Sunday, May 12, 2019

The battle for Sabarimala

The battle for Sabarimala
T.P. Sreenivasan MAY 01, 2019 00:15 IST

The will of the people of Kerala, more inscrutable than before, is safely sealed in rooms with extra security as demanded by the times. The long wait for the Lok Sabha election results will mark an anti-climax, with temples getting a break from the delirium of devotees. Offerings from candidates will quietly pour in, making it comfortable for temples to regenerate and repair the damage done. As activists leave the temples, devotees can return to their prayers in peace. The rhythms, the bells and the music will be heard again, without being immersed in political cacophony.

Embracing Hinduism

This is the first time that God and temple rituals came to the forefront as election issues in Kerala. Earlier, it was only entreaties and special prayers that marked the election process. The first signs of the change appeared when some of the communist conclaves featured Christ and Krishna, together with Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. The explanation was that divine teachings may have influenced communism, but that was the beginning of the efforts to end the monopoly of the BJP over Hinduism. Soon enough, every party began to create its own version of Hinduism to prove that the BJP version was extremist. Political parties began to embrace Hinduism of different varieties rather than alienate Hindus, many of whom were inclined towards the BJP.


An India without the Left?

A Supreme Court judgment on the long-standing issue of whether women between the ages of 10 and 50 should be allowed to enter the Sabarimala shrine caused a tremor in Kerala, though initially there was a general consensus that constitutional rights would eventually let women of all ages enter the temple. There were some issues about women being unable to remain pure in body and soul for the entire 41 day-period of penance because of menstruation. But the surprising insistence of the Kerala government on enforcing the decision without any concern for the safety or the convenience of the women pilgrims led to sharp differences over the Supreme Court verdict. Following the model of the Ram temple, which brought the BJP to power in Delhi, the highly polarised political parties took on the cause of the vast number of devotees, who wanted customs and traditions to be protected. The strongest position was taken by the BJP, which espoused the view that young women should not enter and a review of the verdict should be sought. The Congress hesitated for a moment, but in keeping with its soft Hindutva agenda, supported the traditionalists. The government stood firm and turned Sabarimala into a battlefield, openly escorting activists to the sanctum sanctorum.


Temple and state

Gaining political mileage

As political postures developed around the issue, the Left parties pushed for a renaissance movement to reform outdated practices, while the powerful Nair Service Society sought protection of the faith by either reviewing the Supreme Court decision or by legislative action. The BJP supported the faithful and championed their cause, but stopped short of using its majority in the Lok Sabha to issue an ordinance to counter the decision of the Supreme Court. The Congress eventually came to the side of the believers. As a consequence of these developments, the Kerala government was seen as a renaissance group, while the others became champions of faith and rituals. Since the line between the BJP and the devotee groups was thin, the BJP got more political mileage out of the controversy than the others and, therefore, is expecting to open its parliamentary account in Kerala this time. The Congress also believes that it has gained popularity with the devotees. The Left believes that it too has gained on account of its government-sponsored renaissance, demonstrated by protests staged under its auspices by women.


A strange paradox for Indian women

Rise in number of voters

The vexatious issue on the day after the polling was the phenomenal rise in the number of voters compared to previous elections. Each side believes that more voters came to vote this time because of its own enhanced popularity. Obviously, the issues raised this time were not those of mortals, like unemployment and price rise, but those relating to God. Though the Chief Electoral Officer of the State had decreed that Lord Ayyappa’s name should not be dragged into the campaign, the Sabarimala issue was on the minds of voters as they went to the polling booths. The description of Kerala as ‘God’s Own Country’ was a mere tourist slogan once, but today political parties are banking on divine intervention to determine Kerala’s future.

T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and currently Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fight for the final pearl

T.P.Sreenivasan, Jul 23, 2017
China's string of pearls to choke India is still in the making. Most of the pearls are in place, strangling India's neck with different degrees of tightness. Others are strung loose and still have some flexibility. But the effort is now to drill a hole in a precious pearl, which had escaped Chinese strategy to hook it and complete the stranglehold on India. Bhutan is in the throes of a struggle to remain a decoration around India's neck, rather than a choker. India has no choice but to resist with all its might as the loss of Bhutan will herald the complete supremacy of China in South Asia.
Bhutan has been pursuing happiness in its own way through deep religious sentiments, preservation of nature and culture, democracy, loyalty to India, sustainable development and an internationalism of restraint and mutuality. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, whose reign I had a chance to watch from close quarters, was a man of vision, who could have managed a nation many times the size of Bhutan. He was fully aware of the dragon menace to his north, but made a deliberate choice to dance with the elephant. But more importantly, he carried the young generation with him in ushering in democracy, maintaining close relations with India and promoting the environment. Bhutan is the only country in the world with a negative carbon footprint. The succeeding Wangchuks have respected his legacy and followed his vision. India has played a crucial role in promoting Gross National Happiness in the Himalayan Kingdom.
The bedrock of India-Bhutan friendship has been the provisions of the 1949 Treaty between the two countries which made the protection of Bhutan and promotion of its foreign policy India's responsibility and the revised Treaty of 2007 has not made any substantial change in that situation.The Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) has been taking care of Bhutan's security needs just as the Border Roads Organisation unit, DANTAK, built the vast network of roads that now criss cross Bhutan. The first motor car came into Bhutan only in 1968 and the Volkswagen I brought with me to Bhutan was a novelty even in 1971.
Bhutan was not entirely free of nationalism even in my time and there were murmurs among the elite in Bhutan about India's predominant position. Some even suggested that, by being close to India, Bhutan would incur the wrath of China. A way the King found to deal with such criticism was to secure flexibility on the foreign policy front, while not diluting the security arrangement. Bhutan's admission to the UN and flexibility on votes on issues which were not of direct interest to India were manifestations of "independence" in foreign policy that Bhutan enjoyed. For instance, the Bhutanese vote was not the same as India's on issues like the problems of the landlocked states and least developed countries. But on issues of special interest to India like the South Asia as a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Bhutan stood firm with India.
In a classic case of Bhutan not being guided on foreign policy by India, Bhutan recognised Bangladesh soon after India did, without even waiting for a request from India. I had the honour to receive the note of recognition from the then Foreign Minister Lyonpo Dawa Tsering. But that action was received with overwhelming gratitude in India. No one bothered to point out that Bhutan should have waited for India's advice. The King knew how to please India even by violating the Treaty!
China's initiative to change the status quo at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction is by no means a thoughtless action by a local commander, as may have happened in some of the skirmishes that have taken place on the Line of Actual Control on the India-China border. The Chinese strategy with regard to Bhutan has all along been to show extreme sensitivity to Bhutan's interests, as if in contrast to India's hegemony over Bhutan. The fast way in which much of the China-Bhutan border was settled should be seen in this light. Bhutan was genuinely happy about what happened, since Bhutan had expected the same treatment as India in Chinese hands. Leaving the tri-junction for settlement as part of the final settlement with India was eminently reasonable. China had also respected the Bhutanese claim so far by leaving Doklam as disputed territory. The present claim that Doklam is part of China is patently false and that is why it is suspected that the motive is to enlist Bhutan rather than to threaten India. The Chinese could have selected any other spot on the Indian border, instead of trying to change the status quo at the tri-junction.
China had long entertained an ambition to open a diplomatic mission in Bhutan, which had resisted it on account of an understanding with India that opening of diplomatic relations with other countries would be after consultations with India. Since dialogue with India has been ruled out unless India withdraws from Doklam, an eventual compromise would be direct negotiations between China and Bhutan, which might end the stand-off, but get Bhutan to be eternally grateful to China for its reasonableness and an eventual settlement of its border with China. Such a development will make Bhutan end up on the string as the final pearl.
China and India have grave grievances against each other, but somehow the latest Chinese initiative does not seem to be designed to distance India from the US and Israel or to enlist India in the OBOR initiative. The situation does not give India any opportunity to secure NSG membership or to get Azhar on to the list of terrorists. Doklam is not likely to lead to a boycott of Chinese goods either. On the contrary, the lesson that China is seeking to teach India is that the cosy relationship it has with Bhutan will not last and that the Chinese will complete the string of pearls. The unusual harshness in the Chinese pronouncements and its refusal of dialogue clearly point to that kind of denouement. The suggestion by the External Affairs Minister that both sides should withdraw simultaneously even without a dialogue or preconditions indicates that the message has reached India loud and clear.

Kargil: How Clinton pushed Sharif to withdraw

Kargil: How Clinton pushed Sharif to withdraw

T P Sreenivasan, Jul 30, 2017
By a sheer coincidence, Nawaz Sharif resigned as Prime Minister of Pakistan within days of the eighteenth Kargil Vijay Divas India celebrated this year to honour the martyrs of the Kargil conflict of 1999. I recall the historic meeting Sharif had with President Bill Clinton on July 4,1999 at the Blair House in Washington, which marked a turning point in the conflict that lasted sixty days.This was the first time in history that the US took a clear stand in favour of the Indian position in a conflict with Pakistan.
The details of the Clinton-Sharif meeting have been revealed in the writings of Strobe Talbott, Bruce Reidel and Bill Clinton himself. My own book, ‘Words, Words, Words’ has a chapter entitled, ‘Nuclear Winter, Kargil Spring’, which contains the information given to me as the designated representative of the Embassy throughout the day of the meeting by Rick Inderfurth.
It is clear that Sharif went to Washington in desperation to end the conflict, but made a heroic effort to drag Clinton to undertake a mediation mission like he had done in the case of the Israel- Palestine situation. “Sharif was concerned that the situation that Pakistan had created was getting out of control, and he hoped to use my good offices not only to resolve the crisis, but also to help mediate with the Indians on the question of Kashmir itself”, says Clinton in his autobiography, ‘My Life’.
Clinton’s attention was drawn to the Kargil conflict on account of the intelligence he had received that Pakistan was contemplating to use nuclear weapons in case it was defeated in the Kargil conflict. He wrote letters to the two Prime Ministers to seek a resolution, abandoning the traditional hyphenation between India and Pakistan by saying clearly that the solution was for Pakistan to withdraw to the LOC and for India to refrain from crossing the LOC in retaliation.
Clinton was impressed that even after Pakistan crossed the Line of Control (LOC) and captured Kargil, India refrained from crossing the LOC to repel the aggressor. Moreover, the United States condemned Pakistan’s “infiltration of armed intruders” and went public with information that most of the seven hundred men who had crossed the Line of Control were attached to the Pakistani Army’s 10th Corps. This completely contradicted the Pakistani claim that the intruders were freedom fighters of Kashmir.
The initiative to seek the good offices of Clinton to resolve the issue came from Sharif as he felt that Pakistan would not get the support from the US to continue the conflict. But Clinton made it clear to Sharif that he should come only if he was willing to agree to withdraw the Pakistani forces. But in a special gesture, the President agreed to spend the US National Day to discuss the issue with Sharif. He informed Vajpayee about the visit and invited him also to join. But Vajpayee declined because of India’s position against any third country intervention in India-Pakistan issues. Clinton informed Vajpayee that he would convey the gist of the discussion to him as the talks proceeded.
Although Clinton had made it clear that unconditional withdrawal was the only option for Pakistan, Sharif’s opening proposal was a ceasefire to be followed by negotiations under American auspices. His fallback was to make Pakistani withdrawal conditional on Indian agreement to direct negotiations sponsored and probably mediated by the United States. After a day of gruelling negotiations, during which Clinton threatened to declare failure of the talks, Sharif agreed to “take concrete and immediate steps for the restoration of the LOC. In return, Sharif got an assurance from Clinton that he would take “personal interest to encourage an expeditious resumption and intensification of the bilateral efforts once the sanctity of the LOC had been fully restored.” The decision on withdrawal was firm and explicit, while the face saving given to Sharif was virtually meaningless. Instead of Clinton mediating, the assurance was only to encourage an expeditious resumption of the bilateral efforts, which was not against the basic Indian position. Still, I made a reservation on that formulation when Rick Inderfurth read it out to me after the meeting.
According to US Sources, Clinton telephoned Vajpayee twice during the day to seek his views, but Vajpayee was totally noncommittal. Even when the news of the agreement was conveyed to him, Vajpayee’s reaction was only, “What do you expect me to say, Mr.President?” In other words, he kept his distance from Clinton’s efforts even though he may have been grateful about the outcome.
Interestingly, Sharif had gone to Washington with his family, hinting that he might not be able to return to Pakistan if he did not secure US support for Pakistan’s position. But apparently, Clinton leaned heavily on him to agree to withdraw. He refuted the suggestion that Kargil was similar to Israel-Palestine situation and that it was the duty of Clinton to mediate. Clinton clarified that in the Israel-Palestine situation, he had requests from both sides to intervene, while India was clearly against his mediation. Clinton compared the Kargil situation to the Cuban crisis, which had brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. When Clinton told Sharif that he had information that Pakistan army was ready to use nuclear weapons, Sharif expressed total surprise.
The discussion took the whole day essentially because Clinton was careful not to give Sharif a sense of defeat, leading to Sharif staying on in the US as a political refugee. It was important to keep his credibility with the army intact so that he could return to Pakistan with a face saving device to order the army to restore the sanctity of the LOC. Clinton proved to be a master negotiator in this particular case as he was convinced that the military adventurism by the Pakistan army should be sternly rebuffed.
According to Talbott, at one point,”Clinton had worked himself back into real anger—his face flushed, eyes narrowed, lips pursed, cheek muscles pulsing, fists clenched. He said it was crazy enough for Sharif to have let his military violate the Line of Control, start a border war with India, and now prepare nuclear forces for action. On top of that, he had put Clinton in the middle of the mess and set him up for a diplomatic failure. Sharif seemed beaten, physically and emotionally. He denied he had given any orders with regard to nuclear weaponry and said he was worried for his life.”
India-US relations have a long history of ups and downs and many of the downs have been on account of the US support for Pakistan. But Kargil was the one case in which spring broke out in India-US relations after they were frozen in the wake of the Indian nuclear tests. Kargil victory belonged to India, but the decisive step taken by Clinton and the role of Nawaz Sharif in it may well have prevented a catastrophe.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Birds of a feather

Birds of a feather?: A President, a Prime Minister and a Chief Minister


No three men could be more different from each other than Messrs. Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Pinarayi Vijayan. They differ in backgrounds, ideology, values and habits. While one of them was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the others had humble beginnings. Their responsibilities are different and they exercise power of varying degrees. Even their lifestyles have nothing in common. The pomp and splendor of the White House do not match the grandeur of the ornate Trump Towers around the world. Mr.Modi has carved out a sartorial fashion niche for himself after he became the Prime Minister. The move to the Cliff House has not made any difference to the modest apparel and lifestyle of Mr. Vijayan.

However, a slender thread of similarity runs through them across miles of land and sea. None of them was in power three years ago. Messrs.Trump and Modi had only a small chance of winning the elections they fought. There was many a slip between the cup and the lip for Mr. Vijayan. None of them had absolute political power before. But today the fortunes of the US, India and Kerala will depend on their performance. Their successes and failures will determine the fate of about 1.5 billion people. They are committed to the progress of their people, but their methods are considered decisive and divisive at the same time.

The three of them came to power through free and fair democratic elections, but none could claim to have formed governments of the people, for the people and by the people. They had high majorities to take them to the pinnacles of power, creating anxiety in the minds of those who opposed them. There was hope that once they were elected, they would become the leaders of their people, in true democratic fashion, regardless of the size of their majorities. But they remained loyal to the platforms they had announced before the elections, without seeking the support of their opponents. Majoritarianism, rather than democracy is the source of their agenda and power. Succession is also not clear for the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister.

All of them rode to power on an anti-establishment wave because of the failures, inefficiency or corruption of their predecessors. The voters chose them not necessarily for the promises they held or their record of the past or their integrity. All of them had skeletons in their cupboards, such as unfair business practices and disrespect for women in the case of Mr.Trump, communal antagonism in the case of Mr.Modi and suspicion of corruption in the case of Mr.Vijayan. It was not that the voters loved them more, but that they loved their predecessors less. The voters were shooting in the dark when they elected them. Anything would be better than the craftiness of Hillary Clinton, the ineffectiveness of Manmohan Singh and the mistakes of Oommen Chandy.

It is too early to make an assessment of the three men. Mr. Modi has done three years, Mr. Vijayan six months and Mr. Trump less than a hundred days. But their strengths and weaknesses have been displayed sufficiently to see where they are heading. All of them are likely to complete their terms of office.

Mr.Trump has stuck to his election guns, regardless of the anxieties about them around the globe. Except on the day of his election, he has neither spoken nor behaved as a President of all Americans. His executive orders, appointments and pronouncements only increased universal concern. But he has begun to be flexible and willing to reverse personnel decisions more than Mr.Modi or Mr. Vijayan. He has adopted a more traditional line with China and Russia than originally indicated and has shown no signs of withdrawal from global issues as he had professed. He sees no nepotism in deploying his close relatives in the White House to assist him, an idea that neither Mr. Modi nor Mr. Vijayan can emulate. He gives the impression that he will safeguard the integrity of the Presidency and will not do anything to invite impeachment, which was talked about within days after the election. His strong intervention in Syria, challenging both Presidents Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, looked principled and instinctive.

Mr. Modi has virtually washed away the blood of communal carnage from his hands even though it had appeared that all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten his little hand, as Lady Macbeth lamented about her own misdeeds. He has established his priorities in domestic and foreign policies and framed slogans and actions to pursue them with determination. The "good days" and "development of all" he had promised appears to be in the realm of reality today. He is leading from the front and he takes failures in his stride. In foreign policy, he took India into the American camp even more deeply than his predecessors did. With Pakistan and China, he took a tough line and made peace more elusive. He will definitely leave behind a well governed and prosperous India, but he will only pay lip service to secularism and communal harmony. He appears poised to win another general election, which would strengthen his self proclaimed mandate. The streak of dictatorship in him is likely to accentuate rather than recede in the future.

As a Communist Chief Minister, Mr. Vijayan was expected to carry the party along all the way to swim or sink with it. But he appears to be enchanted by Mr.Modi’s success in dominating the party and the state. His penchant for wrong decisions and then sticking to them, with a few exceptions, even against the bigwigs in the party may hurt him unless he corrects his highly personalized style of decision making. His steely determination has won him the reputation as a “man with two hearts”. The phrase is not supposed to mean that he is kind and benevolent, but that even if one heart melts, he has another one to hold firm. The thorn in his side is the “Fidel Castro” of Kerala, 93-year old Mr.VS Achuthanandan, who, unlike Fidel, intervenes in the day to day administration of the state and hits Mr.Vijayan where it hurts. With Mr. Achuthanandan in his own party, he does not need the opposition to keep him on his toes.

Messers. Trump, Modi and Vijayan may not compare themselves with each other or consider each other as role models. They are not birds of a feather that flock together. But history has placed them as leaders with similar expectations and similar challenges. Inveterate optimism on the part of the electorates has invested them with the power to dispense justice, despite their past errors. None of them had a period of political honeymoon with the people as they had to confront events, which rolled in like unending waves from the first day. Their methods have not been particularly popular, but there is still considerable optimism about them as their people realize that they have a major stake in the success of these three men.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Indians in the US are victims, not targets

Indians in the US are victims, not targets

By T.P.Sreenivasan

In this age of post truth, impressions rather than facts matter and there is a tendency to jump to alarming conclusions, based on signals. So there is nothing surprising about the three attacks on Indians in the US being put at the door of President Donald Trump. After all, he is the one who has poisoned the minds of his people against foreigners, imposed restrictions on arrival of immigrants and restricted the H-1 B visas, whose beneficiaries are mostly Indians. But objective facts show that the Indians were unintended victims rather than targets.

The Kansas shooting that killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injured his friend, Alok Madasani occurred in a bar, which they had adopted as a hangout. A local man, who was known for his drinking habits and petty crimes, Adam Purington was telling them, half in jest that they did not belong to the US. This irritated not only the Indians, but also other customers and they threw him out of the bar. An enraged Purington returned after a while and shot at not only the Indians, but also a young white man, who tried to apprehend the culprit. Purington was charged with premeditated first degree murder and attempted murder.

The authorities considered the attack a possible hate crime and it reverberated in the US and India, raising
Fresh alarm about a climate of hostility towards foreigners in the United States, where President Trump had made clamping down on immigration a central plank of his “America first” agenda.
The White House strongly rejected the notion that there might be any connection between the shooting and the new administration’s sharp language about immigration and President expressed concern. In his address to the Congress, the President said that the “shooting in Kansas City ... remind us that while we may be a Nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

 “People are devastated,” said Somil Chandwani, a friend of the two victims who lives in Overland Park, Kansas. “I wouldn’t say they are angry. They have a sense of insecurity at the moment. People are trying to find answers.” The charge sheet gave no details about the motive of the shooting.
The word, India, did not figure in the conversation between the two Indians and their attacker, but there was a mention of illegal migrants and the Indians said they were legal residents, who had studied in the US. It was the fact that the attacker was thrown out by the other customers that enraged Purington and not necessarily any words or action of the Indians.

The silver lining on the incident was that the young white man, who tried to rescue the Indians and took a bullet was duly rewarded by the local residents and Kansas declared March 16 as an “Indian American Appreciation Day”. The incident was clearly isolated and did not reflect a sentiment in the locality. There were also reports that the attacker said later that he had shot two Iranians.
Within a few days, two more attacks took place, one in Lancaster, where Harnish Patel, who had lived in the US with his family for 14 years, was shot and killed outside of his home. A Sikh man was also shot in Kent, Washington, while he was in his drive way, working on his vehicle. The victim, Deep Rai was also allegedly told to go back to his country at one time.
These three attacks have naturally deepened the fear among South Asian and immigrant communities that President Donald Trump’s aggressive rhetoric and executive orders encouraged violence against them. But there is no evidence that the Indians have been specifically targeted. The average Americans are fairly ignorant of geography and the differences between various nationalities. Similar incidents took place after 9/11 terrorist attacks and the victims were Sikhs, who apparently were mistaken for Muslims. The headgear was enough to make them look like Osama Bin Laden! They were unable to distinguish between Iraqis and Kuwaitis at the time of the Gulf war. An American was heard boasting to his neighbours that his son had gone to finish off the Arabs. He was not aware that the US was fighting to liberate one nation of Arabs from another nation.
Undoubtedly, the immigrants have not been particularly popular in the US, except among the city dwellers, who knew their worth as doctors, teachers, intellectuals and more recently, IT experts. Outsourcing was seen as an evil by the unemployed in the villages, prompting even President Obama to say that the US should have business in Buffalo, not in Bengaluru. But he did not do anything to halt outsourcing, which was a win-win situation for both the US and India. Even President Trump will not be able to do without immigrants, particularly the Indians in the IT industry.
Many people have been asking what India can do to prevent tragic incidents involving Indians. It can do precious little, except to condemn the incidents, insist on proper investigation and payment of adequate compensation. If the victims are US citizens, our leverage is even less. As long as there is no systematic targeting of Indians or condonation of such incidents by the Government agencies, there is no reason even to protest. The case was different in 1998, when the US Government itself denied visas to Indians and repatriated scientists, in protest against our nuclear tests. The Khobragade incident was also deplorable to the extent that an Indian diplomat was arrested and humiliated with State Department connivance. Our concern about the possible implications of the present Government policies shall remain unexpressed as this cannot be proved either way.
There are reports that fewer Indians are travelling to the US, even fewer are going for education there and alternate destinations are being explored. But, hopefully, normalcy will be restored, once the current period of uncertainty in US policies is over. The American dream will outlive the present dispensation for civilizational reasons.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Science, Technology and Diplomacy A NIAS Talk

Science, Technology and Diplomacy.
By T.P.Sreenivasan

The bewildering developments in the recent past have brought international affairs to a standstill at a cross roads of history. A definite shift towards the right, increasing xenophobia, nativism, irrational antipathy towards established norms, readiness to leap into the unknown and reliance on post-truth for judgments are clearly identifiable as the trends of the times. Democratically elected leaders tend to remain loyal to their voters and not to the entire electorate, thus casting aspersions on democracy itself. An uncertain and volatile world is paralyzed by some ill-conceived policies of some leaders. Indications of impending withdrawal of the US inwards and its inattention to world affairs have already encouraged Chinese expansionism. The world is waiting breathlessly to see what turns and twists the new US Administration will take.
I speculate that the disruptive tendencies in political life of the world may have their roots in the disruptive innovations in science and technology. Innovate or perish is the call of the times. The unprecedented technological upheaval without an owners’ manual or restraining radars may transform the way the society is organized. Immanuel Kant had observed in 1784, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.” The question today is whether democracy will survive big data and artificial intelligence, as automated societies will acquire totalitarian features. It appears that the genie of innovation may have to be put back into the bottle to give its growth some guidance. China is already considering “institutional surveillance” and “persuasive computing” to apply restraints on technology. For China, such controls are instinctive, but the rest of the world too has to think of preserving social cohesion and protecting the basic rights of citizens.
Long ago, when I was on my first posting in Tokyo, I was told that a time would come when we would print our newspapers at home, a prospect which could not even be imagined. Today, we can print the New Yok Times before the New Yorkers wake up to see their print edition stacked up at the door. Today, we are close to replacing manufacturing by 3-D printing. Children born in 2017 will never hold a steering wheel or own a driving license as driverless cars will be in use by the time they grow up. The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. We need more diplomats with scientific training, but we also need rational scientists to preserve and protect human values.
The most sensational development in war, the event that changed the course of history, the dropping of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was proclaimed by Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist, not a politician. He quoted from the Bhagavad Gita:
“If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendor of the Mighty One..
I am become Death,
The shatterer of worlds.”
Such is the grip of science and technology on politics and diplomacy. In fact, every twist and turn in global affairs can be attributed to a particular scientific advancement. Maritime development brought colonialism in its wake, the invention of the steam engine engendered the industrial revolution, the transportation revolution created the global village, the atom transformed war and peace and the internet changed everything. Like all other professions, diplomacy, caught in the world wide web. has changed beyond recognition.
Science and technology have become key drivers in international relations and knowledge of trends in advancement in various fields is an essential prerequisite to effective international negotiations. Increasingly specialized expertise has become essential as negotiations today deal with specialization and integration. Major powers have realized that promotion of values and foreign aid will not generate gratitude and that their strength lies in the global acceptance of their contribution to science. Nixon’s visit to China and the Chinese embrace of American technology set off bilateral cooperation between the two countries and established bilateral mechanisms, which have grown ever since. Soviet influence in India stemmed from the scientific training received in the Soviet Union by generations of Indian students. It is the dominance of its fundamental research that will ensure US dominance in the world for a long time to come.
The United Nations was created to rid the succeeding generations of the scourge of war, but on its seventieth anniversary, the Secretary General of the UN claimed that the greatest accomplishment of the UN was that it had immunized the world’s children against infectious diseases. Most of the present preoccupations of the UN were not anticipated in 1945. Infectious diseases, environmental degradation, electronic crimes and weapons of mass destruction and HIV/AIDS cannot be eliminated without international cooperation in science and technology. Tapping into the growing science base beyond a nation’s borders has become imperative for the pursuit of the truth and promotion of trust among nations. Diplomats cannot lie abroad for the good of their country any more as science is the business of establishing truth. Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein had exhorted the scientists, not diplomats to address the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
According to the Royal Society of London for improving Natural Knowledge, science diplomacy has emerged as the use of scientific interactions among nations to address the common problems facing humanity and to build constructive and knowledge based international partnership. In Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power, science and technology is a primary ingredient. The concept of science diplomacy is gaining increasing currency in the US, UK, Japan and elsewhere. It is still a fluid concept, but can usefully be applied to the role of science, technology and innovation in three related areas:
·       informing foreign policy objectives with scientific advice (science in diplomacy);
·       facilitating international science cooperation (diplomacy for science);
·       using science cooperation to improve international relations between countries (science for diplomacy).
Scientific values of rationality, transparency and universality are the same the world over. They can help to underpin good governance and build trust between nations. Science provides a non-ideological environment for the participation and free exchange of ideas between people, regardless of cultural, national or religious backgrounds.
Science diplomacy seeks to strengthen the symbiosis between the interests and motivations of the scientific and foreign policy communities. For the former, international cooperation is often driven by a desire to access the best people, research facilities or new sources of funding. For the latter, science offers useful networks and channels of communication that can be used to support wider policy goals. Foreign ministries should place greater emphasis on science within their strategies, and draw more extensively on scientific advice in the formation and delivery of policy objectives.
The constraints to science diplomacy include regulatory barriers, such as visa restrictions and security controls. Immediately after September 11 2001, more stringent travel and visa regimes in countries like the US and the UK severely limited the opportunities for visiting scientists and scholars, particularly from Islamic countries. Although efforts have been made to relax some of these strict controls, there are still significant problems with the free mobility of scientists from certain countries. Such policies shut out talented scientists and hinder opportunities. Security controls can also prevent collaboration on certain scientific subjects, such as nuclear physics and microbiology. Although these policies are based on legitimate concerns over the dual use potential of some scientific knowledge, they should also take into consideration the diplomatic value of scientific partnerships in sensitive areas to help rebuild trust between nations.
Coincidentally, the trend today is for engineers, doctors and scientists to join the diplomatic service. This has changed the character of the service from a generalist dominated service to a technologist oriented service. The emphasis is shifting from political and trade issues to technological issues. Many problems of the global commons such as climate change, epidemics and disasters need a combination of management of resources and technical understanding. More than any time before, science, technology and diplomacy combine to find solutions to global problems.
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