Saturday, December 31, 2016

Foreign Policy: The Third Act The Hindu

Modi’s Foreign Policy: The Third Act

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Any contemporary situation appears to follow a pattern described by Shakespeare years ago. The third act of  his plays is the “climax”, which is characterized by acute complications in the story, with no clear indication of future events. Having introduced the dramatis personae in the first act and revealed their concerns and intentions in the second, the Bard is at his creative best in the third act. The situation gets from good to bad and from bad to worse and the spectators breathlessly watch things go wrong in a bewildering manner. They have to wait for the fourth and the fifth acts to witness the denouement, whether it is wedding bells or funerals. 

Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy in the middle of his term is very much like the third act of a Shakespearean play. The entry was dramatic, full of surprises and even exciting. He strode like a colossus on the world stage with his freshness, energy, decisiveness and oratorical skills. India became visible, active and even assertive. His optimism was contagious and the whole country began anticipating the good times he promised. India would not be a mere spectator on the seashore of world affairs, but a participant, claiming its legitimate place on the tables, round, square, rectangular and even horse-shoe shaped. He took the bull by the horns, whether it was Pakistan, China or the United States. Lack of diplomatic experience appeared to be an asset rather than a liability as he let loose his legendary ‘yagaswam’ or the ritualistic horse to conquer the world. The first act was perfect.

But in the second act, when Mr. Modi began encountering complex issues, rivals and adversaries, things appeared complicated. Hesitations of history loomed large and quick fixes were not available. There were too many boxes crying out for standard solutions as he searched for out of the box outcomes. All the charms he tried on Pakistan and China went unrequited. He faced the same ghosts of the past, which had confronted Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Rao, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. All the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten the air around. High expectations resulted in deep disappointments. But there was joy in the progress made in certain countries, where he followed the path laid by his predecessors.

In today’s third act, Mr. Modi is sadder, but wiser. The confusion of the Shakespearean climax has gripped him. On the one hand, he is receiving dubious praise from the world that he is the one who set off the trend towards the right in 2014, leading to Brexit and Trump. On the other, the advent of Mr. Trump has brought the whole world to a standstill, jeopardizing even the new symphony he had painstakingly choreographed with Barack Obama. An evergreen friend, Vladimir Putin, appeared not just sulking, but also flirting with China and Pakistan to spite him. He had to be pacified with huge military contracts and an assurance that old friends are better than new ones. But, even at the recent Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, the Russian envoy stated that the allegations against Pakistan by India and Afghanistan were totally baseless. It is clear that the fissure in India-Russia relations remains serious.

With Pakistan, neither the charm offensive nor the surgical strikes have made any difference. The situation is worse than what it was in 2014, when the ceasefire was in force and the terror attacks were not frequent. The policy of the previous Government that no comprehensive dialogue was possible without ending terrorism, often violated by India itself off and on, was completely disregarded by Modi when he invited Nawaz Sharif to India, proposed foreign secretary level talks, held NSA level talks and sent the External Affairs Minister to Islamabad to propose a comprehensive dialogue. The surge in terror attacks prompted the surgical strikes, which Pakistan refused to even acknowledge. Intermittent shooting on the border, expulsion of diplomats, suspected of spying and India’s open support to Baluchistan and boycott of the SAARC summit have brought the two countries to the brink of war. The lesson learnt was that seventy years of animosity and conflict cannot be wished away without major concessions on either side. Constitutional, legal and emotional issues rule out such concessions.

The whole castle in the air that Mr. Modi built in his first address from the ramparts of the red fort about the progress to be achieved by the combined efforts of SAARC countries lies shattered as the future of SAARC itself is uncertain. India invited BIMSTEC to interact with BRICS and not SAARC precisely to encourage a regional group without Pakistan in it. Another latent issue in SAARC was the possible admission of China. A majority of the members of the Association were in favour of China’s admission, though China is not part of the region. But the argument used by them was that since India and Pakistan were made full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a similar courtesy should be extended to China. If the Islamabad summit was held, India would have been alone in opposing China’s admission. Such a situation was averted by the cancellation of the summit. It should be noted that the absence of the other member countries in Islamabad did not necessarily mean support to the Indian position. It is the height of irony that regional cooperation in South Asia has come to such a pass as Mr. Modi reaches the midpoint of his Government.

The China scene looks less troublesome, but nothing has changed for the better in India-China relations in the last thirty months. No progress has been made on the border and none of the other issues between the two countries has been addressed. The China-Pakistan collusion continues and the long term measures being taken by China like One Belt One Road are designed to dominate the whole of Asia. Mr. Modi, on his part, has made no secret of his inclination towards the US, Japan and Australia and his concerns about the South China Sea. But happily, there have been very few incidents on the border and the economic activities continue, but mostly to suit the Chinese themselves. The balance of trade is heavily in their favour.

The situation on the western front should be a matter of satisfaction for Mr.Modi. The designation of India as a major defense partner has taken India-US relations to a higher level, which entitles India to have the same facilities for technology transfer as the allies of the US. Even after the election of Mr. Trump, the US Congress has approved the related legislation. Mr. Trump is unpredictable, but available indications are that, except on migration issues, India-US relations will remain strong in the future. Mr. Modi has his work cut out for him in befriending Mr. Trump in his fourth act.

The mixed picture on foreign policy that we see is an inevitable consequence of extraordinary global developments and the bold initiatives taken by Mr. Modi. The final judgment on his foreign policy shall have to await the correctives he will apply in the remaining part of his first term. The complications resulting from demonetization has affected Mr. Modi’s image, but his reputation as a man of decisive action has remained intact. The reports that Mr. Modi had secured the largest number of votes for the Time Man of the Year award were not surprising, even though Mr. Trump became the clear winner on account of his game changing victory and its global impact. Like a Shakespearean hero, Mr. Modi appears entangled in a web of intricate issues in the third act, but the remaining acts will determine his impact on the global scene.

(The writer is a former ambassador, who currently heads the Kerala International Centre.)

New Year Wishes and Thoughts

New Year Wishes and Thoughts 2017


Gone are the days when, at the dawn of the New Year, we had colorful cards with well scripted lines to decorate our homes and carefully crafted letters to share news and thoughts to strengthen the bonds of friendship and love. Now inboxes are flooded with mass produced pictures and videos, effortlessly forwarded over different platforms. I am sticking to the old method of wishing you the very best for 2017 with some random news and views. My hope is that all your dreams will come true in the New Year.

Humanity has come to terms with technological innovations disturbing our comfort zones to cause game changing disruptions. But 2016 showed that disruptive changes will be brought about as much by politics, philosophy and practices as by technology. We have realized that the genie of technology cannot be put back in the bottle to confine it to some spaces. Its all-encompassing reach has changed every narrative, political, social, cultural, literary and philosophical.

Establishments have crumbled everywhere as the storm of protests over failed expectations rage. People have begun to leap into the dark in the hope of securing better days. Democracy itself has lost its sheen, though it is through democratic means that regimes are changing. As globalization recedes, nativism and ultra-nationalism have begun to assert themselves. The world may eventually become a better place, but the pangs of a rebirth will take its toll. We should be prepared for a period of uncertainty and adjustment ahead before new establishments take shape. Trying to stem the tide of history will be futile.

On the family front, we have been fortunate enough to have glad tidings throughout from all, except for some mobility issues for Lekha, which have not dampened her spirit or altered her dedication to charity. Both Sree and Roopa went through the turmoil of professional changes, but both of them settled in well in their new surroundings, without disrupting the hectic routines of Durga and Krishna, which includes classical dance for Durga and soccer for Krishna. Sree’s move from the Metropolitan Museum to the City of New York as the Chief Digital Officer has become a case study in courage and use of social media to search for new horizons. Shree and Sharu have also been happy, particularly with the growth and development of Shivaay in Dubai. At three years and six months, Shivaay’s future profession is not yet  determined as his choice has moved so far from chef to musician to police chief to fire chief!

I completed my assignment with the Kerala Government, but I am still engaged in teaching and international studies, with even less spare time than before as my written and spoken words are still in demand at home and abroad. My policy is to answer the phone when it rings, not knowing when it will stop ringing.

Friends walk in and walk out of our lives, particularly when we change countries and continents frequently. But the few that remain and the new ones that get added are a blessing. The year 2016 also had its losses and gains. Amazing game changing friendships also came my way. The way of preserving relationships is to build bridges across different levels without expecting absolute reciprocity.

An untoward incident of January 29, 2016 when I learnt the value of turning the other cheek to those who do not know what they do has made me better, not bitter. I was taking on the sins of others as some of the controversial issues such as involving a business group at an exorbitant cost in the Global Education Meet and proposals for Academic Cities and Higher Education Zones were not mine. But I was disheartened by the resistance to change, disloyalty and lethargy in the Government, which inhibit the full realization of Kerala’s potential. Every negative action turns the clock back for us. Educational reform will come to Kerala, like computers, too little too late. Happily, many ideas of reform, rejected in Kerala, find place in the national agenda. My idea of a totally liberal education without constraints tallies with the thinking in Delhi.

The Kerala International Centre (KIC) is not just my second home, but a part of my home itself. It has created a small group of people, not only diplomats, journalists and Generals, but also others, who have a sustained interest in foreign policy. We meet, we argue and differ, but even consensus breaks out occasionally. A new KIC initiative to launch a Literary Forum was much appreciated. Several poets, some established and some making their debut, made an impact. We expect a healthy competition between strategic thinking and literature in the KIC in future.

The NSS Academy of Civil Services (NACS), which I now direct, has made a mark by sending several of its alumni to the Civil Services. Some Districts in Kerala are administered by our alumni and some missions abroad are manned by them.

Many of you have sent messages of goodwill and good wishes in various forms. This is by way of acknowledging and reciprocating all of them. Let us hope that our paths will cross in the New Year, at least in cyber space.

Lekha joins me in wishing you a happy New Year and beyond.

January 1, 2017

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Stuck in the Terrorism Groove

Stuck in the terrorism groove

Kashmir news - Read latest and Breaking English News of Bihar on Pradesh18.
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“It ill behoves a country like India with a long record of using its UN membership for the common good to fall in one groove, however important that issue may be.” PM Narendra Modi with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and South African President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS Summit in Goa.
“It ill behoves a country like India with a long record of using its UN membership for the common good to fall in one groove, however important that issue may be.” PM Narendra Modi with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and South African President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS Summit in Goa.

Instead of isolating Pakistan at every forum, India must broad-base its diplomatic outreach 

For India, a country that has worked in multilateral fora for nearly 70 years on a global agenda, subsuming its interests in pursuit of the global good, the recent tendency to focus on a single issue like terrorism does not seem appropriate. Such an approach only confirms the suspicion that it is using terrorism as a convenient weapon to battle Pakistan diplomatically. Like Queen Gertrude says in Hamlet, people have begun to say: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
The way to India’s heart

One point on which the world ridiculed Pakistan in the past was that it could not think beyond Kashmir, whatever the forum and the topic for discussion. India is today on its way to opening itself to similar criticism — that it is stuck in the terrorism groove. India’s warnings about terrorism in and around South Asia fell on deaf ears for more than 20 years, but the revelation that the 9/11 attacks were the handiwork of terrorists with similar affiliation to those who were attacking India changed the whole situation. Now there is no doubt that the “mother ship of terrorism” is Pakistan. No one disputes the attributes we have given to Pakistan in this context. But for India to pursue isolation of Pakistan on this count at every forum and to make it a litmus test of every country’s friendship to India does more harm than good. Every speech of the Prime Minister, regardless of the venue and the topic of discussion, is a ringing denunciation of cross-border terrorism.
The BRICS Goa summit was turned into a battle of wits between India and its guests as to how far the group could go in identifying itself with India in isolating Pakistan. Moreover, India made no secret of its motivation and made it clear to its guests that the way to India’s heart was by targeting Pakistan. Given the fact that no one wants to create enemies in such diplomatic conclaves, many of them, particularly the Chinese, may have felt uncomfortable to be caught in an awkward situation. Eventually, China acted as Pakistan’s proxy in the discussions in Goa.
The outcome of the Goa meetings could have been projected as a diplomatic victory for India if the expectations were not pitched so high by the Prime Minister himself. What we have is a condemnation of terrorism in all its manifestations, a consensus position of the UN itself, without a definition of terrorism, which has eluded the international community even after 9/11. The global concern over the growth of the Islamic State (IS) appeared to take precedence over the special situation in South Asia as the IS is now “spread over” more than 30 countries and others dread its expansion. India should take the opportunity to speak strongly against the IS and project cross-border terrorism as another manifestation of the same problem. Building a broader constituency against terrorism is more beneficial than focussing on its own specific situation. By narrowing down exclusively to the action India expects from the international community to meet its concerns, such as declaring Pakistan as a terrorist state, may not have the desired effect. It will also not persuade China to lift its veto over including Masood Azhar on the UN list of terrorists.
A single dignified and forceful presentation by India to multilateral fora, leaving it to the member countries to tackle the issue effectively, would be more appropriate. Anticipating the possible outcome and calibrating India’s requests accordingly should have been the strategy to be adopted. Otherwise, the wide gap between India’s assertions and the language of the outcome will be visible to all. Together with India’s application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and aspiration to permanent membership of the UN Security Council, the country appears to be knocking at too many doors instead of offering global solutions to global problems. India recently modified its position of “eligibility” for permanent membership to its “right”. Such assertions will have no impact on others unless its demand is projected as part of the need to correct the imbalance in a crucial world body.
A new course of action

India confining itself to the terrorism groove shows lack of direction when it has altered the dynamics of its relations with Pakistan by carrying out surgical strikes. Having taken precipitate action, India should move in a predetermined course of action. The old pattern of terrorist attack by Pakistan, angry verbal reaction by India and resumption of dialogue does not make sense anymore. If such a course has not been prepared, this is the time to frame such a course of action. This could consist of informing the international community of the state of play, combatting terrorism on the ground with measured use of force, and dealing with the internal situation in Jammu and Kashmir with a view to eliminating internal support to cross-border terrorism. Other options available to India such as amendment of the Indus Waters Treaty, trade sanctions, and so on should also be considered. Efforts to isolate Pakistan as part of the strategy contradicts India’s established position against internationalising the Kashmir issue.
The clear lesson to be learnt from recent experience is that the world at large does not see terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as part of the global terrorism which threatens international peace and security. The recognition by the UN that Kashmir is a disputed territory influences the policy of most nations, including those who are friendly with India. A broader framework for the terrorism debate shows a way out for those who support India without wanting to get embroiled in a dispute.
India’s pursuit of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that was tabled in the UN General Assembly in 1996 has very little chance of success. It was seen at that time as an anti-Pakistan measure. The convention received some attention by the legal committee of the UN in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but it got stuck in the old argument that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
India’s advocacy of nuclear disarmament is an excellent example of the country subsuming its interest in the desire of the global community for a nuclear weapon-free world. It was only when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime became discriminatory that India stepped out of it and took a firm decision not to sign the treaty. On the question of fissionable material, India stands ready to join the negotiations on the Fissionable Material Cut-off Treaty rather than plough a lonely furrow. India harmonised its position with that of the developing countries in environmental negotiations to protect its interests and succeeded up to the point of formulating the Kyoto Protocol.
It ill behoves a country like India with a long record of using its membership of the UN for the common good to fall in one groove, however important that issue may be. Multilateralism accepts constant reiterations of national positions, but to forge a consensus, the positions should be integrated with common concerns to the extent possible.
T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Director General of the Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

My article in the Special Issue of India Abroad on Modi's fourth visit to the US

Modi Woos the Congress --- in the US.

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Narendra Modi has come a long way since the days in 1999, when he walked the long corridors of the Capitol Hill with a white cotton bag on his shoulder to lobby Congressmen and Senators to ensure that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund did not impose sanctions against India, following the nuclear tests. He was credited with a letter signed by some Congressmen, urging the World Bank and the IMF not to heed the US advice to impose sanctions. He also held consultations with senior officials of the Bretton Woods institutions, whom I invited to meet him at the residence of the Deputy Chief of Mission in Bethesda in Maryland.

Modi's fourth visit in two years to Washington as the Indian Prime Minister, a record in itself, is primarily to address the US Congress. His trend-setting clothes and familiar oratorical skills will be on display at the US Congress for the first time. The Indian community had lobbied hard to get him invited to address the Congress in 2014. But it could not be arranged because of the schedules of the House of Representatives and the Senate could not be adjusted to arrange a Joint Session of the Congress.

The invitation this time is indeed a gesture on the part of the US Congress, though it is also the result of the persistent efforts of the powerful Indian community through the India Caucus in the House of Representatives and the Friends of India in the Senate, once led by Hillary Clinton. Modi’s reputation has reached the shores of the United States and he is now considered one of the world leaders and, therefore, there is great curiosity about him. President Obama is particularly keen to introduce Modi to the Congress as he sees the Indian Prime Minister as a partner in the US initiatives in the Asia Pacific. The invitation to Modi is the final initiative he will be taking with regard to India during his Presidency. Apart from the address, Modi will be called upon to deal with the unfinished agenda in India-US relations.

Judging from the experience at the time of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s address to the Congress in 2000, such addresses by foreign dignitaries do not cause much excitement among the Congressmen and Senators. At best, they make a brief appearance at the beginning or the end as they continue to have other legislative business to attend to. The hall is filled generally by the invitees, mostly from the Indian community. If there are vacant seats still, they are filled by the staff of the Congress, including the pages or messengers. The significance of the address is basically symbolic, though the text of the address will be analyzed as the visiting dignitaries speak with a sense of history.

The Congressmen and Senators in the United States are more important than their counterparts in India, because they are not expected to toe the line of the President even if they belong to the same party as the President. They have elaborate offices with a number of staff members, who follow internal and external developments for them and also remain in touch with their constituents. They have the authority to initiate legislation and thus give directives to the President. Lobbying of the Congressmen and Senators, therefore, is a highly developed industry, in which people, including former legislators, engage in. Apart from various industrial and business interests, foreign governments also hire lobbyists to wield influence on the Capitol Hill.

India began hiring lobbyists at the time of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Ambassador Siddharth Shankar Ray, basically to counter Pakistan sponsored lobbying for Kashmir and Khalistan. The lobbying by Pakistan and India was so effective that many Congressmen used to say that they were prevented from moving an inch in favor of either of them. Our lobbying became more intense at the time of the nuclear deal and even industrial interests and the Indian community helped the process. Although there are rigid ethical regulations with regard to hospitality and other gifts that the legislators can receive, the lobbyists find ways and means to cultivate them for one foreign government or another. The creation of an India Caucus in the Congress was the direct result of lobbying by the professionals and the Indian community leaders. The Caucus, in turn, lobbied their colleagues to support Indian causes in the Congress. The attendance at the joint session will depend on the extent of the lobbying done by us to get important Congressmen to attend.

India-US relations have certainly improved since Modi became Prime Minister on account of the mutuality of interests, which have developed. Modi sees the US as the main source of investment and defense equipment. He is counting on the US for his initiatives such as Make in India and Digital India, for which the US has been enthusiastic. The co-designing and co-production of defense equipment,
together with the agreement on logistics, have taken defense cooperation to a higher level. Nuclear trade has not begun yet, despite the claim that the nuclear liability law was out of the way. A senior official of the Indian nuclear establishment suspected that the US was using the liability law as a smokescreen for their reluctance to engage in nuclear trade with India.

On political issues, the greatest gain has been the understanding reached during the visit of President Obama to India that India would be inclined towards the US in the ongoing rivalry with China in the Asia Pacific region. India has not, however, taken any concrete steps to formalize the strategic partnership by joining any of the US-sponsored groupings. On the part of the US, there is no progress on the horizon in India’s permanent membership of the Security Council, India’s joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and even the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC). India has concerns about immigration rules and the US has even greater concerns about the pace of liberalization of the Indian economy. Modi will have an opportunity to discuss these issues during his visit, but not much progress can be achieved in them. But given Modi's record of creating surprises, we may expect him to produce a rabbit or two from his magician's hat.  His visits to Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE may be of immense interest to President Obama. China will, of course figure in many ways, particularly after the visit of President Mukherjee to China. On Pakistan and Afghanistan, Obama may not be helpful as he has developed new interest in Pakistan and Taliban is not a bête noir for him.

The visit is taking place under the shadow of the forthcoming elections in the US and the dramatic emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. Indians generally are comfortable with Hillary Clinton, but she has not done anything to deserve their trust. Trump, on the other hand, may be helpful to India because of his distrust of China and Pakistan. Anti-terrorism measures might also become more effective under Trump. Modi should do well to meet both Hillary and Trump during his visit. Vajpayee was in a similar situation in 2000 and he requested for meetings with Al Gore and George Bush. He met Al Gore, but all that Bush could do was to put in a call, while he was on the campaign trail. Modi may well have better luck with Trump. Modi and Trump may hit along well because of their basic business instincts.

Modi’s foreign policy in the second year of his tenure has lost some of its dazzle. Like in the second act of a Shakespearean play, nothing spectacular is happening on the stage. His dreams about a cooperative neighborhood has been shattered.  But his visit to Iran has already rejuvenated him to a certain extent The visit to the US, with a splendid performance on the Hill, may well be the ultimate aphrodisiac Modi is looking for. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

World of Reading

World of Reading

(Remarks by former Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan at the International Book Fair, Abu Dhabi on April 29, 2016)

I am grateful to the Siraj newspaper of Kerala for inviting me to be part of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. As a passionate lover of the written word and a writer of sorts, I enjoy being in the company of books and book lovers.

The world of words, of knowledge, is as ancient as the universe itself. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and Word was God", says the Bible. In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism "Om" is a cosmic sound, a spiritual icon and a mystical syllable, a mantra, which preceded creation. 

"A good book is the purest essence of a human soul", said Thomas Carlyle. It ignites the imagination.  In so many different ways, the world of books and reading have shaped the human civilization. Writers, intellectuals, poets, scientists, musicians and thinkers down the centuries have acknowledged their indebtedness to reading and books for what they accomplished in their lives. Reading is to the intellect what food is to the body. It makes us what we are. The world of reading entices, mesmerizes, enriches and transforms us. It distinguishes the human race from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive,” said James Baldwin. Reading links us to the past, prepares us for the present and makes us visualize the future. “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends, they are the most accessible and the most patient of teachers,” said Charles William Eliot.

Speaking of teachers, the story of the legendary Dronacharya comes to mind. The teacher of teachers, the guru of the Pandavas equipped his disciples for peace and war. But he inspired not only those who were fortunate enough to be his disciples, but also those, who were not qualified to learn at his feet. He turned away Ekalavya, a lowly untouchable, but he installed an image of Dronacharya as his guru and acquired the same skills as Arjuna, the guru's  favourite disciple. Books are anonymous teachers to millions of people of different generations. Authors assume the role of teachers without being aware of it and disciples grow more and more, with the passage of time. But, unlike Dronacharya, the authors of books do not claim their thumbs  as gurudakshina. They bequeath their learning to future generations without expecting anything in return.

The gifted author, Orhan Pamuk describes what  all of us have experienced, “I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” Books influence not only individuals, but history itself, they create revolutions, they can be traced to war and peace. Much in the world may have been ignited by books and everything in the world happens in order to end up in a book. They chronicle events for posterity and continue to inspire changes many centuries later. It is a miracle that books unfold different worlds to different readers. Books enable us not only to understand history, but also help us understand who we are and how we must behave, how to live and die. They break the shackles of time.

The world of reading has no barriers. Shakespeare belongs as much to India as to the United Kingdom. In fact, it was discovered during his 400th anniversary that he is more popular in India than in any other country. Hamlet, when he is asked what he is reading, he answers, “Words, words, words” and my book on diplomacy has the same title as diplomacy is all about words, written, spoken and unspoken. Many authors have lost their national identities because of their acceptability outside their national frontiers. Henrik Ibsen,Haruki Murakami, Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho are stacked among English authors though they wrote in other languages. Translations are taken as authentic even if their diction and nuances may have been lost in the hands of the translators. Nobel prizes have been awarded on the basis of translated works, except in the case of people like Rabindranath Tagore, who rendered their works into English themselves with ease and felicity. 

Indian writers in English have made a mark on the English literary firmament. R.K.Narayan, V.S.Naipaul and Neerad Chaudhary are no less English than some British authors. This is a genre that is growing fast as more and more Indian immigrants in the UK and the US are taking to writing. It is believed that their experience of leaving the mother country has given them a special creative energy, which stand them in good stead as authors.

I recently watched a TED talk in which the speaker narrates the excitement of reading a book from every country on the planet in just one year. Books came to her from around the globe in English from Tokyo to Timbuktu  The time has come for an International Book Fair with a book in English from the 193 member countries of the United Nations. Such a world of reading may bring greater peace and international understanding than what the United Nations has been able to accomplish in seventy years. Such a collection will reveal that a person in Papua New Guinea has a thought, a feeling and a way of looking at things, which he thought was intensely personal to him, had already been recorded by a person in Burkina Faso, perhaps a century ago.

The height of absurdity in such a world of reading is the arrogance of banning or censoring books or even eliminating authors for propagating an idea, the time of which had not come. I was in Moscow at a time when Dr. Zhivago was still kept out of Soviet book shelves and members of the Communist Party were expected to say that the book was not in good taste even if they had not read a word of it. The greatest service that the Internet has done to the world of reading is that books need not be smuggled through unsuspecting customs officials. They can be read by the present generation, just as they were read by old generations without any feeling of guilt. Bloggers are unencumbered by puritanical censorship or messianic zeal.

All readers may not become writers, but there is no writer who has not read. To be a great writer, one needs to be an avid reader. But readers react to writing in many ways. Dr.Johnson felt that reading of Milton’s 'Paradise Lost' was a duty rather than a pleasure. Mark Twain defined a classic as a work that people praised, but did not read. Using the image of eating, Francis Bacon said, “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only some should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” In many cases, a book gets better when you read it several times as if something were left between the pages every time you read it. But leaving a book unfinished  is like leaving a half finished love affair only to find that a bride in hand is worth two in the bush. Books of poems occupy a special place in the world of reading. "Poems are the songs that capture the summers and the winters of hearts", says a budding poetic genius poetically.

Mercenary and ghost writing are commonplace today and people,who have something to say, but cannot express it in suitable words and style resort to these methods. But those who sacrifice truth and sincerity in order to build colossuses with clay feet are no better than purveyors of paid news and views. On the other hand, books on other people should not either be idolatry or iconoclastic. My own effort to write on another person with objectivity ended in losing him as a friend, but retaining my integrity as an author, who has a responsibility to the reader. Writing, like lending and borrowing, should not lose itself and friend.

The world of editors and publishers cannot be left out of the world of reading. The internet and the acceptance of raw language as legitimate means of communication have minimized their role, but a good editor and a good publisher can transform books beyond recognition. My first editing venture, a book called,  ‘Venkat Forever’ was harder to do than my earlier ones, which I wrote myself. But Konark Publishers of K.P.R.Nair gave it a good form and shape. My own selected writings, ‘Applied Diplomacy Through The Prism of Mythology’ edited by Dr.Divya Iyer and published by Shobit Arya of 'Wisdom Tree' is likely to be remembered for their immense contributions as editor and publisher respectively. An eminent writer left the project, thinking that diplomacy and mythology would not mix, but later called it an exceptional work. The book went beyond the familiar ground of diplomacy to the eternal world of seven immortals. Myths and legends of centuries ago provided models for 21st century diplomatic challenges. Hanuman became the perfect diplomat, Ashvathama depicted the United States and Kripacharya became the symbol of the United Nations.

No one can cover the world of reading with any finality in a talk or a book. The vast expanse of the world of reading cannot be easily fathomed. We can only touch the tip of the iceberg and wonder what immortal hand or eye could grasp its fearful symmetry. Books will live forever, whether in print, with their intoxicating aroma or as images on Kindle and other electronic devices and reading will continue to make the world worth living. The word preceded humanity and it will outlast it.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Talk on Multilateralism

Centre for Southeast Asian and Pacific Studies, Sri. Venkateswara University

International Conference on Multilateral Cooperation: Emerging Global Scenario.

(Keynote address by former Ambassador of India, T.P.Sreenivasan at the Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati. February 22, 2016)

Prof. M.Bhaskar, Rector of the University,
Shri. Ajaneesh Kumar, ICWA,
Prof. Ngo Xuan Binh,
Prof. G.J.Reddy,
Distinguished Delegates,

A few days ago, I received three unexpected offers from the Sri.Venkateswara University. The first was a captive audience for a lecture on multilateralism. For a person, who has spent several years at the United Nations and its agencies, an invitation to speak on multilateralism was attractive enough. The second was an offer of an ISAPS Lifetime Achievement Award for International Understanding, an exceptional honour. The third was a special darshan of Lord Venkateswara, the most irresistible offer of all. No wonder I accepted the offers wholeheartedly. I am grateful to the Sri Venkateswara University, particularly Prof. G.J Reddy, for the opportunity. My time at the UN between 1980 and 2004 witnessed several shifts and turns in the fortunes of the United Nations, not to speak of the periods before and after in the seventy years of its existence. But multilateralism is alive and well, unchanged in form, but altered in substance.

The pyrrhic victory of the allies in the Second World War inevitably led to a collective security system to rid the succeeding generations of the scourge of war. Care was taken to include economic, social and human rights concerns in the Charter of the United Nations. But the victors of the war shaped the world body in the belief that they would be the arbiters of global security forever and gave themselves the veto, which diluted the principle of sovereign equality and democracy. In the last seventy years, however, every independent nation subscribed to the Charter and made the UN the only universal international organization. It survived the game changing developments in the world and proved itself resilient enough even though the rigidity of the Charter perpetuated some anachronisms. The success of the UN was on account of its ability to change with the times on substance, though not in structures and procedures.

Multilateralism assumed new forms and roles in the crucible of the cold war. The unanimity of the permanent members, envisaged in the Charter, collapsed earlier than expected and the big powers did not surrender even a fraction of their sovereignty for the sake of the global good. Instead, they began to use multilateral organizations like the UN, the World Bank and the IMF as instruments to influence global affairs. For the rest, they pursued bilateralism to secure their core interests. Multilateralism became the privilege of the weak, first to protect their sovereignty and then for collective bargaining. But the global situation was such that the UN was able to harvest the low-hanging fruits in the areas of decolonization, development and disarmament and thus proved worthy of the faith placed in it by the international community.

The cold war, however, did not allow multilateralism to succeed in its primary purpose of safeguarding international peace and security and while “mutually assured destruction” prevented a nuclear confrontation, many wars were fought in the developing world as the Security Council chose to be a mere witness. The growth of the Nonaligned Movement into a virtual third force in international relations was the most significant development in this period. Though it was only a movement and not an organization, it developed organizational structures like a Coordinating Bureau, Ministerial Meetings and Summits. Given its composition with Singapore at one end of the ideological spectrum and Cuba at the other, its pronouncements were balanced except on fundamental issues like imperialism, colonialism, apartheid and Palestine. The western world dismissed it as extremist and irrelevant, while the easterners claimed to be its natural allies as their views coincided with the views of the Movement. As leaders of the Movement, countries like India, Yougoslavia, Algeria and Cuba gained some bilateral advantages because of their multilateral influence. The Soviet Union cultivated these countries bilaterally to gain multilateral support.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war transformed multilateralism beyond recognition. Multilateralism became the corner stone of international relations. There was a spring in the air at the UN, which encouraged the Secretary General, Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali to bring about thorough changes in the role of the UN in maintaining international peace and security. In his ‘Agenda for Peace’, he called for a stronger UN and a stronger Secretary General to deal with threats to international peace and security by emphasizing the need for every member nation to surrender some of its sovereignty to the UN. He brought disarmament into the purview of the Security Council by holding a Council Meeting at the level of heads of state on the subject. He also called for a standing army for the UN to speed up peace operations.

None of the proposals of the Secretary General gained traction in a yearlong discussion, though the General Assembly was polite to him by taking back with the left hand, what it gave him with the right. He was accused of acting like a Pharaoh and harboring ambitions to be a General, not a Secretary General. Some marginal changes were made, but nothing major to alter the role of the UN. The Secretary General was also asked to present an ‘Agenda for Development’, essentially to balance the security role of the United Nations with its developmental agenda.

Multilateral diplomacy, however, kept evolving in the post cold war era in multiple ways. The Nonaligned Movement lost its cutting edge and the concerned countries professed strategic autonomy, but sought cooperation with the remaining Super Power. Dr.Manmohan Singh characterized the new trend in multilateralism as “Cooperative Pluralism”. The dimensions of international security multiplied after the attacks of 9/11, when the world’s most powerful nation was brought to its knees without guns and bombs. Counter terrorism, nuclear security and safety, human rights and environmental protection became the focus of multilateral attention. Confrontation gave way to cooperation, though the powerful nations continued to force their way in each of these issues as collective bargaining became increasingly ineffective. A Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism demanded by India and others did not become a reality, despite the horror of 9/11. Nonproliferation concerns are still considered more important than nuclear security and safety, human rights remain politicized and common but differentiated responsibility has been turned into common responsibility in matters of the
environment. Bilateral pressures are brought to bear upon multilateral cooperation.

Regional arrangements were envisaged in the Charter, but multilateralism has become more pronounced regionally in recent years. Apart from geographic regions, similarities in history and state of development began to play a role in forging multilateral bodies as in the case of BRICS and IBSA. An American economist invented BRICS as countries with common characteristics, but it turned into a grouping to counter western economic domination. The BRICS bank has assumed extraordinary importance in reordering the world order, though Chinese domination is inescapable in the present dispensation. Regional groupings have their own dynamics as bilateral relations among neighbours impinge on multilateral cooperation as seen in the case of SAARC. Even the established regional organisations like the European Union fear ‘Brixit’ and ‘Grexit’ occasionally despite the imperatives of cooperation.

China has invented an altogether new form of multilateral cooperation through its multi-billion dollar One Belt One Road initiative, which will link nations in an unprecedented manner. Needless to say, the motivation is Chinese domination and control of pathways and waterways across continents, but its advantages will lure many countries to embrace it. Rival multilateral structures are also emerging in the Asia Pacific as the power centre shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Reform of multilateral organizations is essential for their very existence even if they have managed differences by innovative approaches. Voices began to be heard to abolish the veto in the UN Security Council right from the beginning. The World Bank and the IMF fought reform proposals tooth and nail. Then came the demand for an expansion of the Security Council, first in 1979 to maintain the proportion between the membership of the General Assembly and the Security Council. After the end of the cold war, demand arose also to increase the number of permanent members to reflect the reality of the global situation. Many proposals for expansion of the Security Council have been advanced and discussed over the years, but there is no proposal today, which can command two thirds majority of the General Assembly and the positive votes of the five permanent members, though the idea of an expansion of the Security Council has been widely accepted. The credibility of the Security Council as representing the entire membership of the UN has eroded and unless an expansion takes place, the UN itself will be marginalized and other multilateral organizations will fill the void. G-8, G-20 and NATO are dealing with multiple issues, which should fall legitimately in the lap of the United Nations. A day may come when “Coalitions of the Willing” will take over many multilateral responsibilities.

India has been an unflinching champion of multilateralism, particularly the UN. In the initial years of independence, India had a high profile role in disarmament, decolonization and development, but it diminished as we took on the “Third World” leadership through the Nonaligned Movement during the cold war. India took the Jammu and Kashmir issue to the UN on the principle that the world body should settle disputes by peaceful means, even though it had the capability to repel the aggressor from the part of Kashmir that Pakistan had occupied by force. But it was frustrated by the play of international intrigues in the Security Council and realized its mistake. India learnt the hard way that multilateral bodies tended to complicate issues rather than resolve them on the basis of justice.

India’s approach to multilateralism has been to contribute to the common good rather than to seek for itself any advantages from the UN and other bodies. India became nervous about the internationalization of the Kashmir issue and refrained from taking any issue to the Security Council on the plea that neighbours should deal with issues bilaterally rather than multilaterally. India resisted the formation of SAARC for the same reasons and insisted that bilateral disputes should not be taken up in multilateral forums. Plagued by the problems between India and Pakistan, SAARC remains ineffective as a multilateral regional forum. Bilateral issues inhibit its growth as an instrument of multilateral cooperation.

India has begun to modernize its multilateralism in recent years. Having consolidated bilateral relations with the important countries of the world, India has begun to demand its due share in multilateralism such as permanent membership of the Security Council and membership of APEC. India has also ceased to be a deal breaker in many negotiations and become a partner in multilateral decision-making in areas such as climate change, WTO, internet governance, challenges to sustainable development and reforming peace keeping. It was through a bilateral deal with the US that India returned to the mainstream nuclear group even without signing the NPT. India is now more pro-active in multilateral arenas because of the new confidence it has acquired. India has begun to demand permanent membership of the UN Security Council as a matter of right rather than a mere entitlement.

Today, every nation juggles with the bilateral and multilateral options to safeguard its interests. Multilateralism serves the global commons, but bilateralism is pursued to increase trade, investment and security. They are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, reinforce each other. In the current global scenario, success lies in forging bilateral and regional ties, which, in turn, will equip nations to meet the multilateral challenges.

Thank you.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Kovalam Declaration

Global Education Meet (GEM) Kerala 2016
 Kovalam Declaration on Making Kerala a Hub of International Education

The Government of Kerala and the Kerala State Higher Education Council organized, with the support of the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a Global Education Meet at Kovalam, Kerala, on 29-30 January, 2016, which brought together over a hundred academicians, academic administrators and education providers from around the world.

The Meet, having debated various aspects relating to enhancing the international collaboration of Higher Education Institutions in Kerala, for establishing an Academic City and International Higher Academic Zones, in five sessions over 2 days, has agreed to issue the following Declaration as the consolidated outcome of the Global Education Meet 2016.

The Global Education Meet 2016

Noting that there is a considerable increase in the number of students going abroad from India and other developing countries to developed countries in pursuit of higher education,

Acknowledging that international education has immense potential to enhance employability of students, improve their economic situation and help them to become world-class entrepreneurs.

Taking into consideration the high cost of international education, which allows only stake holders from affluent families to afford the same,

Considering that a large proportion of the students who go abroad do not return to India and are thus unable to contribute to our growing economy with their skills,

Understanding that the Make in India, Digital India and other campaigns of the Government of India will benefit from an internationally trained workforce, which is able to establish and work in state-of-the-art-facilities,

Expressing concern that there is no support system for economically and socially backward students to benefit from the opportunities for international education,

Acknowledging that India itself could be an attractive destination for higher education for students from many developing countries, particularly in Asia and Africa,

Taking into account the fact that the private sector has played a big role in    expanding educational facilities in Kerala within the existing policy framework,

Noting that the Government of India is reported to have proposed to establish ten private universities with substantial institutional freedom to design curriculum and implement academic innovations,

Addressing the need to strengthen interdisciplinary learning and research skills into the curriculum

Considering that Universities and educational institutions in Kerala have already established a number of international collaboration programmes for student exchange, faculty exchange and research with universities abroad,

 Noting that the Government of Kerala, in its budget for the year 2015-16 announced its intention to establish an Academic City and International Higher Academic Zones in Kerala,

Taking note of the success made by Academic cities in the Middle East and South East Asia to attract international universities to establish their campuses in those countries,

Appreciating that a number of individuals and institutions from Kerala have expressed interest in investing in International Higher Academic Zones,

Recalling that the UN Sustainable Development Goals calls for greater efforts for international co-operation on education,

Taking into account that KSHEC has identified infrastructure, use of technology, teachers' training, research, autonomy and internationalization as areas for immediate attention in shaping a "Higher Education 2.0" for the twenty-first century and has submitted 17 reports to the Government with appropriate recommendations,

Noting that the Government of Kerala has constituted an International Relations Group (IRG) to promote cooperation between the Universities in Kerala and foreign Universities,

 Acknowledging that KSHEC has framed an IT@Colleges Programme to improve connectivity in colleges,

 Noting that the Kerala State Higher Education Council has submitted a report, recommending that private universities should be established,

Taking note of the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration ( of the Meet on Transnational Education 2014, which contains valuable recommendations for promoting internationalization of higher education,

 Noting with appreciation the initiative taken by the Government of Kerala to continue with its effort to promote internationalization of education by calling a Global Education Meet, which provided a platform for all participants to understand and deliberate on the opportunities and challenges posed by technology-enabled transnational education,

Noting that the present procedure for academic travel is cumbersome and not conducive to faculty and student exchanges,

Taking note of the fact that China has the third largest foreign student population in the world and it is the country that sends out the largest number students abroad,

1)                            The Government of India to finalize the Higher Education Bill so that a long term legislative framework for international co-operation on education is available for  educational providers  to make long term financial commitments needed for international academic co-operation;

2)                           The Government of India to facilitate international student exchanges by increasing the number of fellowships available for cultural exchange programmes as well as rationalizing legislation to make students entry procedures easier;

3)                         The Government of India to relax legislation regarding short term employment of faculty and researchers from other countries in India which is urgently needed for the smooth functioning of the International Higher Academic Zones and other academic collaboration;

4)                           The Government of India to ensure massification of education with equity;

5)                           The Government of India to liberalize its visa regime to facilitate academic mobility;

6)                            The Government of India to liberalize academic travel and to eliminate red tapism in dealing with request for travel.

7)                           Acknowledges the pioneer efforts of International Institute for Scientific and Academic Collaboration to facilitate two batches of American students for a semester each in the University of Kerala and encourages the institute and the University of Kerala to expand and strengthen the programme.

8)                            The Government of Kerala to set up an Academic City Authority as a facilitator-cum-regulator for the bodies proposed to be established to promote internationalization of higher education in Kerala;

9)                           To transform the research landscape in the state, including through partnerships with industries and maximize the benefits of research by advancing fundamental knowledge to contribute much to the society at large;

10)            To harness and align different knowledge domains and thus create Centres of Excellence which combine inquiry and investigation;

11)            The University Grants Commission to urgently streamline procedures and support for facilitating international collaboration so that all institutions desirous of establishing such co-operation can do that within the shortest possible time;

12)            The All India Council for Technical Education and other apex bodies on higher education in India to establish procedures for international recognition of Indian degrees and vice versa so as to promote internationalization of higher education India;

13)            Requests to create an environment for blended learning which will integrate online materials, traditional classroom teaching and online virtual classrooms;

14)            The Government of Kerala to finalize legislation on establishment of an Academic City and International Higher Academic Zones so as to give a boost to internationalization of education in the state; 

15)            The Government of Kerala to initiate work to identify locations for an Academic City and to approve the locations for International Higher Academic Zones as identified by academic providers so that individuals and institutions desirous of partnering can start to prepare their plans;

16)            The Government of Kerala to make available procedures and incentives for faculty and students in the Academic City and International Higher Academic Zones;

17)            The Government of Kerala to implement  the report of the KSHEC on establishing private universities in Kerala at the earliest;

18)            The Government of Kerala to ensure that economically and socially weaker sections of the society have access to the new institutions, courses and opportunities created in the Academic City and International Higher Academic Zones;

19)            The Government of Kerala to establish procedures which will ensure gender equality in access to the new institutions, courses and opportunities created in the Academic City and International Higher Academic Zones;

20)            The Kerala State Higher Education Council to arrange training programmes for managers of higher educational institutions in Kerala on legal and practical aspects of establishing international collaboration, including student and faculty exchange;

21)            The Department of Higher Education, Government of Kerala, to support educational institutions in the state to establish hundred percent high speed connectivity with data network in every academic institution so that students can benefit from technologically enhanced learning on the basis of the report on IT@Colleges;

22)            The Universities in the state to revise their rules and regulations to facilitate exchange of faculty, student and researchers locally, nationally and internationally in a seamless manner;

23)            The Universities in the state to urgently establish easy and transparent procedures for international academic credit recognition to support student exchange programmes;

24)            The Universities in the state to take full advantage of technologically enhanced learning by promoting Massive Open Online Courses, flipped classrooms and blended learning in their universities;

25)            The Academic institutions in the state, both in public sector and private sector, to start to work on international collaborations for teaching, research, student and faculty exchange so as to get familiarized with international co-operation which will be greatly expanded in the coming years;

26)            The Public and Private Sector Companies in Kerala to consider contributing in higher education including research as part of their corporate social responsibility to contribute to a sustainable state;

27)            The Individuals and companies owned and promoted by Indians abroad to invest in the Academic City and International Higher Academic Zones in Kerala;

28)            The faculty members in academic institutions in the state to proactively engage international academic community for collaborative research, teaching and student exchange to maximize internationalization of curriculum and educational experience;

29)            The student community in the state to see the internationalization of higher education as a huge opportunity to be exposed to higher education of global standards, which will improve their ability to pursue higher education and research;

30)            The student community to take advantage of internationalization of education as a way to maximize their employability locally and globally;

31)            The educational providers in Kerala to leverage Kerala’s reputation as a family friendly and economical global tourist destination to market their capacity to deliver quality higher education at affordable costs across the developing world in order to attract more international students to come to Kerala and increase diversity in classrooms;

32)            Considers that good governance of educational institutions is required to ensure quality, efficiency and transparency.

The participants of the Global Education Meet further resolve

To continue the discussions individually in coming days in their respective countries, academic forums and educational institutions they represent, to harness the potential of internationalization of education;

To promote, in their respective countries and spheres of influence, the relevant conclusions from the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration( on Transnational Education 2014 and the Kovalam Declaration of the Global Education Meet 2016.

The participants of the Global Education Meet  further request

The Kerala State Higher Education Council to widely publicize the Kovalam Declaration on International Education so that students, teachers, academic policy makers, education providers and other stakeholders of higher education can use it as a basic document to advocate and promote transnational education.

The participants noted with concern the   undue anxieties in certain sections about internationalization of Higher Education because of a lack of understanding of the concept and expressed the hope that dissent will not degenerate in to violence.

The participants of the Global Education Meet express appreciation for the Government of Kerala for the excellent arrangements for the Meet and for its generous hospitality.

Issued in Kovalam, on 30th January 2016