The Future Of America

A question that is increasingly being asked in the USA is whether America will survive the Trump presidency. The triple crises now dragging the United States down could break its resilience and unleash a response that could be devastating for the world as well as the USA itself.

America has faced many disasters and lived through many challenges through history such as political and police racism, security crackdowns and economic ravages, external attacks and terrorism. But each time its somewhat asymmetrical democracy has helped it to recover keeping the country on top of the world. This time it may be different. The polarisation, the experiences and the expectations of different communities are deeply entrenched and unprecedent.

The United States has slid into significant internal divisions. It is suffering a pandemic out of control due to Government mishandling. Further it is trying to cope with diminishing authority on the world stage. Compounding this, the country is being led by a narcissist megalomaniac President who has little understanding of the threats let alone skills to manage them.

The situation is not only dangerous for the United States, but for a western world and its allies that have become reliant on USA to maintain a world in their favour. These are extremely unsettling times.

The US health system, not one of the wonders of the world, is showing signs of wearing down under nature’s attack, the Coronavirus Pandemic. The response to the pandemic is under a President who thinks it is a bad dream that will dissipate when everyone wakes up. His stewardship has been childish, immature and sometimes downright dangerous as he addresses the Virus as if it is a rival politician. ‘I won’t wear the mask’ he said early on as if the Virus would retreat against his cowboy defiance. Many in his base followed him. They are obsessed with ‘freedom to do and act as they want’ against scientific advice and putting the rest of the population at risk.

These Americans are confusing political authoritarianism with nature’s indiscriminating force. Nature does not understand ‘freedom’. The Pandemic isn’t going to do a U-turn simply because Jo America ala Captain Freedom doesn’t like nature acting like ‘communists’!  So they defy the virus with no masks, no maintaining social distance and no staying away from crowded beaches. It is bizarre, surrealist and dumbfounding.

It is clear that this President has never dealt with a political or social crises. He of course knows how to deal with personal financial challenges.

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The pandemic has divided Americans state wise, economically and racially. The virus has affected the poor, the blacks and the Hispanics most. There is a sense among them that the Government has deliberately allowed the virus to spread. Moreover different states in USA are approaching the pandemic differently as there is no coherent national plan or a collective Federal attempt to signal ‘we are all in it together’. If the pandemic continues to increase, it won’t be long before some states close their borders and manage their economies. A Pandemic that could have brought a spirit of unity, may lead to fissiparous tendencies.

Added to this is the sudden eruption of race politics on centre stage in America. The Afro-American population of USA has suffered racism from the days when they were brought as slaves to the modern era.

Much has changed for the Afro-American. From days of slavery when they were in chains to now as proud, free and politically strong community. But significant portions of white America has failed to move on with history. Their treatment of black Americans betrays prejudices and attitudes that were once found during slavery.

For many White Americans on the extreme right, the romance and tolerance of equality is now wearing thin as latent prejudices resurface. They want the White America as it once was.

But Afro-Americans are not the subdued population of yesteryear. They have dignity and expect respect. Black America isn’t going to accept intimidation, suppression or marginalisation anymore. For Black America, history cannot go backwards but only forward. Black Lives Matter is a powerful movement showing that the Afro-American isn’t going to take resurgent ‘White supremacy’ lying down. 

In favour of Afro Americans is the fact that the vast majority of White Americans also want to see an end to racism. They have collective shame about slavery and the treatment of Black Americans subsequently. Many White Americans joined in the protests and demonstrations that led to apparent equality. Now most White Americans actually support Black Lives Matter.

Afro-Americans are not the only group suffering racism in USA. The Hispanics, the Asians and the Muslims are also facing different levels of racism from White Supremacist

Unfortunately the constituency of ‘White supremacists’ is not small. Their racism is back on the agenda, given tacit encouragement by the President himself who has fuelled latent dreams of a permanent ‘white Nirvana’ in USA, a dream forged in falsehood.

White supremacist Americans have some choices to make for the future of USA. They can either continue to create tensions until they retreat into segregated white only areas or create de facto apartheid making life hell for any Black or Asian living in their area. They can come to terms with history and start to accept Afro-Americans as equals or they can start to fragment America creating a breakaway country where they can bask in whiteness.  Either way, they are likely to precipitate bloody Balkanisation of American society if they continue to live in a time warp.

Unless a remarkable leader pushes the genie back into the bottle, the future of America is bleak and facing fragmentation. A democratic President can only buy time but not bury the recurring past.

It will be an irony of history that where white Americans created reservations for Native Americans, the white supremacists will end up in a smaller country which effectively becomes a ‘White reservation’ in North America.

Thirdly the external international challenge is equally daunting. The United States has lost significant status in the world. Instead of leading, it often walks away from major international treaties and conferences. It walked away from the United Nations Human Rights Council as it did from the Climate Change Agreement and the Iran deal to name a few. It has even walked away from WHO. Usually it is when people are losing that they walk away from further humiliation.

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The USA no longer has the power to influence even its friendly countries to its bidding. Much has changed in the last two decades. It hasn’t quite adjusted to a world of multilateral powers. It is increasingly being challenged by China and appears to be at a loss for an effective response.

China is testing it in South China Sea, in South East Asia and lately in South Asia as it intrudes into Indian Territory. The USA almost feels obliged to come to the aid of India, but in what form? China is almost provoking the United States to wage a direct war. This is a dangerous game. Unlike the cold war when USSR and USA waged proxy wars, this one seems to be getting close to a direct confrontation.

Trump has so far avoided foreign wars. In an election year where his ratings are going down he may well be tempted and encouraged by his advisors to rise to the bait to look tough as his handling of Coronavirus pandemic has cost him his popularity. A foreign war to gain domestic votes is a frequent risk from democracies with internal crises.

However Trump has avoided an international war and is unlikely to engage in a conflict with China. Even he can see that the personal and general costs are too high. Chinese history has shown that China can sacrifice millions to survive. Although Opulent China has not been tested in a war yet. Americans do not have that sort of appetite for unending body bags. A USA ducking a war might make China look tougher than it is. This won’t go down well with many of the armchair warriors from neo con and American Supremacist tribes who have been keen to restore American power again in the world through a bloody war.

A new President in November is not going to be able to reverse America’s status. He will have to accept a multilateral powered world and re-engage in international institutions as well as treaty arrangements from a position of weakness. Whether he will be able to heal the divisions within is another matter. He is likely to face persistent criticism from American ‘Supremacists’ who feel betrayed by loss of American dominance in the world. They, like ‘white supremacists’ won’t accept the march of history. And when crises ridden democracies can’t unite by fighting abroad, they start to self-combust.

A superpower, facing internal unrest, an uncontrollable pandemic and a fall in international status, does not bode well for the world or the world order. The Trump presidency will be seen in history as a sort of hubris of the American power and American unity. Will the next President be able to slow it?  First the incumbent Trump has to be defeated and then hope restored. Yet it may be all too late. Trump has stayed in power two years more than was safe. He wasn’t removed when the threat was crossing the threshold of no return. A lot will depend on whether militant White Supremacist Americans will accept change or not. It may be too late now and it may be a case of not whether the USA will break up but when will it break up.

There Will Be Blood

Within hours after the news broke that the dreaded Uttar Pradesh gangster Vikas Dubey was killed in a “police encounter” early on July 10, the media, social media and messaging apps went abuzz. While there were stray voices of reason and rights, one particular message on WhatsApp dominated the popular sentiment thus: ‘Even a ten-year old knows this is a fake encounter. But people in UP couldn’t care less as long as the state is minus one more dreaded gangster.’

It was a redux of the Telangana Police encounter, eight months ago, where alleged rapists of a veterinary doctor were killed. Even though prima facie the encounter was seen as staged, the policemen involved were praised and lauded by the public as heroes.

Thus, the malaise runs deeper than what civil society believes – that extrajudicial killings are the mixed handiwork of police highhandedness, a delayed justice system and people’s disregard for legal loopholes. Fake encounters such as these are symptomatic of the erosion of our judicial, policing, and societal systems. This is a scary prospect because it hurtles society towards anarchy where law is disregarded and people’s rights, including that of alleged criminals, are denied and over-ridden by primitive instincts.

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The problem in different states, or regions, emanates from different compulsions; at times there could be public pressure, or plain police highhandedness, or the long-winding legal processes that frustrate the police preparedness. In this column, however, we shall limit our argument to the latest “fake encounter” and Uttar Pradesh criminal justice system.

So, what went wrong in the case of Vikas Dubey?

Clearly, Dubey failed to graduate from crime to community. Most of the criminals who were bumped off by Uttar Pradesh police, from Sri Prakash Shukla (the dreaded contract killer and tender mafia in the 1990s) to Vikas Dubey, had this shortcoming. In contrast are the likes of Mukhtar Ansari, DP Yadav and Raja Bhaiyaa (real name Rahugraj Pratap Singh), who in spite of proven criminal records, entered politics and survived, even flourished.

Their transition from crime to community is not a difficult task in Uttar Pradesh, where power and gun culture is so glorified that it is easy for a gangster to project himself as the messiah or pride of one’s community, caste, region or religion. Flashing a bunch of licenced guns at a wedding procession is considered more prestigious here than owning ten times of farm land in acres.

Add to this the poor policing. There has been numerous recruitment scams in Uttar Pradesh Police. Each time a new political regime takes over Lucknow, new investigations are ordered and a large number of police appointments are cancelled, followed by cases and counter-cases in courts. A majority of rank policemen (the constabulary) is unable to even write down an FIR (first information report) in plain language. An FIR forms the basis of a criminal investigation but in UP, there is a Hindi adage that translates loosely to this: ‘Why do you need to file (an FIR) when you can FIRE a rifle?’

Then, there is the power structure of regional, caste or communal dominance in various belts: in eastern UP, for example, a Jat leader gains political prominence only after he (rarely she) is able to terrify Muslims and Jatavs (two separate vote-banks) or vice versa; in the adjoining belt, a Yadav leader’s rise to power is proportional to how many police personnel or officers he has publicly slapped or humiliated; further west, the script is similar – a small-time criminal takes up arms against either the “oppressive police” or the dominant upper caste lord, and then sets oneself into a Bahubali cast who brooks no opposition. Railways, public works contracts, and extortion money fund these goons. After a point, they either join politics or get killed after losing relevance for their political masters.

Sri Prakash Shukla and Vikas Dubey felt political power was beneath them. Raja Bhaiyya, Mukhtar Ansari and DP Yadav joined politics, even jumped ships to stay afloat and are therefore are alive and operational today. It is not that the latter three had any less criminal cases to their ledger.

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Raja Bhaiyya was booked under terrorist act, charged with the murder of a DSP, Zia Ul Haq, and was rumoured to have even thrown his rivals to a pond full of crocodiles in his native village. Yet, he was rewarded by the Samajwadi Party with a cabinet portfolio of Jail Ministry (there were 46 criminal cases against him at that time).

Mukhtar Ansari, a dreaded don of eastern Uttar Pradesh who was accused of running numerous extortion and contract rackets, secured political protection with a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket and by winning Mau legislative Assembly seat for record five times. Even when he was expelled from the party after being charged with killing BJP legislator Krishnanand Rai, he formed his own party Quami Ekta Dal which was later merged with BSP as “ghar- wapasi”.

The case of DP Yadav is no less illustrative. Starting as a bootlegger to having monopolized liquor mafia in Ghaziabad (in close proximity to the National Capital) and adjoining areas of western Uttar Pradesh, Yadav joined politics after he was named in a hooch tragedy that took 350 lives in early 1990s. He joined Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal, later Janata Dal (Secular), even Bharatiya Janata Party for a brief spell, and finally Bahujan Samaj Party. He has represented both state assembly and Lok Sabha, and has survived any “encounter”.

What do these stories tell us? That crime and politics make a heady cocktail in Uttar Pradesh. Add police to this and you have an unholy, all-superior trinity which can bypass even the court of law. A state’s job is to establish the rule of law, not by unleashing extra-judicial delivery of justice but with better education, a competent constabulary, transparent platform for public grievance, better administrative presence and a responsive system. But in UP, where the state head himself carries a long-running criminal history — many of which he got dismissed after being sworn in as chief minister — this would be asking for too much.

As of now, the Uttar Pradesh police has publicly displayed its unabashed disrespect for the law. And considering Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi’s “free hand” to the police in dealing with criminals, it is likely to set off another round of extra-judicial killings. The aim apparently is to replace ‘Goonda Raj’ with ‘Police Raj’, mirror images of one another. And unless there is a public movement by the civil society, human rights groups, conscientious citizens and the media to force the government for a course correction, this Police Raj will continue to deal one body blow after another to the democratic system as enshrined in Indian Constitution.

Sundarbans: Dark Clouds & A Silver Lining

Sundarbans in West Bengal and Bangladesh is surely famous for its majestic Royal Bengal Tiger, an endangered species. Ecologically a global hot spot and a UNESCO heritage zone, both its ecology and its human habitation are now in serious danger and on the verge of a precipice after the fierce Cyclone Amphan hit it recently washing away thousands of homes, destroying livelihood, agriculture, fisheries and the vast mangroves, turning fresh water rivers into salt lakes or saline water bodies.

Sundarbans is the only wildlife zone in India which also allows man-eaters to roam free and they are not shot or imprisoned in cages of a zoo. It is also legendary for its huge delta and mangrove forests, an abundance of wildlife, crocodiles, birds, river and sea fish, insects and flora and fauna, and a kaleidoscope of bio-diversity including perhaps the finest honey found in South Asia.

The reserve is inhabited by around 4 million people, many of them refugees from the mainland or from across the border, who have migrated in different phases before and after the Partition. These millions who live in the buffer zone with great danger of both animals and natural catastrophes, surrounded by wetlands, water bodies, fresh water and saline water rivers, and the sea nearby, are situated perhaps in one of the most dangerous, fragile, sensitive and shifting demographic zone of land, river and forests.

The difficult and impossible terrain in the core area is not easy to access, hence, it is still not clear as to what has happened to the majestic tiger population or marine life in the region. 

Indeed, a cyclone or storm at high speed which ravages homes and the habitat begins to form naturally as a routine in the Bay of Bengal, as and when the high surface temperature leads to a cyclonic turbulence. Before Cyclone Amphan, Cyclone Aila had also wrecked massive destruction in the Sundarbans, destroying mangroves, fisheries, agricultural fields, fishermen’s boats and homes, and water bodies. 

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As after Cyclone Amphan, it is also Sundarbans which blocks or absorbs the ferocity of the storm and helps maintain some kind of ecological balance, thereby stopping the storm’s speed to hit the mainland and the plains with the same ferocity, though the cyclone did damage and destroy Kolkata’s basic infrastructure, like telephone and electricity lines in the first instance, flooding the entire city. It goes to the credit of the West Bengal government that they were quick to restore a semblance of normalcy, especially electricity lines in large parts of the ‘Mahanagar’ soon after the cyclone.

Over the decades, Sundarbans has faced invasion of human population due to acute poverty, homelessness, conflicts and violence, and economic migration from across West and East Bengal. The population pressure has not been allowed to reach the core areas, but a huge area of the buffer zone is literally spilling over into the core areas in both India and Bangladesh. Plus the ravages of construction activity, real estate and tourist sharks, and industry, especially in Bangladesh.

For instance, under construction in recent times has been a coal-fired power station at Rampal in the Bagerhat sub-division of Khulna. This might decisively alter for years to come the delicate ecological balance of this precious heritage site, according to environmentalists in Bangladesh. A joint venture between India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDP), the venture has been announced as the Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company, signaling a sign of friendship between the two neighbouring countries.

The coal-based venture is slated to generate 1,320MW of power, stretched across over 1,834 acres of this pristine zone, and is just about 14 km north of the world’s largest mangrove forest, Sundarbans, near the sublime saline estuary Poshur. This reporter ventured near the project in the summer of 2018 where journalists are not allowed to enter, and no peaceful protests are allowed, not even writing on the wall.

According to experts, Bangladesh has gas and power, it lacks coal. And India wants to dump its huge quantity of coal through this river project, thereby threatening the vulnerable ecological dynamics of this sensitive organic natural landscape. If the project starts operating, and by all indication it will, birds, marine life and wildlife will certainly move to a different terrain, including crocodiles and the tiger, the water quality will change including its temperature, the daily tidal waves will be impacted, and the thousands of sq km of the deeper core of the mangrove forests will not be the same anymore.

Besides, where will they dump the huge amount of fly-ash, waste products, garbage, industrial waste, etc?  Into the waters and the estuaries?

In the Indian side there is a serious effort to preserve its ecology, due to civil society consciousness. There is still a debate ranging on the coal-based plant in Bangladesh, including among its intelligentsia and students in prestigious universities like in Khulna and Dhaka. Almost all the Left parties told this reporter in Khulna that they are just not allowed to peacefully protest.

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However, amidst the destruction, the human will to survive and reach out, preserved its sanctity.  The civil society collectives in Bengal, especially the voluntary sector and students, pulled in all their efforts for immediate relief in the Sundarbans and 24 Parganas. The Bengal Relieve Collective, along with Prameya and Elsa, and other groups moved in almost on day one, taking the help of fishermen and boat people to provide relief in the remote and marooned villages surrounded by water. 

In the second phase of their relief now, they are primarily focusing on mangrove reconstruction and conservation, ecological preservation, community and women’s health and education in the second phase of the relief operations. In the first phase was home reconstruction, food, tarpaulins, torches, medicine and drinking water etc. They have apparently reached almost 2500 families, that is, around 10,000 people in 15 areas, contributing relief material worth Rs 15 lakh.

The Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, based in Kolkata and in remote districts, comprising youngsters, students and others, too moved in decisively. They entered not only Sundarbans but also nearby areas of 24 Parganas; currently they are helping out in Birbhum, among other places, posting their daily activities in the social media in Bangla.

Recently they held a rock concert called ‘Bottle Rockets India lighting up lives in Sundarbans’ in which filmmaker Anurag Kashyap helped wholeheartedly. In a post they said: “Thank you Anurag Kashyap for your love and support to Bangla Sanskriti Manch.”

In this online concert called ‘Assam sings for Bengal’, in trying to also bind each other  with friendly ties considering even Assam suffers devastating annual floods due to the ferocity of river Brahmaputra, their poster said, seeking donations: “We are hosting via MovieSaints a fundraiser eConcert . The group is quirkily called We Care… It is for Amphan relief in the Sundarbans. Do join in if you can please! And share ahead! Music with a heart and a purpose! Join the Assam Heartthrob band Bottle Rockets India tonight, #July1, 8pm IST as they perform for #Lighting Up Lives in the Sundarbans! Heartthrob #Sumon aka Arghadeep Barua is their vocals!

Besides, the National Hawker Federation and the Hawker Sangram Samiti went on boats to remote areas in the Sundarbans to distribute food packets. They, like the Jadavpur Commune comprising students, researchers and former students of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, who run a community kitchen in the campus, reached out with food and other essentials in Sundarbans. They also have been active since the pandemic and the lockdown, distributing food and sanitisers across the city, especially to vendors, slum dwellers, homeless people and cops, among others.

What has indeed been a silver lining amidst the despair is that after the initial hiccups when the local administration and the political apparatus of the ruling regime in Bengal did not come up to the expectations, Mamata Banerjee’s government has quickly moved in with free ration across the hinterland of the Sundarbans. This has been a big relief for the 4 million people in this difficult and fragile landscape. Indeed, the West Bengal government has promised free food to the poor till June 2021.

A Humble Cookie Can Crumble The Virus

One thing India needs most amidst the persisting Covid-19 pandemic, besides the still-elusive vaccine, and the equipment and health infrastructure, which it has succeeded in producing, is the ubiquitous biscuit.

Making and marketing this humble ready-to-eat item that is also most accessible and affordable, has posed as big a challenge as fighting the pandemic itself.  Both, urban India and the rural poor have over the last three months virtually lived on it.

In initial weeks after the lockdown, one of the world’s strictest, stores in richer neighborhoods of Mumbai, Delhi, and elsewhere, ran out of it. For working-class citizens forced out of the cities for want of work, a glucose-enriched biscuit was the most easily digestible antidote to hunger as they headed home, miles away, many of them on foot.

Luckily, this sector – one of the very few – rose to the challenge. Indeed, it is on a roll. Companies have worked overtime and registered flourishing sales.

The big and small producers all experienced initial setback in April. Production was hit by abrupt lock-down when workers either could not report to work or had left for their villages. Yet, it was mainly the biscuit that the migrant labour walking back home under extremely trying conditions, found handy to carry, to feed self and the children.

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As the world witnessed this heart-rending mass movement, the worst since the 1947 Partition, there were also soothing pictures of biscuit packets being tossed on to the moving trains and buses.

To feed these millions on the move, government agencies, the NGOs, and buyers across the country rushed to get this packaged staple. Biscuit thus fulfilled the original role for which it was conceived: nutritious, easy-to-store, easy-to-carry, and long-lasting food for long journey.

For the pious, their conscience troubled by what was happening around it is also the easiest and the cheapest give-away. The smallest pack of five sells for as little as Rupees two. They prefer the little biscuit packets over perishable sweets for distribution to the poor and the children outside the shrines. Biscuit has become charity-favourite.

For the record, biscuit industry having Rs 12,000 crore annual turn-over is one of the largest food industries in India. It produces 5,000 tons daily. Biscuit is also a job-giver. The industry employs 3,50,000 directly and indirectly, over three million. Forty percent of the manufacture is with the small and medium-scale factories. Growing at 15 per cent pre-Covid-19, the industry as a whole has registered 50 percent higher production during the lockdown.

However, the situation is iffy in that the factory attendance is only around 66 percent, industry association says. This is mainly because companies are currently running on limited staff. It’s still partial production as there are not enough trucks to transport the product.

Covid-19 constraints may impact export and import too. Globally, India is the third largest producer after the US and China. It is also among the top five exporters. It imports biscuit as well to cater to the elite consumer, a growing market what with more and more people emerging with disposable incomes.

The per capita domestic consumption of 2.1 kilogram is, however, low for a simple reason. Indians get a variety of staples, affordable and available round the year. Biscuit goes with tea/coffee, not food.

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To clarify, the focus here is on the humble biscuit with wheat flour, sugar and glucose and claimed nutrients and not on the exotic variety that has nuts, butter, raisins, chocolates, colours and aromas added artificially with use of intelligent technology.

There is a vast market for biscuit in India that is growing in rural areas. Large population base which majorly comprises rural population creates a huge demand for an affordable biscuit. Unsurprisingly, non-premium biscuits dominate the market in the industry’s forecast period 2019-2025.

Premium biscuits were also projected to exhibit the fastest growth rate what with increasing awareness among consumers, widening of distribution channels coupled with advertising campaigns, high visibility and accessibility of biscuits in retail outlets. However, Covid-19 may change the producers’ priorities. So, wishing them luck, this is best left for happier times.   

Why this bonding over biscuit? Why is it so popular? To be sure, it is one of the most universally consumed foods. Across India’s complex and varied culinary landscape where food habits (remember the vegetarian-non-vegetarian divide?) often determine social relationships, biscuit is neutral. It is consumed by people of all class, caste, religion, ethnicity, and income. Wealthier Indians dip them in milky tea/coffee and poorer ones in spiced tea or just water.

Biscuit can be found at luxury hotels, in an urban ghetto as well as in the make-shift wooden kiosks along the farms of rural India. Wax paper packaging gives it long shelf-life and salty or sugary taste is welcome to those engaged in physical labour.

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Biscuit has long history in South Asia having evolved with the Muslim rule. Even today, old parts of Delhi, Hyderabad or Agra cities have the producer/hawker armed with an iron slab on coal-fire making sugary, ghee-rich ‘nankhatai’.

The art of confectioning thrived with Europeans’ arrival, be it British French, Portuguese or the Dutch colonizing different parts of India. Modern-day biscuit first became popular among Muslims when the British introduced it in Sylhet in the present-day Bangladesh. The Hindu elite took a while to emulate. What was elite food once has now been embraced as comfort food by the common man. Think of the sweeper who, having cleaned the road outside, taking the first sip of tea with biscuit.

There are social contexts galore if you use Bollywood down the decades as a yardstick. One of the most telling, perhaps, is Shubh Mangal Savadhan (2017). The young protagonist subtly conveys to the eager heroine of his erectile dysfunction (ED) problem. He dips a biscuit in tea and lets it crumble. Enamoured of him still, the girl, confesses to her best friend: “I will never be able to have biscuit and tea!”

Over three months after Prime Minister Modi’s first announcement, although the pandemic is not, India’s lockdown is beginning to ease. For workers, the village-to-city reverse journey has begun. As they travel back, not on foot this time and with hope in their hearts, biscuit is there on the trains, at railway stations and awaiting them in factory canteens.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Apps Are Only Tip Of China’s Huge Presence In India’s Tech Sector

On June 29, the Indian government banned 59 Chinese-owned mobile apps. The list included many but the most prominent ones were TikTok and WeChat, both hugely popular among Indian users. India has the world’s second largest number of mobile phone users. The number of mobile phones in use in India is estimated to be 1.38 billion, with more than 104 connections for every 100 citizens. Even if a third of those are on smart phones, it is a staggeringly huge number that accesses internet on their mobile apps, a market that most global app makers worldwide cannot afford to miss.

The ban on Chinese apps came shortly after a border clash between troops from the two countries left 20 Indian soldiers dead earlier in June. The Indian government blocked the apps ostensibly because of cybersecurity risks and the possibility that some of the apps could be used to compromise India’s defence systems. But the ban may have also been a way of sending a message to China. Ever since the most recent border clash between the two countries occurred—at a time when India is struggling with a massive internal problem of containing the rapidly spreading pandemic of Coronavirus within the country—there has been a clamour for boycotting all Chinese products and services in India.

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TikTok and a host of other apps that have been blocked or banned in India will no doubt affect users as well as the makers and suppliers of those apps but China’s less visible but ubiquitous presence in India’s tech and internet landscape goes way beyond Chinese apps that have been popular in that market. Chinese venture capital is probably the biggest component of funding that India’s start-ups, most of them internet based and online. In many ways, Chinese funding is the lifeline for India’s bustling and vibrant start-up industry.

Chinese venture capitalists and private equity investors have invested huge amounts in India’s tech start-ups. And one could argue that without their funding, India’s start-up sector could lose much of its buoyancy. US investors who earlier dominated India’s start-up funding have been eclipsed by Chinese funders. According to GlobalData, an analytics firm, Chinese investments in Indian start-ups increased 12 times since 2016 to $4.6 billion. Eleven of the 30 Indian unicorns (start-up firms with a valuation of $1 billion or higher), at least 15 are funded by Chinese venture capitalists, with two of the biggest funders being China’s Tencent and Alibaba.

Some Indian start-ups that have become household names in India have raised huge amounts from Chinese firms. Paytm, the mobile payment system that has become ubiquitous in India, particularly after the government resorted to demonetisation of large currency notes, has raised $3.5 billion; Flipkart, India’s challenge to e-tailing giant Amazon has raised $7.7 billion; food delivery major Swiggy got $1.6 billion; and Uber’s Indian rival Ola $3.8 billion. All of their funding coming almost exclusively from Chinese venture capitalists. Between 2016 and 2018, Chinese funds for Indian start-ups grew an eye-popping five-fold.

Much of this has happened because of the potential that Chinese investors see in India. India’s population of 1.3 billion is expected to cross China’s 1.4 billion. Middle-income earners in India who comprise the biggest chunk of consumers are estimated at more than 30% of the total population. Moreover, there have been changes in the global dynamics of manufacturing and supply of products. Tech giants from across the world have been steadily shifting their manufacturing bases to emerging markets and India is a prime destination for them. This trend has a multiplier effect, spawning new start-up ancillaries and other firms in India, all of which need funding, which has translated into opportunities for Chinese venture capitalists and private equity investors.

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Some Chinese investors appraise the Indian market as China was some years ago when the mobile access to internet began taking off. There are other similarities with China—the size of the market and the willingness of Indian consumers to quickly adopt new apps for convenience or recreation when they are launched. Chinese investors not only have a deeper understanding of the Indian market (because it is not unlike China’s) but they are also funds-rich.

The recent ban on Chinese apps is likely, of course, to have an impact. Both on users as well as app makers who are set to lose what is probably their biggest market with the promise of a huge potential. But what could happen if India follows it up with a decision to curb or restrict Chinese investment in Indian companies? In April this year, the Indian government amended its foreign direct investment (FDI) policy by stipulating that any country that shares a border with India cannot any longer take recourse to the automatic route for FDI but has to take government permission before investing in Indian firms. Besides China, India shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar, and Bhutan, but those latter countries account for negligible amounts of investment in India.

The new policy, therefore, is presumably aimed at a closer scrutiny of China’s investments in India. This could hit India’s start-up industry hard. Some start-ups, such as the popular food delivery major, Zomato, are already witnessing a slowdown in investments that were slated to come from Chinese funds. It is early days still because the policy has just been implemented but by all reckoning, it will have an adverse effect on Indian firms whose business models pin their hopes on easy funding from Chinese investors.

What exacerbates the situation is India’s large trade deficit with China—in 2019 it was $57 billion. India imports a vast range of products from China. Much of it is capital goods such as telecom equipment, power plants, railway coaches, value-added iron and steel items; electronic and household durables such as air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators and so on; as well as mobile phone components, chemicals, auto components, and pharmaceuticals.

If the tensions at the Sino-Indian border spills over to the economic front, there could be a bigger impact on the Indian economy. Banning apps is just the tip of the looming iceberg below. If Indian firms’ funding is affected, India’s burgeoning start-up industry would suffer. If India resorts to trade restrictions in the form of import sanctions, it is conceivable that the economy could be hit hard. In both countries’ interests it is, therefore, prudent to dial down the tensions at the borders they share and foster greater economic ties instead.

Help Sri Lankan Tamils: An Open Letter to Mr Modi

Dear Mr Prime Minister Narendra Modi,

I am writing this letter concerning Tamil people in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka, which has been the hereditary land of the Tamils for thousands of years, known as Tamil Eelam. Of course, I am writing this from France, as a diaspora Tamil. We, a group of the diaspora sacrifice two thirds of our time to achieve a prosperous future for the fellow Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. Since the late 80s, many others and I have been constantly working to find a path, in which Eelam Tamils can live in peace with dignity. The Tamil language has existed in the world for thousands of years, long before many present day ruling languages and states.

It is well known that you understand Tamil history better than the Sinhala Buddhist leaders. We appreciate that in your last speech in the UN General Assembly, you quoted a favourite Tamil phrase penned by the poet Kaniyan Poongundranar: “Yaathum Uure Yaavarum Kaeleer / யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்’ ” (To us all towns are one, all men our kin). As you are well aware of the background and facts of Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka, here there is no need for me to mention anything about the origin of the Tamil language, and its history in the island of Sri Lanka.

We Tamils are close to India in many aspects – linguistically, culturally, religiously, socially, etc. When our scholars, poets, philosophers and others speak about our relationship with India, they describe that we Tamils in Sri Lanka have an umbilical cord relationship “தொப்புள் கொடி உறவு”.

In brief, then Taproban or Ceylon was colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. There is ample historical evidence that during the colonial period a Tamil Kingdom was in the island of Sri Lanka. The first colonial master, the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka in 1505, followed by the Dutch in 1658. Both colonial powers maintained the Tamil Kingdom as unique. When the British took over in 1795, they too maintained the Tamil Kingdom separately for thirty-eight (38) years. However, in the name of ‘administrative convenience’, they amalgamated the Tamil Kingdom in 1833 with the other two Sinhala Kingdoms. This was the beginning of our sad stories in the island.

ALSO READ: Ensure Justice To Tamils: Modi Urges Lankan PM

When the British gave independence in 1948, they handed over the governing power to the numerical majority, the Sinhala Buddhists – SB. They took this opportunity to start discriminating against us in all aspects of life in our hereditary land and in other parts. They started to colonise our regions with SBs – as part of their master plan. As a result, today we Tamils are compelled to live in slavery in our own land.

Being our good neighbour, you all are well aware of the failure of our thirty years of non-violent struggle, which the SBs responded to with extreme violence, eventually paving the way to an armed struggle.

Here I do not have to mention anything in detail about the crucial role played by India. The blood shed by the people of the North and East gave birth to the Indo-Lanka accord in 1987. Manipulations carried out with ulterior motives by Sri Lankan governments, created turmoil between the Tamils in Sri Lanka and India. Without realising the agenda of the SBs, there were mistakes made by both sides.  Eventually, the government of Sri Lanka won everything in their favour.

During the war, they sought the help of India; I mean Indian Congress party on a bogus promise that, as soon as they had ended the war, they would implement not only the 13th Amendment in full, but also the ‘13th plus’. During that time, the then government had a two-thirds majority in parliament. The President had executive powers too.

However, at the end of the war in May 2009, they broke the promises that they had given to India and the international community. Sadly, your predecessor or his political party could not put pressure on Sri Lanka! It is believed that Sri Lanka was blackmailing India about its involvement during the final stage of the war.

Today, we Tamils have nothing in the island – we are losing our people, our land, our culture and our religion to the aggressive SBs. Successive Sri Lankan governments proceed with the four pillars of their master plan – Sinhalaisation, Buddhisation, Colonisation and Militarisation in the North and East.

ALSO READ: India & Sri Lanka – Cleaning The Slate

Now, eleven years after having ended the war on false promises to India and the international community, they have done nothing to settle the ethnic conflict. All this time, our appeals to the Sri Lankan government have been ignored. To be frank, they are not concerned at all about settling our political grievances. The promises they gave your predecessors and yourself regarding the 13th Amendment have been intentionally ignored.

The Sri Lankan rulers swiftly brush truth and reality under the carpet. They whitewash successive governments and ignore the reasons why since independence in 1948, Tamils engaged in thirty years of non-violent struggle and then a further thirty years of armed struggle.

Presently, the way they convey the reasons for the ethnic conflict of more than seven decades in the island, gives an impression to the outside world that the people in the North and East are simply uneducated, jobless, suffering from poverty and other social problems. 

The truth is that, since independence in 1948, Sinhala dominated governments bought time and space in the name of negotiations. Now they blame the Tamil politicians, saying that since independence they have ‘taken a wrong path’!

The accords (Banda-Chelva and Dudley-Chelva pacts) signed between the Tamil politicians and Sinhala leaders were unilaterally abrogated by the Sinhala leaders. This is very good evidence to prove that Sinhala leaders took Tamil leaders and the people of the North and East for a ride.

The abrogation of pacts and ceasefire agreements, including the Indo-Lanka accord, are tactics of the Sri Lankan governments to achieve their four pillars. Their thinking is that, once the North and East has been successfully colonised with SBs, then the question of a political solution to the Tamils will not be raised by anyone.

They completely ignore the grievances and the history of the Tamils and now they bluntly tell us that, the ‘minority should not do anything that disturbs the majority or causes suspicion’.

We Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka are a ‘Nation’, not a minority as they depict to the outside world. They insist that we should forget the past and work on development. In other words, their agenda is that ‘development’ is the political solution to our long-standing political grievances – our history, our hereditary land, war crimes and all sorts of systematic violations that they have committed against us.

Sir, they are now talking with ulterior motives about neutrality in the region. This is again to buy time and space from India and the international community. However, the ‘gate was closed only after the horse had bolted’.

Whether one likes it or not, China has a permanent base already in Sri Lanka.  In 2017, China took over Hambantota port and 15,000 acres of land on a ninety-nine years lease, with the blessing of the present rulers. Gradually the island of Katchchaithivu in the North will also be given to China. Sri Lankan governments trust more in China and Pakistan than in India. There is historical evidence of this, over a long period. The SBs are annoyed that although Buddha was born in India, Buddhism has no place there. They also strongly believe that Tamil militancy was born and brought-up in India.

It is true that there have been some unfortunate memories among us. Nevertheless, every Tamil in Sri Lanka values the vital role of India regarding our political settlement. They believe that it is the responsibility of India to implement the 13th Amendment in full. The past, present and the future remind us that unity and solidarity among us is important for the betterment of both.

Those who speak about the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi should listen to what was said by Sri Lankan Navy sailor Wijemuni Rohana de Silva who attempted to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi on 30 July 1987. He openly says that he hit Rajiv Gandhi to kill him. The Navy commander who was part of this plot is closely working with the present government. In the recent past, he was attending the UN Human Rights Council – UN HRC in Geneva.

In the meantime, I would like to bring certain matters to your kind notice. These days, ex-Sri Lankan soldiers participate in the sessions of the UN HRC in Geneva. Their task is fully against India.

I do not wish to disclose everything in this letter but in brief – Sri Lankan governments always believe that they can easily manage with Indian negotiators and mediators. However, people like Mr G Parthasarathy and a few others wanted India to guarantee the safety, security, economic and social well-being of the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern provinces.  For this reason, Sri Lanka prevented them taking part in negotiations.

Sir, time is running out. We urge you and the government of India to take immediate initiatives to implement the 13th amendment that was agreed and accepted by India to meet the aspirations of the Tamils in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka. These are matters of concern for the people of India as well.

This is the only way to prevent the modern day Tamil slavery in the island of Sri Lanka.

Sir, the Indo-Lanka accord is an international agreement. It gave birth to the 13th amendment, which is still not fully implemented by Sri Lanka. Therefore, we strongly believe that, it is the responsibility of India to demand Sri Lanka to implement it without further delay.

In the recent past, I have written many articles in English and Tamil concerning India and Tamils in Sri Lanka.

S. V. KIRUPAharan
France

Galwan Gaffe Fails To Dent Brand Modi

An-all party meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week was essentially aimed at forging a national consensus on the government’s China policy but it instead resulted in a raging controversy which has emboldened the opposition and embarrassed the ruling dispensation.

Already on the warpath, the Congress got fresh ammunition to attack the Prime Minister personally when he told the all-party meeting that there had been no incursion into Indian territory by the Chinese and no Indian post had been captured. 

Modi’s categorical statement expectedly drew a sharp reaction from former Congress president Rahul Gandhi who has been in attack mode ever since 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives in a violent confrontation between the Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. Accusing the Prime Minister of “surrendering Indian territory to Chinese aggression”, the Nehru-Gandhi scion asked the government to explain that if the land was Chinese, “Why were our soldiers killed and where were they killed?”  Former home minister P.Chidambaram also released a statement punching holes in the Prime Minister’s claim on the Ladakh developments. 

ALSO READ: China Threat: Raise Defence Budget To 3% Of GDP

Unlike other opposition leaders, whose response to the India-China clash has been muted, Rahul Gandhi has upped the ante to put the government, and more specifically the Prime Minister, on the mat, for “sleeping” on the wheel. He began by questioning Modi’s silence on the death of the jawans, went on to charge that the Modi government had been in denial about the Chinese incursions and then asked why the Indian soldiers were unarmed. 

Congress president Sonia Gandhi also did her bit in cornering the government when she unexpectedly asked tough questions about the chronology of the Chinese incursions and a possible intelligence failure at the all-party meeting convened by Modi. 

Sonia Gandhi’s searching queries on what she described as “many crucial aspects of the crisis” were in line with the Congress party’s considered strategy to buttonhole the Modi government for its lax response to the ongoing build-up of Chinese troops along the LAC which led to a violent clash between the two armies in the Galwan Valley. 

Rahul Gandhi’s tweets have elicited a sharp response from the Union ministers Amit Shah and S.Jaishankar and this war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party and it will only intensify further in the coming days.

Though it is unusual for the Congress to take such a strident position on a matter of national security when all political parties generally put up a united front, the principal opposition party is feeling emboldened to slam the Modi government as it realises that BJP is constrained from waving its usual nationalist flag and resorting to fervid rhetoric in this instance. 

In fact, the Modi government has been extremely restrained in its reaction. Though the Prime Minister has assured the country that the Indian army has the necessary capability to protect its sovereignty and integrity, the overall tenor of his statements has been fairly restrained. But given the growing anger among the people, the government has to be seen to be hitting back at China. So it has decided to cancel major infrastructure contracts awarded to Chinese firms, stop import of Chinese goods and discourage trade ties with China.

ALSO READ: Will Chinese Attacks Attract Global Attention?

This is in sharp contrast to the Indian response to the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed. This had immediately led to a national outcry for revenge as Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad was said to be responsible for the attack. The Modi government had then ordered a pre-emptive strike conducted by the Indian Air Force in which several terrorists were killed. Modi himself had then raised the pitch and taken personal credit for teaching Pakistan a lesson while the BJP rank and file had touted the Balakot airstrike as the latest example of its nationalistic credentials and Modi’s strong leadership. This retaliatory attack and the BJP’s shrill campaign led to a Hindu consolidation in favour of the saffron party and its impact was there for all to see in the result of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

However, China cannot be bracketed with Pakistan. First, China is more powerful than Pakistan both economically and militarily. And second, it does not serve the BJP’s communal agenda to adopt a belligerent stand against China. Consequently, the BJP’s response to the Congress attack has been confined to remind the opposition party about the defeat suffered by India at the hands of China in 1962 when Nehru was Prime Minister. The party also underlines that India is far more self-assured with Modi at the helm and points to the infrastructure development which has taken place along the border in the last six years.

WATCH: ‘I Will Never Stock Or Sell Chinese Products’

Nevertheless, the Congress unrelenting attack has touched a raw nerve and both the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministry of external affairs have tied themselves in knots explaining Modi’s statement that there had been no intrusion by the Chinese. The government and the party are in constant damage control mode.

But for all the explanations his government has to proffer and the embarrassment it is suffering, Modi’s image as a strong, decisive leader remains intact and his popularity undiminished. The Modi brand has survived a floundering economy, a raging pandemic and the worst migrant crisis in recent months. And it is now all set to sail through the standoff with the Chinese.

The Congress is making a valiant attempt to tarnish Modi’s image but it lacks credibility and an articulate leader to convince the public that Modi has failed to live to their expectations. Eventually, Rahul Gandhi’s persistent attack against the Prime Minister could well be reminiscent of his campaign on the purchase of Rafale aircraft when his slogan “chowkidar chor hai” only ended up strengthening Modi.

China Threat: Raise Defence Budget To 3% Of GDP

The robust and brave faceoff given to China at Galwan will send a strong message that India is able to stand up to China. However, as in 1962, this engagement with China is a wake-up call too and should herald deeper thinking about the current capabilities of India, its defence spending and the need to restart some projects that were suspended.

China’s incursion may have many reasons, but the fact is that the threat remains real. China’s words of peaceful coexistence cannot be taken at face value. India needs to increase its defence budget from 1.8% GDP to 3%. More importantly, the matter can no longer be left exclusively to the diplomats. This is a Defence Ministry issue now.

Despite the media columns and statements by some politicians, the powerful  challenge given by India to what amounts to almost an ambush, showed courage, determination and the ability to see off China.

The current ongoing Sino-Indian standoff since the last five weeks peaked in the bloody violent action in the Galwan Sector on night 15/16 June 20 at Patrol Point 14 resulting in death of a Commanding Officer and 19 soldiers on Indian side and around 40 soldiers on the Chinese side. The scuffle took place and continued till mid night in around three phases, when the Indian commander approached the Chinese troops around dusk time to exhort them to pull back their troops in conformation to the decisions taken at the Corps Commander level meeting on 06 June 20.

ALSO READ: Will Chinese Attacks Attract Global Attention

This may be the tip of the iceberg as far as Chinese strategic goals along the Line of Control (LAC) are concerned. The escalation has also thrown the Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 between China and India to the winds. Chinese soldiers had come physically prepared to up the ante – short of opening fire by small arms.

The June 6 meeting was headed from the Indian side by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, 14 Corps Commander, an outstanding suave officer who has effectively handled sensitive situations in United Nations peacekeeping as a Brigade Commander. The Chinese delegation was headed by Maj Gen Liu Lin. A series of talks at various levels are on, after the violent incident of 15 June resulting in death of around 60 soldiers on both sides. The Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has also spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on 17 June 20. It is in the interest of both China and India to de-escalate the situation and resort to high level peace talks. These fatal casualties have taken place on the LAC after a gap of 45 years.

However, the standoff this time has been different from the previous ones including the Doklam standoff in 2017 in terms of force levels used and the areas addressed. The Chinese in a diversionary action, probably to test the waters, crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in North Sikkim at Naku La on 05 May 20 and Fingers 4 West of Pangong Tso Lake. There were violent actions between the two sides but there were no fatal casualties.

One week later they came into Eastern Ladakh at four carefully selected sectors in Galwan, Hot Springs, Demchok and Fingers Area. India built an axis from Darbuk to Daulat Beg Oldie via Galwan, Gobra Post and Demchok to support the Sub Sector North last year. This axis enables the Indians to cover a distance that was being covered in two days, just in six hours. The axis was very close to the Karokaram Pass and touched the sensitivities of the Chinese as it is part of the BRI and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As the road axis passes through the Shyok and Galwan Valleys, the Chinese have crossed the LAC from the North and North East and occupied higher reaches along the axis in order to be able to interdict any movement along the axis. China has also stoked trouble for India by enticing Pakistan and Nepal in their favour.

A large number of reasons can be attributed to the ongoing standoff. There are voices of dissent within China pointing at the manner in which the COVID- 19 was handled by President Xi Jinping. Some writers even stuck their neck out to suggest that he takes the responsibility of mass scale deaths and steps down. It is felt that the recent intrusions in Ladakh and Sikkim were undertaken to divert the attention and galvanise the domestic public opinion against India.

Another reason speculated is that since US has asked WHO to carry out an honest investigation on the origin of Corona virus and India has just taken up the leadership of WHO for the next two years, China wanted to pressurise India to play ball and not go too Thoroughly into the issue to blame China for the spread of COVI-19.

ALSO READ: Kashmir Headed For A Hot Summer

Abrogation of Article 370 and converting Ladakh into a Union territory by the Indian Government has also been objected by the Chinese as they feel New Delhi will now control this contested region directly.

Where does the violent action of 15/16 June lead to the already building tension in the sub-continent? India has political, diplomatic, economic and military options which can be grouped into the long and short term options. It is accepted fact that Indian Army has stood its ground and has challenged and checked the ongoing incursions from the Chinese side.

The protocols and methods of patrolling and domination of the LAC are very unconventional and un-military like. The Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 states that neither sides will fire, cause explosions or bio-degrade the area along the LAC. The deployment of regular troops will remain in deeper territories of each but patrols can be sent from both sides to dominate their side of the LAC. There are varying perceptions of the LAC on both sides and at times the difference may be upto ten to fifteen kilometres. Whereas these protocols were sufficient to diffuse the situation in the past; use of caveman like sharp tools as weapons, to cause fatal casualties, has been resorted to for the first time.

First at the diplomatic and military levels, the rules of engagement need to be refined. Two nuclear powered professional armies cannot continue to use cave man tactics to enforce their will on each other. During peacetime, border management is the responsibility of ITBP under the Ministry of Home (MHA) and the regular troops only do periodic patrolling at the LAC. During hot war, the Army formations are tasked to move to the forward defences and the operations are controlled by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The peace talks are generally steered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This complex and multi ministry control needs to go; and operations must be controlled by MOD. The MOD needs to be in control of the situation now.

The short term Military options include staying put at the forward positions and creating habitat, infrastructure and logistic bases for the forward troops prior to setting in of winters.

Importantly the raising of the Mountain Strike Corps that was to be completed in eight years, but was put on the back burner by the present Govt, must be completed within two financial years.

WATCH: ‘I Will Never Stock Or Sell Chinese Products’

The Armed Forces need to deploy drones, long range radars and aerial reconnaissance to dominate the LAC. We cannot patrol a threat simply with binoculars

For the long term measures, Defence Budget needs to be enhance from 1.8 percent of the GDP to 3.0 percent for the next two five year plans. As in 1962, India needs to wake up to the threat. It is real and could escalate over the years as China tries to assert its power.

Procurements as per the Joint Long Term Perspective Plan for all three services needs to be stepped up for capacity building. While indigenous production should be encouraged, Transfer Of Technology (TOT) must be included in all big ticket acquisitions of aircrafts, ships, guns and anti-aircraft systems.

The infantry has been neglected for a long time as the infantry acquisitions are not considered big ticket procurements. It is high time to equip the ground soldier with a lighter and more effective weapon system and equipment.

Resource integration must be ensured in utilisation of all intelligence resources of the country as was practised during the Surgical Strikes after Uri incident and at Balakot after the Pulwama incident.

Diplomatically, we need to steer international opinion against China as the aggressor. The Quad including US,Japan, Australia and India, must carryout greater number of Joint Exercise and enhance interoperability of their armed forces. Armed forces of Taiwan and South Korea should also be included in these exercise to isolate China regionally and internationally.

India needs to revisit it’s No First Use (NFU) Nuclear Policy and make it clear like its adversaries that it retains the right of first use of tactical nuclear weapons on the lines of its adversaries and we must stabilise our Triad capability of delivering these weapons by air, sea and land.

Our successful missile technology should be further enhanced for over 95 percent accuracy at long ranges. The bottom line is that any emerging economy can only prosper when its defence forces are strong and they have adequate dissuasive and deterrent capabilities to check mate its adversaries.

India must take a leaf from China’s book to enhance its comprehensive national power in a peaceful manner without any fanfare. China kept on growing peacefully for nearly forty years before taking an aggressive posture in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and land borders with India and Bhutan two years back. Hopefully, China has learnt from the stiff resistance given at Galwan and understood that India is no push over and is a regional power to coexist with rather than mess with.

Delhi Shows How NOT To Manage A Pandemic

Unlock 1.0 in Delhi, with the opening of borders, has led to huge mobility and activity, even while the markets have reopened and people are trying to recapture their outdoor lives after weeks of depressing quarantine in lockdown. The renewed presence of people outside on the streets and partial commercial activity have seen a simultaneous rise in Covid-19 cases across the National Capital. With 50,000 plus cases, and around 2,000 deaths, deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has given a stern warning that by June-end there might be 1,00,000 cases in Delhi alone, and by the end of July perhaps as many as 5,00,000 cases. This is a grim and dire prediction signifying that post-lockdown the virus has spread across the spectrum, and so drastically, while the official health and hospital system seem to be cracking under the burden.

The news that the Delhi health minister has been infected and is critically ill is bad news, and one wishes him a speedy recovery. Earlier several doctors and health workers in leading hospitals like AIIMS had fallen ill, even while the stark lack of PPEs and gas masks, including ventilators and oxygen, had only made the situation more tragic and tense. Nurses have been resigning en masse from both private and government hospitals and the acute lack of beds, for those patients who have tested positive, has been all apparent.

There have been reports of people running from pillar to post to get themselves tested since the doctors and the hospitals refuse to admit patients, and the usual bureaucratic structures in government hospitals have not helped. Indeed, besides education and the successful experiment of ‘mohalla clinics’, the Delhi government was much appreciated for its stellar work in the health sector, while they made all kinds of tests and treatment totally free for the citizens of Delhi.

ALSO READ: ‘Doctors Giving Their Best, Public Support Vital’

This presumably strong edifice seems to have cracked under the pressure of the pandemic, with both the state and the Centre having caught off-guard and the health structures under great stress. Indeed, the prestigious hospitals in Delhi under the central government and the Union health minister too are under severe stress, even as they handle the pressure from patients from other states with crumbling or weak health infrastructures, as in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

What has been really disturbing is the manner in which some private hospitals and health care institutions in Delhi have chosen to behave. They are reportedly charging huge sums, often in lakhs, from patients, thereby shutting the door to those patients who don’t have deep pockets, and parasiting on those who just don’t have any option in a desperate situation with government hospitals denying them admission, treatment or testing facilities. There was a case of an elderly asthmatic patient who was shunted from one hospital to another, both private and government, to the extent that the man died on the streets outside one hospital, with his family begging to the doctors who simply refused treatment.  

Besides, what about those patients who are suffering from other ailments — cancer, tuberculosis, heart diseases, etc? With OPDS practically shut, private clinics dysfunctional, and doctors refusing to come home, where do they go for treatment or a check-up?

Why can’t private hospitals in Delhi be put in line with a government order asking them to admit and treat all critical patients, come what may, and not charge a penny extra, as Mamata Banerjee has ordered in Bengal, and as was the norm in Kerala? What stops the central government to issue a directive to all private hospitals not to fleece patients and treat all them without exploitation and with dignity in a national crisis?

ALSO READ: ‘Choked Toilets, Smelly Linen, Quarantine Is Jail’

Besides, overworked doctors and nurses and health staff, have had their professional lives stretched to the ultimate limits, even while they risk their lives as frontline workers to fight the epidemic. Besides asking people to beat ‘thalis’ etc in praise, the central government does not seem have had any intention to give them benefits or incentives to boost their morale in such difficult work conditions. Most doctors and health staff thereby have been left to their own fate.

Besides, the central government seems to have turned a blind eye to the massive crisis since January this year, and this transparent indifference and insensitivity only continued with the tragic migration of lakhs of workers, their wives and children, starving, thirsty, emaciated and totally helpless. Thereby, no one really knows what the state of affairs of the tens of thousands of workers is who have reached their homes in small towns and villages. These places so brazenly lack even the most basic health structures, with even the primary health or community centres absent, and the district hospitals in dire straits. This seems to be a pattern in the Hindi heartland, especially in UP and Bihar. More so, around 25 lakh workers are reportedly now in transit or quarantine.

WATCH: ‘No Money, No Food, No Work’

The good news is that the Delhi government has promised another 15,000 beds by June 30. Recently, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the Radhasoami Satsang Beas in South Delhi’s Chhatarpur. The Delhi government is creating a makeshift Covid-19 health care facility with 10,000 beds in a vast open area, which will be centrally air-conditioned and fully equipped. Besides, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has urged the central government to provide 2,000 health care officials from the army and security services, including doctors and nurses; they should be allowed to work in this huge, temporary hospital.

“This 10,000-bed facility should be ready for admission of Covid-19 patients by the first week of July. It will primarily cater to patients with mild or no symptoms who cannot be assigned home quarantine for some reason and may need medical intervention. It will be our biggest, dedicated Covid health centre,” Kejriwal said.

This is indeed a positive move in a context that till now India has had been lucky not to face a situation as rampant in the USA, or as in Brazil. With indications and fear that the virus will peak in the days to come, and with the lockdown decisively lifted, including on train and air travel, it will be a tight-rope walk for both citizens and the governments. And Delhi being the capital will have to really pull up all its resources, talent, commitment and infrastructure, so that people do not suffer and the pandemic can be controlled.

Will Chinese Attacks Attract International Attention?

Tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control have reached a height not seen for 43 years.  Both have been engaged in a military standoff at multiple locations, for over a month now at India’s northern border with a sudden escalation in the Galwan Valley region on 16th June 2020 resulting in death of some 20 Indian soldiers.

The situation has reached this level as a result of Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual (LAC), which is how the border is known pending resolution of boundary and territorial disputes between the two countries. The situation also is a result of a complicated and mistrustful relationship as they have not been able to agree on the definition and delimitation of the boundary over the last 60 years or so.

The demarcation of the boundary on the ground and its administration are subsequent stages in the boundary making process. Chinese incursions into India’s territory or into territory which India deems extremely strategic to control have become more frequent over the last decade or so. The Chinese military activity has been mounted at a time when in India the CoVID19 virus infections are reaching peak numbers.

ALSO READ: India, China Standoff Will Linger On

Such incursions leading to military constructions and installations are reminiscent of similar Chinese tactics of gradual expansion of the Exclusive Economic Zone and territorial annexation in the South China Sea (SCS). The international community has responded to the Chinese maneuvers in SCS with statements of support for the affected parties. United States (US), the foremost military power in the world and present in the region since WW II has responded with increased reconnaissance and military cooperation to deter the Chinese.

In regard to Chinese attitude and belligerence over land boundaries, however, there have hardly been any voices of concern being raised by the international community. Donald Trump’s offer to PM Modi to mediate between the two sides should only be construed as only an offer of mediation, not anything more. This offer, however, does impact the geopolitical dynamics in the South Asian neighbourhood and larger Southern Asia, where China has important economic stakes and leverage.

At the same time, Trump’s offer will have zero effect on the current negotiations on the LAC between India and China. India has responded to the US President’s call with maturity and poise and signaled with intent to Beijing that the matter should be resolved bilaterally. Perhaps, this is one more of many hints to China that India is willing and able to withstand an aggressive China where its sovereign territoriality is threatened.

Such actions are consistent with India’s refusal to be a part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India did not join the BRI because of its apprehensions over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through the disputed territory of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Aksai Chin where Indian and Chinese forces face each other in the current standoff has a boundary with PoK.

Further, the revocation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir and subsequent reorganization of the state into two Union Territories has not gone down well with either Pakistan or China. The LAC forms a boundary between India and China in Ladakh, so the Chinese protested in August 2019, citing that India has unilaterally altered the status quo in an area which is disputed.

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Last week, the Chinese embassy in Pakistan issued a statement indicating that Chinese actions at the LAC are related to both the repeal of Article 370 as well as the creation of transport infrastructure by India and they impact the ground situation at the LAC. New Delhi’s response on revocation of Article 370 has been very categorical, that India can carry out any activity on Indian soil and does not expect its neighbours to meddle in its internal matters.

The international response, or approach to such Chinese ingress remains to be seen as the frequency of incursions into Indian territory increases and China gradually starts to claim thin slivers of territory which are otherwise disputed. Realistically any statements in support of the Indian standpoint, from the international community, however, will be determined by the simple fact of Chinese economic and financial clout in the international system.

But there is another reason on why the international community may be reluctant to throw its weight in the issue. The international community has been vocal about the issues in SCS because the disputing parties have approached the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) and have referred to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea III. In the case of territorial disputes India has consistently maintained the principle of bilateral negotiations and hence cannot expect overt support and help.

Direct support to Indian stance could have been expected from its smaller South Asian neighbours, but they too seem to have been weighed down by the impact of Chinese investments, trade and the generous lines of credit. Nepal has gone one step further as it has included hitherto disputed territory with India on its western expanse in its official map, through legislation in parliament. It is argued in policy circles, that this has been done with Chinese collusion.

Given all this therefore, it is not for the first time that the much touted ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy of PM Modi looks under strain. India, however, should persevere to deepen ties with its immediate neighbours and make most of the recent dip in Chinese reputation on account of the origin of CoVID19 and its aftermath. This can be achieved by astute diplomacy and apprising the international community of the Chinese belligerence in the region.

No doubt the experts at South Block will be engaging all their skills and intellect to  outmanoeuvre China and reclaim its premier status in the South Asian region as well as fend off Chinese adventures.