aides; Bihar’s veteran Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (U), who at 72 wants as his last hurrah to be Prime Minister of India; or Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whose national ambitions are at odds with the yet-to-mature party that he leads. 

There are a host of other leaders of parties that make up I.N.D.I.A., ranging from the old, such as Nationalist Congress party’s Sharad Pawar, 82, to the young, such as Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav, 33. There are schisms and differences as well within the motley alliance. It has to deal with ideological differences between member parties (some are left-leaning, others are not; some are secular, others are not; and so on). Most glaringly, there is an absence of consensus between them on who should be the leader or the prime ministerial candidate when they contest the parliamentary elections due in eight months, which is not a very long time.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime has quite clearly changed the rules of the election game. It has projected a powerful candidate, Narendra Modi, who has been successful in driving it to victory in 2014 and again in 2019. In 2024, it will project Modi, whose approval ratings (according to Morning Consult, the US business intelligence company) is 76%, higher than that of any leader in the world. 

If I.N.D.I.A. intends to take him on, it will have to project a head-to-head rival and not a bunch of ragtag leaders, some of whom are still maturing, a few who aren’t sure whether they are in a sitcom or in politics, and yet others who are really pretty irrelevant, and well past their “best before” dates. 

So who can I.N.D.I.A. project against Modi in the coming elections? Let’s look at a few.

Could it be Mamata Banerjee. The West Bengal chief minister and TMC supremo has emerged as a strong leader of the Opposition after her landslide victory in the state assembly elections in 2021. On the flipside, her state is wracked by divisiveness. Her ostensibly secular policies are viewed by some as pandering to the minority community of Muslims (for the record, Muslims make up more than 27% of the state’s population). And while Bengal during her regime’s rule has improved its fiscal health and economic growth, many see it as a tinderbox with violence simmering beneath the surface–its elections and by elections are marked by horrific incidents of murders, arson and other forms of violent aggression. Moreover, Banerjee’s clout in national politics is insignificant–for instance, she hardly matters in the Hindi belt.

What about Rahul Gandhi? The former Congress president and MP from Wayanad has been a vocal critic of the Modi government and its policies. He has also led several campaigns and rallies across the country to mobilise support for the Congress and its allies. However, his leadership and popularity have been questioned by some in the Opposition and the public. And while the Congress’ electoral fortunes have shown a glimmer of hope (notably, its win in Karnataka in May this year), Gandhi is not seen as a dependable “election winner”. His diffidence in taking up positions of responsibility and often fickle views on policy does not evoke confidence among many Indians. 

Is Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal a dark horse who could challenge Modi? The AAP chief and Delhi chief minister has won accolades for his governance model and his initiatives in education, health, and environment in Delhi. He has also expanded his party’s presence in other states like Punjab, Goa, and Gujarat. But realistically speaking, his achievements have mostly been on a relatively small scale. Delhi is a tiny state, much of it urban, and its government has limited jurisdiction over it. For instance, law and order is an area where it is the Centre and not the state government that has jurisdiction in Delhi. Also, Kejriwal’s party, formed in 2012, doesn’t yet have a national footprint and is perceived by many to be still in its formative stages.

Then there are the oldies, veterans such as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who has been a key ally of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. However, he has also maintained cordial relations with some of the Opposition parties and leaders. A poster by RJD showed him as the PM candidate in 2024 and I.N.D.I.A. was convened by him. Or could it be the seasoned octogenarian, Sharad Pawar? The NCP leader and veteran politician has been a prominent figure in Indian politics for decades. He has also been instrumental in forming and sustaining the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra, which comprises Shiv Sena, NCP, and Congress. He is seen by some as a potential consensus candidate from I.N.D.I.A. 

The question is whether the alliance’s 26 parties can agree on who they will project as a prime ministerial candidate. The alliance also faces the challenge of how to share seats. I.N.D.I.A. ‘s objective is to jointly field one candidate in each of the Lok Sabha’s 543 constituencies to take on the BJP’s candidate. That is the theory. 

In practice, it could lead to squabbles. I.N.D.I.A. will have to accommodate the interests and wishes of disparate regional parties that have strong bases in their home states. For instance, the DMK in the southern state of Tamil Nadu; the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state that has 80 seats; and the NCP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. 

That said, the alliance also has some strengths and opportunities. It has a diverse and inclusive representation of various regions, religions, castes, and communities. Its common agenda is to restore democracy, secularism, and development in India. It also has a chance to build on some of the disappointment that voters have with the Modi regime over issues such as the unemployment and economic crises, agricultural laws, and insecurity among minority communities. 

Shrill, with not much time left for the elections and campaigning already underway, in the absence of a consensus Opposition candidate, the Modi regime with its resources, clout, and popularity of its leader, will pose a formidable challenge to I.N.D.I.A.

Canada’s spat with India now a whimper

The ripples created by Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau when he publicly alleged that the Indian government may have had a hand in the killing of a Sikh Canadian national who India accused of being a pro-Khalistan separatist seemed to have died down last week. India may have actually gained the upper hand in the spat. With none of Canada’s allies in the “Five Eyes” pact (between the intelligence authorities of Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand) supporting it in any major way, Trudeau appeared to have painted himself into a corner.

India, on the other hand, while steadfastly denying his accusations, has intensified its counter charges against Canada, which it believes is harbouring anti-Indian elements and separatists who have been agitating for the establishment of an independent state in Punjab. Last week, India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar accused Canada of giving “operating space” to terrorists and extremists. 

Long before the dispute over this summer’s killing of the Sikh Canadian, India has been accusing Canada of inaction against anti-Indian elements who reside in that country and are believed by the Indian authorities to foment sentiment against India’s sovereignty. 

It is widely known that the West, particularly the US, has been trying to get India’s support and alliance as its relations with China (which is closely aligned with Russia) hit rock bottom. China is believed to be trying to evolve a new “world order” to counter the West’s influence and India can be a key friend for the West in its move to counter China. 

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the US reaction to Trudeau’s charges have been muted, non-committal even. In the high stakes of the geopolitical face-off it has with China, Canada’s beef with India could be of little consequence.

Elon Musk dives into the immigration issue

As the debate over illegal immigration through the US’ border with Mexico gets bigger, the richest man in the world, Elon Musk, has thrown his hat into the ring. Last weekend, Musk, 52, who owns businesses that include electric vehicle manufacture, rocket launching, brain-computer interfacing, artificial intelligence, and the popular social media platform X (previously known as X), landed up at the Eagle Pass border in Texas to stream live video of what was going on. 

The video, which had 94 million views till Saturday, shows how thousands of immigrants, from several countries in Latin America as well as Africa, were using loopholes in US immigration laws to illegally enter the country, spread to other cities in the US, and stay back without being deported. Musk said he wanted to give an “unfiltered view” of what was going on as he interviewed elected representatives and local law information officers.

Illegal immigration through the US-Mexico border is of serious concern: The number of migrants crossing the border is growing and there has been a steep rise in Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous jungle route between Panama and Colombia, fleeing from their country’s socio economic crisis.

Many of the migrants are not Mexican although they cross into the Us from that country and the phenomenon has become a challenge for border security, public health, human rights, foreign relations, and domestic politics. With the US presidential elections due in November 2024, it has become a hot button issue. 

Musk’s eager involvement is significant. The entrepreneur (estimated net worth: $250 billion) has enormous clout in many spheres, including the US government as well as in international politics. His Starlink satellite internet constellation is used by Ukraine’s armed forces that are fighting against Russia. His rocket company, SpaceX, fills a void after the US government has retreated from spending on space exploration. In addition, Musk has a direct line and rapport with world leaders that include India’s Narendra Modi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Musk’s importance is growing constantly. X (previously known as Twitter) is estimated to have 370 million active monthly users, and it is globally impactful. Many believe his involvement in issues such as illegal migration is just the beginning of more things to come. It would be a good idea to keep our eyes on him.

A prize not punishment for hate monger Bidhuri

Ramesh Bidhuri, a BJP MP was recently in the news when he attacked a fellow parliamentarian, who happened to be Muslim, with a despicable hate speech, making allegations and insults for which he was pulled up and an investigation was started. 

Bidhuri, captured on a video clip that went viral, made his venom-spewing speech in Parliament against another MP, shouting abusive language that was patently anti-Muslim, and derogatory. He was condemned by all. Yet, instead of taking prompt action such as expelling him, his party has appointed him as a district in-charge in Rajasthan, which will hold its assembly elections soon. Bidhuri will be in charge of the Tonk district. Politics trumps principles.

What message does this send out to India’s citizens? You decide. 

A small shot of good news…

In the last six years, Indian surgeons performed more than 35,000 organ transplants, according to India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya. That makes India third in the world in number of organ transplants after the US and China. According to the minister, more than 15,000 organ donations are now made annually in the country as compared to around 5,000 in 2013.