Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hindu Lead article on IOZOP

Opinion » Lead

Updated: December 16, 2014 01:11 IST

New wars on the Cold War relic

T. P. Sreenivasa

Revisiting the Indian Ocean zone of peace concept, which has led to long debates since 1971, may prove hazardous in the present context, because the rivalry that is taking shape in the region is between the U.S. and its allies, and China.

The National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, has sought to revisit the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 2832 (XXVI) declaring the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace, and which has called upon the great powers not to allow an escalation and an expansion of military presence in the Indian Ocean. (The Hindu, December 1, 2014). The expectation is that it can be used as a device to prevent China from holding sway in the Indian Ocean.
While the Indian Ocean Zone of Peace (IOZOP), in its original form, appears relevant in the present context, the innumerable problems India has faced on account of the resolution and the U.N. Adhoc Committee on the Indian Ocean must be recalled before we take any formal initiative in this regard. Sri Lanka, our comrade in arms in the IOZOP initiative, has played games with us even in the happier days of India-Sri Lanka relations and when China was not in the picture. The new narrative in the Indo-Pacific may not be congenial to depending on Sri Lanka or any other neighbour to deliver on the IOZOP in accordance with our interests.
The formulation
The idea of IOZOP goes back to the days of the 1964 Cairo Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, which had expressed concern over the efforts of the imperialists to establish bases in the Indian Ocean and declared that the Indian Ocean should not be a battleground for the big powers. The Lusaka Declaration (1970) refined the idea further and it led to the UNGA resolution, which proposed the IOZOP strictly in the context of the raging Cold War at that time.
The UNGA resolution said: “the Indian Ocean, within limits to be determined, together with the air space above and the ocean floor adjacent thereto, is hereby designated for all times as a zone of peace”. It went on to define the zone of peace not as one where there was an absence of war or of a state of peace and tranquillity, but specifically about the great powers halting and eliminating all bases, military installations and logistical facilities, and the disposition of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. It also envisaged universal collective security in the region without military alliances. Ships would have the right to unimpeded use of the zone, except warships posing a threat to the littoral and hinterland states of the region.
In subsequent years, in the Adhoc Committee on the Indian Ocean, which was set up under the aegis of the U.N. disarmament machinery, the concept divided rather than united permanent members and the littoral and hinterland states. The permanent members, except China, did not support the original resolution. France, the United States and the United Kingdom kept out of the committee as they felt that they had been directly targeted and the Soviet Union had participated in the work of the committee, paying lip service to the notion of a zone of peace. Australia was the spokesperson of the West, which raised questions on the feasibility of the elimination of foreign military presence.
Regional interpretations
Till the end of the Cold War, India stuck to the purist interpretation of the zone as an area free of foreign military presence, particularly bases and other facilities, conceived in the context of great power rivalry. Implicitly, India did not object to the movement of warships, as long as they did not threaten the regional states. Indira Gandhi reiterated this position at a press conference in Moscow, making the Soviet presence legitimate, even though there were reports that the Soviet Union was seeking to establish bases in Somalia and elsewhere.
“The innumerable problems India has faced on account of the U.N. resolution and the U.N. Adhoc Committee on the Indian Ocean must be recalled before we take any formal initiative in this regard.”
After a meeting of the littoral and hinterland states in 1979, India became acutely aware of a hidden agenda on the part of Sri Lanka and others to draw attention to the increasing strength of India, posing a threat to the smaller states in the region. Sri Lanka was not loath to have an American presence in the Indian Ocean as a stabilising factor. President Jayewardene said at one point that he did not know whether Sri Lanka wanted the Americans to get out of the Indian Ocean and even hinted that the interests of regional countries differed.
Pakistan began to emphasise “denuclearization” of the Indian Ocean after the Indian tests of 1974 and took the initiative of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in South Asia, which was strongly opposed by India. The polarisation was palpable in the Adhoc Committee. Consequently, the possibility of a Colombo Conference to implement the Declaration became remote. India did not find it helpful to hold the Colombo conference without the participation of the great powers. Nor did India participate fully in the Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Cooperation (IOMAC) on the plea that it detracted from the concept of the zone of peace by inviting the great powers to it.
A fallout of the debate in the Indian Ocean Committee was that India and Australia had become antagonistic to each other. Australia began complaining about the growth of the Indian Navy and also countered India at disarmament forums, particularly at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations. At one point, K. Subrahmanyam maintained that the confrontation in the Indian Ocean should be treated as being triangular rather than bipolar as he felt that the military presence of the super powers was directed against the autonomy of the Non-Aligned countries.
China had taken a position of tactical support to the zone, as its presence in the Indian Ocean was not in focus. As a proclaimed supporter of the developing countries, China expressed solidarity for the littoral and hinterland states in seeking to eliminate foreign military presence. The focus on the Indian capabilities, which emerged in this context, was also a welcome development for China. It claimed legitimacy for itself as a permanent member of the Security Council and as an Asian power.
Shift in focus
After the end of the Cold War, the dynamics in the Committee underwent a sea change, with India itself shifting the focus of the zone of peace from the elimination of foreign military presence to one of cooperation between the major powers and the littoral and hinterland states. The debate became increasingly an embarrassed ritualisation of the demilitarisation effort. India’s joint exercises in the Ocean with multiple partners legitimised the presence of various navies including that of the U.S.
The Adhoc Committee soldiered on without a particular focus, merely recalling the old resolution and emphasising the need for the permanent members and major maritime users to join in an effort to bring about a balance in the Indian Ocean. From an arena of the Cold War, the Committee became ritualistic without a clear focus or agenda. Naturally, new threats, such as piracy, terrorism, drug trafficking, etc were brought in, making it a forum to combat non-state actors rather than the great powers.
Revisiting the zone of peace concept, which has led to the long debates since 1971 may prove hazardous in the present context, because the rivalry that is taking shape in the region is between the U.S. and its allies, and China. With the kind of support China demonstrated in Kathmandu among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, it is possible that the zone of peace idea will turn into a move to counter the U.S. as a foreign presence and to seek some balance between India and China in the Indian Ocean. China might well gain a status similar to India and strengthen its capabilities there. International focus on India’s naval acquisitions, present and future, may well become counterproductive. According to Admiral Arun Prakash, there are not many navies, worldwide, which have seen, in recent years, or are likely to see such significant accretions to their order-of-battle. “This force build-up, once complete, will not only enhance the Navy’s combat capability by an order of magnitude, but would also alter the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region.”
A way out
The greatest resistance to the revival of the IOZOP will come from those who will argue that the idea itself is outdated as the Cold War and great power rivalry are non-existent. They are likely to remind us that we ourselves had stressed the Cold War angle more than anything else. Others will begin highlighting the spirit of cooperation that has dawned in the Indian Ocean and lamenting that India is reviving old ghosts. The U.S. may also look at the concept negatively as it will impinge on its own activities. China will marshal support to campaign against the concept of the zone, from which they are sought to be excluded. In other words, a new IOZOP will have even less chance of success than the old one.
A strategy of enhancing cooperation between the littoral and hinterland states and external powers without the reference to the IOZOP may have a greater chance of success. India has special strengths in combating piracy, alleviating natural disasters and trafficking. The involvement of the U.S. in fighting terrorism may be of an advantage. China has already taken note of India’s inclinations in the Asia-Pacific and offered cooperation to avoid the “Asia Pivot” and to adopt an alternative Chinese vision. An opportunity exists for us to develop a third plan of engagement between the regional countries and external forces for fruitful cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
(T.P. Sreenivasan was India’s representative to the U.N. Adhoc Committee on the Indian Ocean from 1980 to 1983 and from 1992 to 1995)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Climate Change Remarks

Chairman’s remarks by Former Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan at the inaugural session of the Seminar on Climate Change: Extreme Events and Environmental Resilience. Sharing Experiences for Sustainable Development. December 15, 2014.

Distinguished Panelists and participants,

I have a suspicion that I have been invited to chair this session, which focuses on disaster prevention because of the perception that higher education is the biggest disaster in the state. I do not think that higher education is a disaster, but I have discovered that we need to have four “M”s to deal with the problems in higher education, Motivation, Mobility, Mindset and Money. Perhaps they are equally relevant in climate change and disaster mitigation.

I would like to believe, however, that I am here because of my long association with environmental issues at the UN between 1972 and 1995. As you know, it was Indira Gandhi, who established the link between environment and development at the Stockholm conference in 1972. Although our focus today is not on international negotiations, it is useful to know what is happening in international fora as a backdrop to this discussion. The Lima Conference of Parties (COP) of the Climate Change Convention concluded yesterday “successfully”. As you know, no conference fails at the UN as a last minute compromise is always arrived at. What happened in Lama was merely a postponement of the crucial issues, which could not be resolved. The major issues like “common but differentiated responsibilities”, mandatory reduction of emissions, per capita emissions and funding are merely forwarded to the Paris Conference next year.

The Rio consensus, Kyoto Protocol etc were almost abandoned in Copenhagen and the recent understanding between the US and China augurs a new approach in which there will be no mandatory cuts. Each country will submit its own mitigation plan to ensure that the average temperature of the earth does not go beyond 2 degrees Celsius. From now on, it will be a different ball game in climate change negotiations and there will not be much of a contribution from the developed countries to the developing ones.

It is encouraging that several SAARC countries are represented here. The recent summit in Kathmandu has exposed the chinks in the armor of SAARC. We do not even know whether SAARC in the present form will survive for long. But climate change and disaster prevention are areas in which there is potential for cooperation either with or without Pakistan. I welcome the delegates from SAARC countries.

Our session is meant to share experiences of Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and India. We have highly qualified and eminent people from these countries on the panel and I am sure that we will benefit immensely from this session.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Maritime Security

Maritime Security

(Talking points of Former Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan at the Seminar at Pondicherry University on December 9, 2014)

A few million Indians have never seen the snow. Many more have not seen the sea. One reason why maritime security has not received much attention is that policy is made in land locked Delhi by those who have not seen the sea, or at least not lived on the seashore. Only those who live near the sea can fully comprehend the vulnerabilities as well as the strengths of the sea. A Defense Minister of India is believed to have stated that he would deploy the navy in Jammu and Kashmir, if necessary.

Another reason for neglecting maritime security is the historical fact that most of the invaders, marauders and plunderers came by land. Though the arrivals from the sea have been equally game changing for India, they did not meet resistance because they used soft power to penetrate into India. They used trade, religion and philanthropy to gain influence and power. Therefore, the threat from the west and the north is more palpable and appears more urgent. It was only the Maharaja of Travancore, who chose to fight the Dutch and defeat them, the only case of India beating a European power at sea. Interestingly, the defeated Dutch commander became the commander of the Travancore navy. Sardar K.M.Panikkar, another Keralite, had sounded a clear warning in 1945: “While to other countries, the Indian Ocean is only one of the oceanic areas, to India, it is the vital sea. Her future is dependenton the freedom of its waters.”
Needless to say, there has been a sea change in the way we look at the sea today, particularly after the focus shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The accentuating rivalry between the US and China has compelled us to give greater attention to the Indian Ocean. According to Admiral Arun Prakash, there are not many navies, worldwide, which have seen, in recent years, or are likely to see such significant accretions to their order-of-battle. “This force build-up, once complete, will not only enhance the Navy’s combat capability by an order of magnitude, but would also alter the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region.” But he goes on to say that expansion of the navy alone does not ensure maritime security. Equally important are industry, trade, indigenization of weapons based on a vast defense technology and industrial base.
The other speakers must have touched upon the various aspects of maritime security. My voice is one from the past, having been out of touch with policy making for nearly ten years. To make a contribution to this debate I thought I needed to share some relevant experience. An opportunity presented itself when I heard some talk of India revisiting the UN General Assembly Resolution 2832 (XXVI) declaring the Indian Ocean as Zone of Peace (IOZOP), which called upon great powers not to allow escalation and expansion of military presence in the Indian Ocean. The expectation is that it can be used as a device to prevent China from holding sway in the Indian Ocean.
Having been a member of the UN Adhoc Committee on the Indian Ocean for six years during and after the cold war I would like to refer to the problems India faced on account of the resolution and the UN Adhoc Committee. Sri Lanka, our comrade in arms in the IOZOP initiative had played games with us even in the happier days in India-Sri Lanka relations and when China was not in the picture. The new narrative in the Indo-Pacific may not be congenial to depending on Sri Lanka or any other neighbor to deliver on the IOZOP in accordance with our interests.

Instead of reviving the IOZOP concept, a strategy of enhancing cooperation between the littoral and hinterland states and external powers may have a greater chance of success. India has special strengths in combating piracy, alleviating natural disasters and trafficking.

China has already taken note of India’s inclinations in Asia Pacific and offered cooperation to avoid the “Asia Pivot” and to adopt an alternative Chinese vision. An opportunity exists for us to develop a third plan of engagement between the regional countries and external forces for fruitful cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

The importance of maritime security has come to focus, but much more remains to be done for India to be a leader than a follower of competing interests.

Thank you.


SAARC Summit Kathmandu

A summit Modi could have done without

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November 28, 2014 15:31 IST
'Pakistan's negativism should be seen as the reason for India losing interest in SAARC,' says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.
Modi and Sharif ignore each other at the SAARC summit.
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignores Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu.
Photograph: PTI
From choosing November 26 to commence a SAARC summit, to not knowing the likely outcome of India's initiative in a small group of countries, to not anticipating the pressure building up in favour of China's membership, everything went wrong for India at the Kathmandu summit.
The reverberations of gunfire across the border and the encounter with Pakistani terrorists were audible in the conference hall, preventing the prime ministers of India and Pakistan from shaking hands or even smiling at each other.
The net result was a further deterioration in India-Pakistan relations and an unnecessary confrontation with China on the issue of its status in SAARC.
This was a summit India could have done without.
Another year of waiting would not have made any difference to SAARC or to India's relations with its member nations.

The kind of optimism expressed by politicians and former diplomats alike even a few days before the commencement of the summit was astonishing. They betrayed a lack of appreciation of the history of SAARC and the obvious built-in impediments to its success.
The Gujral Doctrine, which was acknowledged as a failure, was virtually resurrected by the argument that India had to define its role, from seeking reciprocity in bilateral relations to being prepared to go the extra mile in meeting the aspirations of all the other SAARC nations.
To ask for a conflict-mediating or conflict-resolving institution on multilateral and bilateral issues is nothing short of suicidal.
Equally unrealistic was the suggestion that the time was opportune for a new regional architecture and that the time had come to reconnect with India's neighbours. The Indian resource position is not so robust that India could invest in SAARC as Germany did in the European Union.
India has never been unsympathetic to the aspirations of its neighbours. Therefore, advice that India must build trust with its neighbours, showing solidarity and forging with them a habit of cooperation, seems unwarranted. There are many instances of India bending backwards to satisfy its smaller neighbours. Kachativu and Teen Bigha are obvious concessions we made for friendship.
The sense of optimism that India could work with SAARC countries to alleviate poverty and build a coalition to advance Indian interests, which characterised the initiatives of the Modi government from day one, has already been proved wrong.
Nawaz Sharif's visit was followed by a sharp deterioration of relations, leading to heavy firing across the border and encounters with terrorists. The display of animosity between India and Pakistan in New York cast a shadow on both countries.
Under the circumstances, a SAARC summit was doomed to fail. To expect that Pakistan would accept Indian initiatives on energy and road and railways at this time was incorrigible optimism.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi waves to the crowds during the former's visit to India earlier this year.
Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Xi's visit to India in September.
Photograph: MEA/Flickr
The claim that the summit enabled India to isolate Pakistan is false. The normal reaction of all countries, particularly our neighbours, to an India-Pakistan confrontation is to become peacemakers, not to take sides. The greatest favour that they show to us is to say that all matters should be resolved bilaterally.
The Nepalese prime minister, enthused as the host to ensure the success of the summit, pushed the two sides to compromise, not to find fault with either.
The spectacle of Indian and Pakistan leaders avoiding each other amused the others, even after the 32 second handshake and the acceptance by Pakistan of the energy agreement. In fact, India was on the edge of isolation when the other seven showed willingness to accept China as a member.
The suggestion that India should promote SAARC minus Pakistan is impossible. SAARC has been established on the basis that every decision has to be by consensus, not by vote.
Although this provision was made at India's behest in the first instance, the others will quote the same provision to prevent a break-up.
The point to note about SAARC is that it is the sum total of India's bilateral relations with the other countries, though it has a multilateral flavor. The clout that we had with them has been reduced, with the emergence of China as alternate source of strength and money.
The ambition of the founder of SAARC, Zia-ur Rehman, was not to forge a genuinely multilateral organisation, but to create a front to extract concessions from India and that was the reason why Indira Gandhi resisted it as long as she could. Today, SAARC is moving in the direction that its founder had set for it.
Kathmandu showed for the first time that India cannot keep China out of SAARC for long even if we argue that China is not a South Asian country. The moment China enters SAARC, the Indian role will change dramatically. This is another reason why we should gradually reduce the central role of SAARC in South Asia.
The association is not of any particular importance to us in cultivating our neighbours and Pakistan's negativism should be seen by the countries concerned as the reason for India losing interest in SAARC. In a sense, we do not have a major stake in projecting SAARC as a viable regional forum.
Prime Minister Modi has done well to signal in Kathmandu that we will work with our neighbours, regardless of SAARC. Unless Pakistan sees the economic compulsions of a regional organisation to tone down their political animosity towards India, our focus should not be on SAARC, but on the individual South Asian States.
There, the competition will be with China and not with Pakistan and it will be an uphill task. But, with Pakistan out of the game, we may have a better chance to build partnerships with the others.
As to the question whether the prime minister's vision of SAARC is turning out to be an illusion, it should be admitted that it is indeed so. It is time for him to play down the importance of SAARC and reach out farther for strategic partnerships.
His success with the United States, Japan, Australia and even the South Pacific states is encouraging. He should recognise the inherent weaknesses and dangers of SAARC and devise an alternative strategy to deal with his neighbours.
T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India at the IAEA; Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council and Director General, Kerala International Centre.
You can read Ambassador Sreenivasan's earlier columns here.
T P Sreenivasan

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Countering Another String of Pearls

Countering another string of pearls

T. P. Sreenivasan
Comment   ·   print   ·   T  T  
MILITARY COUP TO DEMOCRACY: The timing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Fiji is appropriate as racial harmony and non-discrimination, which India had wished for Fiji, have been accomplished. Picture shows Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama waiting to cast his vote in the 2006 election before he seized power.
Photo: AP MILITARY COUP TO DEMOCRACY: The timing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Fiji is appropriate as racial harmony and non-discrimination, which India had wished for Fiji, have been accomplished. Picture shows Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama waiting to cast his vote in the 2006 election before he seized power.

Narendra Modi’s visit to Fiji has to be followed up with a robust programme of co-operation in areas in which India has particular strengths

For a handful of islands scattered on the Australia-U.S. trunk route in the Pacific, with less than a million people, Fiji is new to international rivalries. The South Pacific has been a western lake with the happy co-existence of the U.S., France and Australia, inevitably dominated by Australia’s commercial interests. Some ripples occasionally disturbed the placidity of these waters when Father Walter Lini, the maverick Prime Minister of tiny Vanuatu, hobnobbed with the erstwhile Soviets, when the island states protested against the French nuclear tests and disposal of waste on the atolls, when the indigenous people asserted their rights in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and when Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi did some sabre-rattling in the area. But these subsided and peace and tranquillity returned soon enough.
Political and protocol challengeThe arrival this week of the leaders of the two giants of Asia, India and China, who have also invited a dozen South Pacific leaders to meet them there, will be an unprecedented political and protocol challenge to Fiji. As a popular tourist destination, Fiji has enough luxury rooms to cater to the unusual group of diplomats in sartorial elegance, as against the tourists in bermudas and bula shirts and Fijians in Scottish kilts. But the political fallout of the visit will extend the tensions in the Asia Pacific to its southern corner.
Fiji was the first among the island states of the region to taste political upheavals, first on attaining independence from the British and then when the political compact between the native Fijians and the immigrant Fiji Indians collapsed on account of the first military coup in the region by Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987. India, in a reversal of its traditional policy of non-interference in such situations, fought for the rights of the Fiji Indians through economic sanctions and promoted their cause in the Commonwealth and the United Nations. By standing by Fiji Indians at a time of crisis, India sent a strong signal of solidarity to the Indian communities abroad. In the short term, the Fijians were concerned, but it dawned on them that it was the Indian position that led to the eventual return of democracy in the elections of 2014.
Although the present Prime Minister of Fiji, Rear Admiral (Rtd) Frank Bainimarama, first took power through a military coup, he concentrated on building communal harmony and creating a constitution devoid of the race-based electoral rolls, which was devised by the British. The abolition of the unelected Council of Chiefs removed the last vestiges of feudalism in Fiji. The moderates among the Fijians and the Fiji Indians supported him, leading to the removal of the racial divide in Fiji politics.
His Fiji First Party won an impressive victory even though the Social Democratic Liberal Party of the native Fijians and the National Federation Party, the traditional Fiji Indian Party, won some seats. Mr. Bainimarama had visited India twice to raise confidence among the Fiji Indians. As a nationally elected Prime Minister, he has no reason to be prejudiced against Indian influence in Fiji. His own senior advisers include Indian professionals and politicians such as Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
India is certainly at an advantage in its bid to retain influence in the region, even as China is making sustained efforts to woo Fiji and the other islands in the South Pacific. In fact, India had no competitors in Fiji, as Pakistan had no presence and China had maintained only a token presence in the island country. China was focussed on seeking recognition from the islands, many of which had diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Having won that battle after many of them adopted the ‘One China’ policy, China has proceeded to befriend them with trade and economic linkages. The Chinese now have a firm foothold in the South Pacific, but with the kind of soft power it enjoys in the region, India can resist the expansion of Chinese influence in the South Pacific.
Relations with other islandsApart from Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Nauru have cordial relations with India, while Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and others have warm feelings for India. The Indian brand is known in these islands mainly because of the Fiji Indian traders and businessmen. Nauru depends on India for teachers and administrators and had invested in the Paradeep Phosphates as part of its strategy to invest abroad in the context of its dwindling land. Tonga had a king who had a special relationship with Indian leaders and who had visited India. Vanuatu felt close to India because of its socialist dreams. At one time Australia had some apprehensions about the expansion of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean, but it doesn’t resent Indian influence in these islands now.
Unlike Japan and Vietnam, Australia has no major problems with China, and their commercial and economic relations are significant. This is a factor which will have an impact on the attitude of the South Pacific towards China. But the human rights violations in China, which Australia resents, must be a concern for the smaller state too. The only factor that weighs in favour of China in the region will be the massive investments that it promises to make in return for a market and strategic space in the South Pacific.
The visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Fiji comes 33 years after Indira Gandhi’s visit. But the timing of Narendra Modi’s visit is most appropriate because racial harmony and non-discrimination, both of which India had wished for Fiji, have just been accomplished. But the visit has to be followed up with a robust programme of co-operation in areas in which we have particular strengths. Indian businessmen tend to deal with those countries which give them the maximum profits, but other things being equal, they will be happy to source Indian products for the islanders.
Mr. Modi will receive a royal welcome, with popular participation. The Chinese President is likely to be received warmly, but only by the government. The contrast will be too obvious to be missed. Moreover, the arrival of the leaders of the other island states at the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister will be impressive. Mr. Modi will also address the Fiji Parliament in which the successors of the indentured labourers, who came to these islands in the 19th century, are represented. That will be an emotional moment. China appears to have plans to build another “string of pearls” in its favour in the South Pacific, mainly through trade and economic cooperation. India can effectively counter these moves if it makes use of its assets in the region.
(T.P. Sreenivasan was High Commissioner to Fiji and other South Pacific island states from 1986-89.)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Remembering the Iron Lady of India

Remembering the Iron Lady of India

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November 03, 2014 14:35 IST
It is unconscionable to choose between Sardar Patel, who united India physically, and Indira Gandhi, who gave meaning, content and pride to the unity of the nation and became a martyr at the altar of national unity, says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.
This year, on October 31, Indians were offered a Hobson’s choice between the Iron Man and the Iron Lady of India for veneration. Every patriotic Indian chose both, since it is unconscionable to choose between Sardar Patel, who united India physically, and Indira Gandhi, who gave meaning, content and pride to the unity of the nation and became a martyr at the altar of national unity.
Needless to say, a weak domestic policy cannot create a strong foreign policy and vice versa. Both should serve the developmental and security goals of the nation. As the prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 to 1984, Indira Gandhi pursued both with determination to become ‘the greatest PM of India’ (India Today’s survey) and ‘the Woman of the Millennium’ (BBC survey).
Richard Nixon may have called her a “witch” and a “clever fox”, but no one called her a “dumb doll” for long after she assumed office. She turned into a Durga in the eyes of an artist, and India itself in the words of her ardent followers.
Indira Gandhi may be remembered in history for her game-changing domestic legislations and actions, but her successes and visionary approach to foreign policy are no less significant.
The liberation of Bangladesh alone should secure a permanent place for her among the makers of the modern world. In one stroke, she eliminated the pincer of Pakistan on two sides of India and also won praise for liberating a people from the clutches of a dominant section of the country.
Mujibur Rahman, who was denied his right to rule the whole of Pakistan, was enabled to be the head of his “Golden Bengal”.
Indira Gandhi had no qualms to sign a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union, which had a provision that any attack on either country will be construed as an attack on the other. Where is nonalignment, asked critics. But she was not concerned about such technicalities. Foreign policy is meant to serve the nation, not to confine itself to definitions.
The concept of nonalignment was broadened to cover the freedom to choose friends and allies. The Treaty kept the American fleet and the Chinese dragon at bay when the Indian army fought side by side with the “Mukti Bahini” till the Pakistan commander, General Niazi, signed the instrument of surrender, ushering in the advent of two nations -- a liberated Bangladesh and an invigorated India. Never before had India been such a dominant power in South Asia.
Indira Gandhi was as gracious in peace as she was fierce in war. She returned the Pakistani soldiers and the territory in the west and signed the Simla Agreement to begin the ending of the Kashmir issue.
When she agreed to turn the ceasefire line into a Line of Control, with adjustments to follow geographical features, she believed that Pakistan would eventually recognise it as the international border.
Whether Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a secret agreement with her or not, he had explicitly vowed to keep the issue within the bilateral framework. No wonder, Pakistan hanged the Simla Agreement, together with Bhutto.
Indira Gandhi’s position on Afghanistan, that the Soviet troops would help maintain stability in the country, and her recognition of Kampuchea were clearly pro-Soviet in the eyes of the world, but she would not accept the Soviet notion of ‘Collective Security in Asia’, which would have landed her in the Soviet camp. Her management of the cold war was as masterly as the hot war in Bangladesh.
The decision to conduct a “peaceful” nuclear explosion in 1974 did not please the Soviets, but since they and the Americans had turned down her request for a nuclear umbrella in return for signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, they could not protest too much or impose sanctions.
It took a gritty Iron Lady to pave the way for the declaration of India as a de facto nuclear weapon state in 1998 by Atal Behari Vajpayee. It was quite amusing that some States, which insisted that India had become a nuclear weapon State in 1974, maintained that India had not become a weapon State on account of the tests in 1998.
Palestine was a matter of faith for India from the beginning and Indira Gandhi stood firm and developed a cordial relationship with Yasser Arafat. But she had the foresight not to isolate Israel altogether. India had recognised Israel and had consular linkages with it.
She had quietly authorised contacts with Israel to benefit from Israel’s strength in agriculture, irrigation and security. She had laid the foundations of a flourishing relationship with Israel, which developed after Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao established full diplomatic relations with that country.
Indira Gandhi’s uncanny ability to anticipate global developments and to take precautionary positions was best demonstrated when she decided to go to Stockholm to attend an environment conference in 1972. She was the only prime minister other than the host to attend the conference, as against more than a hundred global leaders who went to Rio in 1992.
She presciently sensed that the Stockholm conference was the beginning of an effort to usher in environmental colonialism. She saw how the West, having unscrupulously engaged in conspicuous consumption of the resources of the earth, was planning to deny development to the developing countries by imposing environmental conditionalities.
The questions she asked in Stockholm -- like “are not poverty and need the greatest polluters?” -- reverberated in the debate that developed regarding the linkages between environment and development and gave rise to the demand of the developing countries that “polluters must pay” for the regeneration of nature.
The assertion made by her, that the West had the main responsibility to take remedial measures, led to the compromise in Rio that all of us had “common, but differentiated responsibilities”. The Indian negotiators on climate change in Rio used the formulations of Indira Gandhi with decisive effect.
The signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 to obtain consultative status for India was another significant measure Indira Gandhi took by stepping away from the consensus within the nonaligned movement, which wanted to leave Antarctica as a common heritage of mankind.
She did not want to remain outside an arrangement, which set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve and established freedom of scientific investigation and banned military activity on that continent. She was not deterred by the fact that the Treaty was an arms control agreement among the states, which had territorial claims.
Apart from facilitating research by India on the icy continent, she ensured that India would be consulted on any future dispensation that may emerge on the continent.
In a single letter, Sardar Patel taught the architect of Indian foreign policy, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, a couple of lessons on China. If Pandit Nehru had heeded his advice, India-China relations would have taken a different turn.
Indira Gandhi fearlessly protected and promoted Indian interests by turning her father’s “moral politik” to realpolitik. Her timely moves in the international arena gave India immense strength.
Both Patel and she deserve our gratitude and reverence now and forever.
T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency; Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council; and Director General, Kerala International Centre.
You can read Ambassador Sreenivasan's earlier columns here.
Photograph: Floral tributes being offered to former prime minister Indira Gandhi on her death anniversary on October 31, 2014. Photograph: PTI Photo

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Advance Praise for Applied Diplomacy Through the Prism of Mythology

Applied Diplomacy Through the Prism of Mythology: Endorsements

T.P.Sreenivasan, a master of multilateral diplomacy and advocate of international and Indian environmental action long before it was so fashionable to be, is that admirable global actor--more rooted at home than to a peripatetic
lifestyle. And when home in Thiruvananthapuram, why ever not? A very sharp thinker, elegant but unsentimental writer and a generous friend, this volume will reward expert writers and novices alike.
David M Malone, UN Under Secretary General
I have known the prolific and often surprising Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan in his many incarnations over more than a quarter of a century. Divya S.Iyer, with the uncanny link that she has established between diplomacy and mythology, adds value to this extraordinary output in this well-edited volume.
Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament
Divya S.Iyer has done her mentor, Ambassador Sreenivasan proud, by bringing together several of his thought-provoking and erudite contributions, on a whole range of subjects, in a most imaginatively structured compilation. Providing a running thread with India's own classical and religious traditions, she weaves Sreenivasan's wide-ranging  offerings into a coherent whole, illuminating the conceptual as well as experimental underpinning of her mentor's thoughts. A most creatively conceived gurudakshina to one of India's leading thought leaders on his seventieth birthday.
Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary of India
Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan's writings are delightful and thought-provoking , laced with humour. As is to be expected, borne by his earlier books, most of them are about diplomacy, strategic affairs and global institutions. Somewhat unexpectedly, (for those who do not know, like me), there are writings on Kerala too and a bunch of essays that can only be described as a potpourri. Apart from making you think, they will bring a smile to your lips---a rare trait of any author. The essays have been attractively edited and brought together by Divya S.Iyer, with a dash of mythology thrown in. The mythology won't be obvious until you read the essays. Those are some very good reasons for reading the book

Bibek Debroy, Professor, Centre for Policy Research

Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan has deftly popularised the art of statecraft and foreign affairs in India and reached out to a wider public to educate them about the nuances and constraints of diplomacy. This book reveals an interesting facet of Hindu mythology and its lessons for the conduct of diplomacy. It is a must read for everyone interested in the intersection of world politics and culture. A fascinating  collection of writings by a legend in India's foreign policy fraternity. Divya Iyer, the editor, with her deep interest in mythology has grouped the writings into chapters linked to seven legendary sages and shown how the conduct of diplomacy merges with mythology.
Sreeram Chaulia, Professor and Executive Director, JSIA

Monday, October 20, 2014

Technology Based Education

Inaugural Remarks by Former Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan at the Seminar on Technology Enabled Education at the Chinmaya Institute of Technology at Kannur
Oct 20, 2014

I am grateful to Dr.K.R.Srivathsan and his colleagues for organizing this timely seminar on technology-enabled education. This is a matter of high priority for the Kerala State Higher Education Council, which has set up a Committee on IT@Colleges, of which Dr.K.R.Srivathsan is a leading member. The Committee has a two-fold agenda. The first is to assess the IT assets that our educational institutions have to enable them to make optimum use of the different platforms available and to provide additional facilities to them. The second is to design the necessary content to facilitate the use of the platforms in accordance with the syllabi of our universities. I hope that the present seminar will provide the necessary inputs to our Committee. As is well known, the key to effective use of technology in education is the design.

A year ago, the KSHEC organized an International Meet on Transnational Education and issued a Thiruvananthapuram Declaration, which emphasized, among other things, the need to popularize MOOCS in the state to fill the gap between the knowledge of the teachers and advanced knowledge, which is freely available in cyberspace. We faced some criticism from high places, which pointed out that India did not have either the connectivity or even the electricity to use MOOCS. What we had suggested was not to replace traditional education with MOOCS, but to use MOOCS as tools to supplement classroom education. Today, however, there is recognition of the central role of MOOCS in higher education. The President, the Prime Minister and the MHRD Minister have spoken of MOOCS as an essential tool. Dubbed as SWAYAM, (Study of Webs of Active learning for Young aspiring Minds) MOOCS have been generated in India with the involvement of UC Berkley and IIT Mumbai.

In our own way, we have incorporated MOOCS in our teachers training programmes and held several workshops. Together with the University of North Carolina, the Mahatma Gandhi University has held a MOOCS programme for University students. Since we propose to move rapidly in this direction, we need to create the necessary content to suit our curricula.

Distance learning is not entirely new and different forms of distance learning have existed for long. Educational films were produced as early as 1910 and Thomas Edison said in 1913 that there is no branch of human knowledge, which cannot be taught with motion pictures. Technology has transformed education in the last ten years and in the next ten years, it will reach unprecedented levels of innovation. India needs to catch up with these developments to keep our higher education relevant, competitive and efficient. Technology and education can promote each other, if they are used with reason and vision.

The variety of learning tools available can be used to enable the teachers and the students to use online resources and to develop research skills. Flipped classrooms have proved effective and technology is particularly suited for Math, which is fundamental to the growth of technology. Unless our universities specialize in research and create knowledge, rather than gather information, we can never reach the world-class levels of education we aspire to. We do not have world-class universities in India not because they are poor, but because the criteria used are applicable more for research universities, not teaching universities.

Some say that universities, the way we know them, will disappear with the growth of technology. I do not subscribe to this view. Learning cannot be imparted by machine alone. Interaction with teachers and peers are extremely important to embellish education. Resources available in cyberspace should be used with discretion and on the basis of mentoring by teachers.

Nobody can be enthusiastic about technology without being skeptical at the same time. We cannot take effective technology for granted even in the advanced countries. Failure of technology has resulted in heavy losses, not to speak of the embarrassment it causes to technologists. I have seen technology failure in seemingly minor technologies even in MIT and NASA. Once I was with Ambassador (later President) K.R.Narayanan at MIT and when he stood up to speak, the microphone failed. Ambassador Narayanan said that if it had happened in his village, it would be called “third world technology”, but since this is MIT, we can only call it “system failure!” On another occasion, when Kalpana Chawla was about to take off on her first shuttle mission, I was told I could greet her from the NASA headquarters. The system failed and later, we discovered that someone had unplugged the device under the table! If such things can occur in MIT and NASA, how can we rely on technology in the conditions that exist in our universities? The answer, of course, lies in the mastery of man over the machine. Needless to say, we have to reach higher levels of technology to use it uninterruptedly on the education scene.

With these words, may I inaugurate the Seminar and wish it every success? We have a major stake in your success as we propose to use your conclusions in reforming education in Kerala.

Thank you.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Nobel Prize: Pride and Prejudices

Nobel Prize: Pride and Prejudices


The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize for India's Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan's Malala Yousufsai during serious India-Pakistan border skirmishes led to speculation that it was meant to urge India and Pakistan to stop firing across the border and move to the negotiating table, though the decision was taken long before the present ceasefire violations by Pakistan. The Nobel Committee is being portrayed as a peacemaker. Malala herself has dramatized the situation by inviting the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to attend the Prize ceremony in Oslo. This is far fetched because the award has nothing to do with India-Pakistan relations or the border conflict. India would reject any such linkage as it is likely to lead to external intervention.

Another twist to the award was added by the Nobel Committee by referring to a Hindu in India and a Moslem in Pakistan struggling together for the rights of the children, reflecting he stereotyped approach to the religions in the two countries. Satyarthi himself has denied that his work had anything to do with his religion. 

Both India and Pakistan are legitimately proud of their Nobel laureates of 2014, Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousufsai, but the award may reflect some prejudices about the sub-continent. Except in a very few cases, Nobel Prize for Peace has become a disruptive tool of intervention in the developing world. In the present case, the motivation was not just to honor two exceptional achievers, but to invite attention to the miserable state of children in India and Pakistan, without any regard to the social and economic conditions in the two countries. Often, such attention can lead to new conditionalities for development assistance.

It was the European Parliament, not any Indian entity, which nominated Kailash Satyarthi for the Nobel Prize. His long list of awards have come from the US, Italy, Germany and Spain. The reason is that Satyarthi’s struggle for the rights of the children in India was used as a part of the western agenda to impose their standards on India. At the UN and in the US, we have been bombarded about child labour with the material and evidence given to them by Satyarthi and his organization. Like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Satyarthi's work has often embarrassed India by challenging the reports we have submitted to international organizations.

India has been a champion of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and Indian representatives largely wrote it. But the formulation in it on child labour made it difficult for us to sign and ratify it. Totally forbidding any employment of children below the age of 14 in any sector would be neither practical, nor desirable in India. India tried to sign the Convention with a reservation on the child labour clause, but this was not acceptable to the UN. While India was exploring various ways to  join the Convention, we were under severe pressure from various international NGOs. Eventually, we signed and ratified the Convention on the understanding that we would implement the child labour clause in a progressive manner.

In the US, the then President Clinton had also campaigned for the abolition of child labour in India, using the work of Satyagrahi and others to prove that India had no concern for the plight of Indian children. The “Rug Mark”, instituted by Satyarthi to identify Indian carpets, which were made without child labour resulted in the reduction of carpet exports from India. This had become an irritant in India-US relations even when Clinton was forging new ties with India. The memories of the miserable conditions of children during the Industrial Revolution in Europe should have tempered the criticism against India.

Today, when Satyarthi is being honoured with the most prestigious global award, reports appear to the effect that many millions of Indian children are in “slavery”. This is hardly the reputation that India should have when we are basking in the glory of “Mangalyan”. That India is conscious of the rights of its children and that every effort is being made to end child labour is lost in the bustle of an Indian winning the Nobel Prize. Satyarthi’s comments after winning the Prize on a recent case of alleged child trafficking in Kerala without evidence has angered many in the state.

Malala Yousufsai was widely believed to win the Nobel last year, but, to the disappointment of her admirers, the award went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the wake of the destruction of chemical weapons of Syria. One of the reasons cited for not giving the Prize to Malala last year was her young age and the fear that the Prize might provoke Taliban to hurt her. These considerations are still valid, but the pressure to give her the Prize came from very powerful groups, essentially because of clever marketing by her father. She had captured the imagination of the west because of her book and her acclaimed speech at the UN. Her courage and near sacrifice are unparalleled and she fully deserved the Prize.

The interventionist aspect is evident in the case of Malala as well. The stereotyped image of Islamic countries consists of denial of education to women and prevalence of terrorism. Nothing illustrates this image more than the Malala incident. It is believed that she survived basically because she was shifted to Birmingham and received outstanding medical treatment. Pakistan is certainly embarrassed that Malala has received such international attention. Even though Malala aspires to political leadership in Pakistan, she has not chosen to return to Pakistan. Her Nobel Prize is the second in history of Pakistan, which makes the country feel proud, but not without a tinge of embarrassment.

The Nobel Prize for those who have many more years in social activism can cause complications in their work. Their dramatic rise in stature may impel them to be more daring. Unless they measure their steps carefully in the future, their messianic zeal may hurt rather than help their causes. Praveen Swami went to the extent of saying that the Prize is “ephemeral, arbitrary and ultimately banal” and not different from beauty contests. This may be an exaggeration, but for both India and Pakistan, the Nobel Prize for Satyarthi and Malala may be a mixed blessing.

The UN is 69, Going on 70

UN is 69, going on 70!
An AIR Talk
By T.P.Sreenivasan
In human lives, 70 is the age at which one senses the approaching dusk and begins to evaluate the accomplishments and disappointments. But for the UN, which is meant to survive many generations, being on 69, going on 70 is youth as yet, ready to fulfill expectations and explore new horizons. As the UN prepares for its 70th birthday next year, the world rejoices over its achievements, assigns new responsibilities to it and sets its new goals. New challenges, like the Ebola virus stare the UN in the face, while the festering issues of the past continue to defy solutions.
Leaders, who addressed the 69th session of the UN General Assembly made their appraisals of the UN from their own respective perspectives and outlined its future course. Much needs to be done, much needs to be corrected, and much needs to be innovated, they said. Each added at least a new agenda item; each proposed a new initiative, a new Year, a Month or a Day to be designated for one cause or another. Although the UN is not considered effective enough, it still remains the only universal body with a global agenda.
The UN has much to be proud of. The historic challenge of decolonization was met and the exponential growth in its membership itself is testimony to the birth of many nations with the least possible pain. Without the UN, disarmament and non-proliferation will not have registered even modest success. Equity and justice in global economy have been defined, if not achieved. The standards set for the promotion and protection of human rights serve as models of national behavior even if many nations deviate from them. The new challenges like the environment, cyber threats, management of outer space and various pandemics have also been tackled. The Specialized Agencies work in their areas effectively. There is no human activity, which the UN has not touched.
Admittedly, the UN has, however, not fulfilled its primary purpose, which is to rid the world of the scourge of war. More than 800 wars have been waged in the last 70 years and many others are in the offing. Peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace building have made an impact in conflict areas, but lack of authority and effective machinery have rendered several such missions unable to fulfill their mandate. Powerful countries manipulate the UN to suit their purposes and defy the UN even when it reflects the international will. The millennium goals remain more as benchmarks, rather than accomplished missions.
The UN has shown remarkable resilience in dealing with global issues to the extent that the members, particularly the permanent members have the will to let it act. The UN can be only as effective the members want it to be. While it has been successful in expanding the agenda over the years, it has not been able to get rid of the old baggage. Closing an agenda item is much harder than adding one. Much time is spent, therefore, in reiterating positions and repeating old arguments. The UN is the most conservative of organizations, with very little room for innovation in its methodology and practices. There are too many sleeping dogs allowed to lie around, with the threat that one side or another will wake them up and create havoc.
Leaders, including our Prime Minister expressed the hope that the long awaited reform of the Security Council will be accomplished on the occasion of the 70th birthday of the UN. But this was said, as far as I know, on the 50th and 60th birthdays also. As of now, there is no formula for the expansion of the Security Council, which can command the support of two-thirds of the membership of the General Assembly, including the permanent members of the Security Council. Everyone understands the logic for change. They know that the realities of global power have changed beyond recognition. They know that the ratio of General Assembly members and the Security Council members is extremely low. But those who have enjoyed privileged positions for 69 years are not going to give them up in the 70th year. India’s claim for permanent membership of the Security Council is well established, but there is no chance for it to be recognized in the 70th year. No wonder that our Prime Minister spoke on the subject in general terms, without making any claim. Our ambition in this regard has been tempered by experience.
The environment, particularly climate change, has been established as the one issue on which a global consensus is imperative in 2015. The Secretary General has already hosted a summit to focus attention on climate change. The consensus of Rio collapsed in Copenhagen and today, there is not even a basis for a new global agreement. Polluters are yet to pay and the international community is yet to fulfill their common, but differentiated responsibilities. In the meantime, anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases continue to accumulate beyond permissible levels, threatening the very existence of mankind.
Terrorism is the other issue on which the UN needs to develop a consensus. In the wake of 9/11, there was a renewed desire to approve a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, but that has been lost, once again, in the terrorist vs freedom fighter debate. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist and vice versa. If countries have adopted terrorism as their national policy, they will not condemn terrorism in all its manifestations. Al Qaeda has made new threats against India and the stirrings of fundamentalism in Iraq and Syria threaten to engulf West Asia. Scenes of abominable executions have added a new dimension to human depravity and cruelty. 
Can nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation become a reality in the 70th year of the UN? Nuclear security has become a priority and safety has become a matter of of paramount importance after Fukushima. But on the fundamental issue of elimination of nuclear weapons, which had gained momentum a few years ago, has become dormant again. When countries, which have signed the NPT engage in surreptitious nuclear weapons activities, elimination of nuclear weapons cannot take place. As long as nuclear weapons remain at the centre of defense strategies, there is little hope of a world without nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes has also suffered a setback after Fukushima.
Much effort was made to turn the Human Rights Commission into the Human Rights Council, but it has changed only in name. Politicization of human rights continues. Political opponents are suppressed or eliminated in the name of human rights.
The fight against the Ebola virus will be the most urgent issue for the UN to tackle in its 70th year. It has already reached the shores of the United States and no nation can remain immune to it in a globalized world. Even the modest success accomplished in the case of HIV/AIDS may elude the UN and rapid action is necessary. Such pandemics do not recognize national boundaries or distinctions of race and ideology. The UN has the responsibility to meet the threat on a war footing.
Another tendency, which will jeopardize the UN in the 70th year is the propensity of powerful countries to act as coalitions of the willing when the Security Council is unwilling or unable to act. Today, most of the concerns of the US are outside the UN, whether it is the power struggle in the Asia Pacific, the dispute over the South China Sea or the change in Afghanistan. The absence of a UN framework leaves the field to the powerful nations.
India today has gained enough experience to know that it is unrealistic to expect to gain anything by taking up issues to the UN. Instead, we focus on the global commons and contribute ideas and efforts to build the capacity of the UN to deal with the new challenges. We do not ask what we can get from the UN, but we do what we can to advance the common good. India has abiding faith in the UN, despite its weaknesses and setbacks.
What can we expect the UN to accomplish in the 70th year? Not much, I am afraid. It will continue to be a forum for international discourse, it will be seen as the conscience of humanity, it will set new targets and new standards, which may not be met. It will remain a beacon of hope for humanity, as it embodies the aspirations of all nations, big and small, the powerful and the weak. In the ultimate analysis, at 70, the UN as a symbol of hope is more valuable than the sum total of its achievements.
Thank you.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

My Tehelka Article on the Modi Visit

 Modi Makes a Mark in America

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi joins President Barack Obama at the White House dinner table at the end of his first round of consultations with who is who on the global scene. He has met the heads of India’s neighbouring countries, attended the BRICS summit, visited Bhutan, Nepal and Japan and played host to the leaders of China and Australia, not to speak of many others leaders, who came calling. In the US itself, he made a mark at the United Nations with a restrained and forward looking speech and received a rock star style welcome from Indian Americans. At his meeting with the CEOs of major US corporations and at the Council on Foreign Relations, he spoke impressively on his economic and international agenda.

The significance of Modi’s meeting at the White House is that it will resuscitate a strategic partnership between India and the US, which had remained on hold for nearly five years on account of paralysis of the Government in India and other preoccupations in the United States. Obama cannot but take note of the events of the last three months of Modi’s performance in India and abroad as he sizes up the man who has taken up the reins of the largest democracy in the world.

Nothing in Modi’s domestic or foreign policy should be a matter of concern to Obama. Modi’s domestic agenda, consisting of a liberalized and foreign investment friendly economy and a strengthened defense sector is conducive to the growth of India-US cooperation. His neighbourhood policy and interactions with Japan, China, Russia, Israel and Australia have given no reason for concern for the US. His position on international terrorism that it is a crime against humanity and that the ISIS activities are a challenge to mankind, against which all people should unite coincides with Obama’s own worldview. His assertion that terrorism in India is not home grown and that Indian Muslims will defeat Al Qaeda would be much appreciated. On Afghanistan, he hinted at a continuing role for the US in the troubled nation. Therefore, even if all the irritants in India-US relations are not removed at their first meeting, the two leaders are sure to hit on well.

Modi’s maiden speech at the United Nations was striking for its restraint and realism, though his using a prepared text detracted from his oratorical skills. He was firm on Pakistan when he made it clear that India will engage in a dialogue with Pakistan only in an atmosphere free of violence and terrorism. He dealt with the issue of terrorism in the larger context of the world and called upon the United Nations to adopt a comprehensive convention against terrorism, which India had proposed years ago. He stated that India’s whole philosophy is one of treating the whole world as a family. He was restrained even when he spoke of the need for expansion of the UN Security Council, as he did so without reiterating India’s own claim. He urged unity in the United Nations suggesting that, instead of breaking into various groups, it should act as a “G-All”.   

The unprecedented rock star reception accorded to Modi at the Madison Square Garden (MSG) reflected the genuine admiration and expectation on the part of the Indian Americans that he will transform India. The Indian Americans extend support to India selectively. They were critical of Indian policies at times, but fully supportive on other occasions, like at the time of the nuclear deal.

The 1% Indian American population, which is not only prosperous, but also in crucial professions, has considerable influence. That explains why several Senators and Congressmen, including the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the equivalent body in the House and a Governor were at hand to greet Modi. The India Caucus in the Congress and the Friends of India in the Senate are the offshoots of the growing clout of the Indian Americans in US politics. President Barack Obama cannot but take into account the tremendous enthusiasm of the significant 1% of his people for the new leader of the largest democracy. The very purpose of the Madison Square Garden extravaganza was exactly that. Of course, Obama had anticipated the phenomenon when he appointed Nisha Biswal, Arun Kumar and now Richard Verma to take care of crucial positions in the US administration.

The MSG event was more important for its symbolism and implications for the future than for what was said or done there. But Modi could be trusted to say the right things at the right time. He harped basically on three themes---how the overseas Indians, particularly, Indian Americans, have raised India’s standing and prestige abroad, the greatness of India, old and new and his personal promise to meet the expectations by sheer dint of hard work.

Modi’s image of the Indians of today playing with the computer mouse rather than the proverbial snake was a compliment not only to India but also the overseas Indians, who spearheaded the IT revolution in the world. He thanked the   Indian Americans for keeping awake with bated breath during the Indian elections, even though they could not participate in the vote. Many had even gone to India to provide support to him, he said.

Modi was at his best in waxing eloquent on Indian heritage and its potential. Gandhi created the freedom movement and he is determined to create a clean India movement. Indian is a young nation with an ancient history. With his penchant to create alphabetical soups for all occasions, he spoke of three Ds this time--Democracy, Demographic dividend and Demand—which would drive India. Having not taken even a “fifteen minutes vacation” since he assumed office, he would work tirelessly to keep up the promise he had given to the people.
He invited every one to participate in the Make in India program.

As expected, Modi spoke eloquently about ‘Mangalayan’, the highly successful Mars mission, which took India to the galaxy of four Mars explorers. In Gujarat, an auto rikshaw ride costs rupees ten per kilometer, but the journey to the Mars cost only rupees seven per kilometer, an argument against the charge of extravagance voiced by some. Though the Mars mission was launched before Modi’s emergence, he took the full credit for it.

Modi announced some consular concessions to overseas Indians, but not the dual citizenship, the long cherished dream of the Indian Americans. Many had expected him to announce it, going beyond the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card and the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, put in place by previous Governments. He must have explored it and realized that dual citizenship was not feasible for various reasons, including constitutional constraints. Lifelong visa for PIO card holders is, however, an improvement. His own visa issue appeared to be behind his comment that India was offering visa on arrival to those who are reluctant to give visas to Indians.

Modi was unconcerned about
the fact that he was addressing essentially foreign nationals , who owe their allegiance to the US than to India. He also ignored the fact that many of them did not follow Hindi. In fact, some in the audience had challenged Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2000, when he spoke in Hindi at an Indian community function in Washington. When Vajpayee said that that he had spoken in Hindi even at the UN, he was told that he had the facility of simultaneous interpretation at the UN. At MSG, the mood was so exuberant that what he said was less important than the privilege of being with him.

Modi did not dwell at length on India-US relations, even though US policy makers were present, perhaps because he wanted to hold his horses till he reached Washington. But the word must have reached Obama loudly and clearly that a significant 1% of his people saw Modi as a messiah of change in India and that partnership with him will benefit the US in meeting the global challenges of the future. The euphoria of MSG will definitely reverberate in the White House and the man, who was once a Persona Non Grata in the US, will be warmly received. Obama is sure to seek his counsel on Ukraine, ISIS, South China Sea and Afghanistan and seek to resolve problems relating to the nuclear deal, defense cooperation and investment.

The Modi magic is bound to make an impact on Obama and the American public. More than anything else, his message of peace, non-violence, development and a liberalized economy has been carried to the wide American public opinion. Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi encapsulated the American response, when she said, “Great Prime Minister, answers questions brilliantly. He is very focused on improving India and we are ready to work with him.”