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Water Crisis: ASTUTE CONSERVATION VITAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 17 July 2019 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 17 July 2019

Water Crisis

ASTUTE CONSERVATION VITAL 

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

Prime Minister Modi’s radio broadcast on the last day of June exhorted people to start a mass movement to conserve water. He rightly pointed out the need to save every drop of water as only 8 per cent of water received from rainfall was being utilised in the country, urging all Indians to join hands in this endeavour.

 

“Come let us join water conservation and involve ourselves in making a list of making more and more innovative methods to motivate people to conserve water”, the Prime Minister said. He added that India’s challenge of water conservation of water was significant but could be met with concerted and joint action. The remarks came a day ahead of ‘water conservation campaign’ in 255 water stressed districts in the country.

 

The campaign --Jal Shakti Abhiyan – began on July 1 and would continue till end-November in 1593 water-stressed blocks, falling under 255 critical districts. Activities during the campaign are expected to include construction of rooftop rainwater harvesting infrastructure, check dams, trenches, ponds and watershed structures.

 

Obviously, there are expectations that the newly-created Jal Shakti Mantralaya would consolidate water policy and management, which till recently had been spread across seven ministries. According to one estimate, only around one in five rural households has piped water connection. Within this, there is noticeable regional disparity, with States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar lagging the national average in piped water connections.

 

Undoubtedly, the scale of the challenge is even more complex than Swaachh Bharat. Even as the focus is on rural households, the government cannot lose sight of the conditions prevailing in urban slums where people are largely dependent on hand pump, each one shared by many households. 

 

Official data shows that coverage of village households with piped water has annually increased from 12 per cent in 2013-14 to 17 per cent in 2017-18 and may be a little over 18 per cent now, highlighting the need to seriously accelerate the programme. Thus, the challenge to achieve 100 per cent coverage of piped water supply by 2024 is indeed a massive task and entails lot of expenditure which has not been made available even in the current Budget. The project of increasing toilet coverage from just 33 per cent in October 2014 to around 99 per cent now may be statistically correct, but most of these toilets are non-functional as they do not have water connections.

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Therefore, to ensure piped water to a large section of the population entails harnessing technology to augment water conservation. For example, Israel recycles around 94 per cent of water it uses. Thus, recycling can increase water availability even in times of rainfall deficiency. The government has not outlined whether recycling would be carried out and the technology that would be used for the purpose. Since India has very good relations with Israel, exploring technology tie-ups with that country should be explored. 

 

Meanwhile, it is worthwhile to refer to an evaluation of 400 cities globally in 2018 with focus on mega cities facing high combined levels of water scarcity – recent and projected drought, wherein Chennai emerged in top position as the city facing the most severe water scarcity and drought. There are four Indian cities in the top 20 mega cities with populations above 10 million. Chennai aside, Kolkata ranks at number two, Mumbai at 11 and Delhi at 15. As is well known Chennai was exposed to devastating floods and experienced some of the wettest conditions in many years, resulting in some 1.8 million people being displaced, the loss of over 500 lives and economic damage over $3 billion. From too wet it has become too dry now in a matter of four years.

 

Large cities, mostly located along the banks of large rivers, are vulnerable because for the most part, the river systems are “vastly over allocated and mismanaged”. According to Alexis Morgan of WWF, drought to flooding is the “front edge of climate change”. In addition, is the loss of wetlands, specially in city like Kolkata and the looming crisis of floods and depleting water sources are evident. The world has lost 35 per cent of wetlands since 1970 and is losing these three times faster than forests, reports have noted.

 

It may be pertinent to examine certain actions towards conservation and judicious management of water. Here in India, not so educated people are in the habit of wasting water but this cannot be allowed to continue as the dimension of the crisis is growing. Let us examine the following: One, irrigated water is being used inefficiently. There is no reason that the rainfall deficit and water deficit regions of Maharashtra should produce sugar cane which uses 2500 litres of water for every kg of output. Similarly, the states of Punjab and Haryana where farmers get highly subsidised or free water, highly intensive rice cultivation has led to desertification. Crops like sugar cane and rice should only be grown in water surplus regions but populist ‘free water’ policies have achieved the opposite. Thus, large savings of water are needed, both in irrigation technology, recycling and management.

 

Two, groundwater storage is at least as great as surface water storage potential and is available at significantly lower costs, which needs to be explored in a bigger way. Three,         appropriate design changes can significantly reduce water requirements for the industrial sector. For example, extensive use of recycling can reduce the amount of water needed to produce one tonne of steel by say 90-95 per cent.

 

Four, the cost of providing adequate potable water in a country like India is indeed quite high but the benefits include drastic reduction in water-borne diseases. Moreover, safe water is essential for the development of body and mind, specially of children.

 

Five, most countries still lack policies for integrated water management and India is no exception. There is need for all-round conservation methods such as water harvesting through an awareness generation mass movement about the impending crisis in the water sector. The movement should be more pronounced in water surplus States, highlighting the precarious situation in deficit States like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka etc., specially in the summer months.

 

India has not lost her water in an absolute sense but lost control over water. Collective wisdom is needed to evolve an ecological water resource policy. Together with mass forestation, mass water conservation through a peoples’ programme can only save the country from being water stressed. Further, given the looming environmental crisis, the water sector needs total attention. There is need for a scientific action plan wherein details of conservation, water harvesting and recycling should be enumerated and followed strictly by municipalities, panchayats and also the private sector.

 

Thus, the present endeavour of the government calls for concerted action by all stakeholders, including voluntary organisations and environmental groups as the challenge is indeed immense, not just for India but all populous countries across the globe. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

India’s Water Woes: RUNNING OUT OF TIME, By Poonam I Kaushish, 16 July 2019 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 16 July 2019

India’s Water Woes

RUNNING OUT OF TIME

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

India’s first major climate catastrophe is at our doorstep: Water. Groundwater levels in 21 major cities, including Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad will dry up completely by 2020 affecting 600 million people and 40% will have no access to drinking water by 2030, according to a Niti Aayog report. Almost two-thirds of our reservoirs are running below normal water levels and 200,000 die each year from unsafe water supplies. A “water apartheid” where only the wealthy could afford resources in the face of droughts and famine with tanker mafias ruling who gets water and  at what price!

Undeniably, the search for water and its management has become the most harrowing task for 21st century India. Water-starved Chennai got some respite when a train with 50 wagons of 50,000 litres of water from Jolarpet arrived on Friday. The southern metropolis has been grappling with an acute water crisis over four months with a daily water deficit of over 200 million litres as the city’s four reservoirs have run dry. People are forced to wash utensils in dirty water, saving  clean water to cook food.

In Capital Delhi’s blistering heat huddles of women with two buckets each wait in various colonies for water tankers every alternate day as they need 20 litres to sustain a family of four and farmers use toxic drain water to grow vegetables. In Andhra, only 34 out of 116 municipalities get regular water for an hour twice a week.

Maharashtra is facing a water emergency. Strangled by years of drought, rivers’ have dried up, water in dams and reservoirs has depleted and groundwater over-exploited. The State Government has deployed 6,597 water tankers to meet the drinking water needs of 5639 villages and 11,595 hamlets. Five other States too are on the verge of drought.

Ominous portends herald a future wherein clean drinking water runs out and people rely on unsafe water resulting in disease and deaths, higher infant mortality and mass migrations to  already overpopulated and under-resourced cities.

Thanks to rampant unplanned urban development, deficient monsoon with lakes and inlets lost to encroachment and environmental degradation, dumping of sewage, industrial waste and construction debris and a shift from community-based water-use system to individual-oriented groundwater scheme, a tale that courses through the length and breadth of the country bringing it to its knees.

The failure to preserve natural aquifers and catchments is most evident in the rate of groundwater depletion. Confessed the Prime Minister only 8% of rainwater gets saved in the country.

Shockingly, 11 river basins including Ganga will be water deficit by 2025, threatening over a billion lives with the challenge getting graver by 2050 as demand will rise to 1,180 million cubic metres, 1.65 times the current levels even as fresh water resources dwindle. Think, India has 18% of the world's population but only 4% usable water, wastes more than it produces and spends billions on inane projects instead of focusing on water conservation.

The brand new Water Ministry Jal Shakti has launched a water conservation drive targeting over 250 of the most water-stressed districts, roughly a fourth of the country’s landmass. But the powers-that-be lackadaisical attitude can be gauged from the fact that a majority of Government buildings don’t have rainwater harvesting systems, notwithstanding it being discussed forever in Delhi’s policy corridors.

Worse, ten years ago North India was losing groundwater at a rate of 54 billion cubic metres per year, roughly equivalent to the water stored in the Alaskan glaciers. Ironically parts of India are in perpetual drought to keep taps flowing in major cities. According to the Standing Committee on Water Resources, the percentage of districts with overexploited groundwater levels increasing from three in 1995 to 15 by 2011.

Where will India get its water in the coming years and how the Government plans on providing piped water for every Indian by 2024, is anybody’s guess. As the Rs 4 trillion spent on dams and other engineering-heavy solutions haven’t borne results. Neither has the Repair, Renovation and Restoration of Water Bodies' scheme for improving and restoring traditional water bodies like talaabs, nallas, wells, catchment areas, tank storage capacity, ground water recharge increased water availability.

Rued a conservationist, “Governments do not believe in cost-effective, common sense solutions they are always looking at expensive mega projects and engineering solutions. Since the 1960s they have totally ignored and neglected lakhs of water bodies, the legacy of our ancestors. Unless we capture rainwater during the monsoon season, we will always run out.”

A farmer in Rajasthan’s Alwar district has shown the way forward. He restored water resources through construction of small-scale water harvesting structures. This brought water back in 1,000 drought-hit villages, revived five rivers which had gone dry, increased farm productivity by 20-80% and increased forest cover by 33%.

Two other success stories are in Uttarakhand where naulas or water temples have been revived and Kerala where horizontal wells surangas have been revitalized. Farmers need to look at growing crops which are not water guzzlers. In Maharashtra, 60% of the water is used for growing sugarcane when sugar is cheaper in the international market.

India could take a leaf from Jordan which has revived traditional land management system ‘Hima’ whereby land is set aside to allow it to naturally regenerate itself, resulting in increased economic growth through cultivation of indigenous plants and conservation of natural resources in the Zarqa river basin.

A way forward is restoring water-bodies, replenishing our natural dams --- the aquifers and catchment areas which would stop the reliance on distant water sources along-with rainwater harvesting to sustain our surface and subsoil water. There should be an annual audit on water, where it is coming from and where is it going. The cropping pattern should be according to the availability of water and how many litres are spent growing crops per acre.

The need of the hour is a pragmatic competence and mission mode mindset wherein the long term focus should be on local water management, restoring local wetlands and water bodies, water re-use through systematic dual plumbing, decentralised waste water treatment plants supplying it as non-potable water and improving efficiency in irrigation.

Time now for the Centre to treat water as a national asset and go for durable long term solutions which needs national planning geared for local solutions. Let us keep our fingers crossed that the waters are not muddied further and our netas don’t leave us high and dry. Else, India will face a severe water crisis soon and have no water for its growing economy and people.

An out-of-the-box thinking whereby at least 50% of the entire water-related budget is allotted to demand-side water management; solid waste management to avoid contamination of resources by both biological and industrial sources; incentives to promote water use efficiency including tradable water permits and taking measures to prepare the Indian farming sector for factors like climate change.

In sum we need to wake up as the problem is deeper than just demand and supply of water, primarily it is about our broken relationship with water and land. The time to hope and look skyward that Lord Indra will oblige is far gone. Zabaani jama khurch will not slake India’s growing thirst! ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Questions On Shaky Stocks: BANKS, NBFC CAUSE JITTERS, by Shivaji Sarkar, 15 July 2019 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 15 July 2019

Questions On Shaky Stocks

BANKS, NBFC CAUSE JITTERS

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

The stock market is continuously crashing for a week. This is a complex phenomenon as it is just not the Budget blues but several other factors are affecting the market. The Budget proposal may have accentuated it.

 

Certainly, the Economic Survey prediction of 7% growth had given a minor boost to the sensex. It rose by 68.81 points to 39,908.06 and Nifty was up by 21.20 points at 11,938. But it started falling as the Budget was presented.

 

In a week Nifty ended below 11500, the lowest since 17 May and the sensex came down to around 38800. In fact, the stock has been moving in a narrow range since January.

 

Notably, the issues were many and the foreign portfolio investors (FPI) have been lukewarm to the Indian market. They appeared to take more out of the country. Retail inflation also reached an eight-month high in June on rising food prices but stayed under the Reserve Bank of India's medium-term target of 4% for an eleventh straight month.

 

Global cues traded mixed as worries over renewed Sino-US trade tensions weighed on sentiment ahead of the release of June trade data from China.

 

Importantly, certain tax proposals and denial of the benefit of tax waiver up to Rs 5 lakh to all classes of taxpayers has also subdued the market sentiments. Besides, proposing higher taxes on certain classes though with a view to increasing revenue has also dampened market sentiments.

 

Further, the Government’s move to tax share buybacks, impose higher taxes on the super-rich and increase minimum public shareholding in listed companies has disappointed investors. 

 

The long-term capital gain tax (LTCG) has increased for FPIs, because of a few tweaks, which is one thing that the market did not like. Buyback tax and the plan to increase in public shareholdings after some years are a few other reasons which hit the market badly, according to AK Prabhakar, Head of Research, IDBI Capital Markets. 

 

The sentiments of railways, its investments and lack of clarity on its expansion and part privatization seem to have confused the market. As its investments in many areas has come down.

 

The FPIs pulled nearly $ 11.3 billion from the country’s debt and equity markets in 2018, the highest since 2008.

 

The NSDL data show that as of 3 January, the limit for FPI investments in corporate bonds is Rs 2.89 lakh crores and the utilised level is 71.14%. Even after the Central Bank eased norms for investing in debt, in April 2018, foreign investors trimmed their holdings in G-secs and corporate bonds in April, May and June. 

 

On the external front, the current account deficit (CAD) increased from 1.9% of GDP in 2017-18 to 2.6% in April-December 2018. The widening of the CAD was largely on account of a higher trade deficit driven by rise in international crude oil prices (Indian basket).

 

The trade deficit increased from US$ 162.1 billion in 2017-18 to $ 184 billion 2018-19. Merchandise imports reduced from 21.1% to 10.4%. The growth in service exports and imports in US dollar terms declined to 5.5% and 6.7% respectively in 2018-19, from 18.8% and 22.6% respectively in 2017-18.

 

The rupee depreciated by 7.8% vis-à-vis the dollar, 7.7% against the Yen, and 6.8% against the Euro and Pound Sterling in 2018-19. During 2018-19, the Indian rupee traded with a depreciating trend against the US dollar and touched Rs. 74.4 per US dollar in October 2018 before recovering to Rs. 69.2 per US dollar at the end of March 2019.

 

The weaker rupee nominal rise in exports and balance of trade position has made bonds less attractive for investors apart from sentiments about the domestic market.

 

The Budget has proposed an increase in the surcharge on high-income earning foreign individuals and associations of persons (AoPs). A large number of FPIs in India will be impacted as they are structured either as trusts or AoPs. This is causing another problem now.

 

Foreign investors withdrew a net sum of Rs 475 crores from the Indian capital markets in the first week of July. The reasons stated were pre-Budget anticipation and international trade tension because of steps taken by US President Donald Trump.

 

Undeniably, the overall economic condition is impacting the mood. Now the market is looking at the RBI as also the US Federal Reserve for a rate cut.

 

The visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his discussion with Prime Minister Modi on trade and strategic relationship has raised expectations of the market.

 

Another issue that has not been taken kindly is the announcement of higher dividend to be paid by the RBI. Finance Secretary Subhash Garg said that close to Rs 90,000 crores will come as dividend from the RBI. This is a 32% jump from the previous fiscal, when the Central Bank paid Rs 68,000 crores to the Government including Rs 28,000 crores as interim dividend.

 

The RBI dividend in 2017-18 was Rs 40,659 crore.

 

The bank industry also has reservation over drawing this kind of money from the Central Bank.

 

In fact, the Central Bank set up a panel under former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan in December 2018 to look into the size of capital reserves that the Bank should hold. This committee is to submit its report on next week, July 16.

 

The recapitalisation of banks by about Rs 1 lakh crore should rejuvenate the banks though it would cover only 10% of its losses. Meanwhile, certain restructuring and amalgamation of public sector banks is considered a positive step. Better recoveries of loans are yet another positive.

 

The NBFC sector is having liquidity crisis and the resultant slowdown. The RBI Act is proposed to be amended for allowing intervention of the Central Bank with powers to remove its directors.

 

However, these steps are sequel to one of the worst crisis of the Rs 91,000 crores IL&FS scam. Its tentacles have increased and has also exposed the vulnerabilities of the National Highway Authority and raised questions about their toll fund management.

Myriad issues are making the industry go into a tizzy. The Budget has suggested certain methods but these will show results in a bit longer term. The stock market only exhibits the mood. A favourable trend boosts the confidence. Till such time the equity market may continue to cause jitters. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi, 13 July 2019

 

 



 

Digital Finance Inclusion; PARADIGM SHIFT IN THINKING VITAL, By Moin Qazi, 13 July 2019 Print E-mail

Spotlight

New Delhi, 13 July 2019

Digital Finance Inclusion

PARADIGM SHIFT IN THINKING VITAL

By Moin Qazi

 

The financial industry’s efforts to serve lower-income customers have gone through four distinct phases: from social banking to micro-finance to financial inclusion and now technology-driven financial services or digital financial inclusion.

Undeniably, digital technologies have become the most powerful lever for financial inclusion and are considered the smartest way to rapidly unlock economic opportunity and accelerate social development with economic empowerment. Digital tools have fostered speedier and more inclusive growth by dramatically reducing financial service providers’ costs and making services more convenient and accessible for users, especially low-income subscribers in remote locations. Money sits in a virtual account on a server where it can be transferred with the click of a button.

According to the latest RBI report, total digital transactions in volume terms recorded a growth rate of 58.8% during 2018-19 against 50.4% in 2017-18. The RBI says digital transactions in value terms grew by 19.5% during 2018-19, compared to 22.2% in 2017-18.The Central Bank report states the digital finance landscape has witnessed unprecedented waves of innovation. It has accordingly ambitious target to push volumes of digital transactions four times by 2021.

Digital finance payments and financial services delivered via mobile phones and internet are greasing the wheels of the economic system and transforming lives and economic prospects of individuals, businesses and Governments across the developing world, thus boosting GDP and financial inclusion a reality.

In contrast to digital financial systems, physical channels are prohibitive for low income populations. One, physical banking is relatively costlier and riskier for consumers to perform even while engaging in basic financial activities, payments, savings, investments and remittances. Two, it is very costly for utility firms, banks, insurance companies and other institutions to transact as it makes their operations infeasible and unsustainable. Digital channels offer a robust fix for problems encountered by consumers and financial institutions in traditional systems of finance.

Digital financial revolution or “fintech,” has fundamentally changed people’s lives and transformed the business landscape. In many markets, cash is fast becoming obsolete and transactions are mostly via digital tools. Banking is also moving into a presence-less, paperless and real-time era: While there will always be bank branches, banks will become more “invisible” in how they deliver their services, many of which will primarily be accessed online.

The fintech revolution is led by many players, including commercial, small finance and payment banks, telecommunication firms and financial technology companies. It harnesses technology to reinvent traditional business models, creating opportunities to connect India’s unbanked communities to affordable and reliable financial tools at unprecedented speed and scale. It offers a preview of what the global banking model may look like a generation from now.

Fintech has freed bank staff from counters and relieved customers of the inconvenience of transacting during banking hours. Most financial work can be done via smartphone, improving payment systems, eliminating paper receipts and reducing frictions consequently, not only saving customers’ time and money but improving their quality of life.  

Meanwhile, data footprint provided by smartphones and data-connected mobile phones is providing an opportunity to bring people with limited credit-history into the mainstream through alternate credit profiles. Alongside, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning algorithms can assess the user’s credit worthiness making it possible to provide loans to them even in the absence of traditional credit history.

Digital finance also offers major technological and infrastructure challenges. Sparse populations, inconsistent network coverage, insufficient capital for building new business models and customers’ lack of trust and comfort with technology can stand in the way of success, particularly in remote or undeserved communities.

The risks of implementing digital financial services are not just operational and technical there are security, affordability and safety concerns. An example: customer privacy loss is inevitable, despite efforts to create safeguards. For India’s financial inclusion industry to capitalise fully on the benefits of digital finance, the accompanying risks must be understood and addressed.

In several cases reliance on computers has proved to be deceptive whereby debt burden and repayment capacity must be scrutinized, else it can lead to over-lending and customer over-indebtedness, rejection of a loan based on opaque reasoning, including arbitrary profiling based on factors like location.

In microfinance individual traits can best be captured by personal interface. Someone might pay off your loan, but computer modelling tells one that anyone from a particular area is likely to default. Evidence shows the best clients are those who got entry on their transparent and unvarnished honesty shining through their financial dealings and not on credit scores.

However, digital finance can have negative effects for financial inclusion. Providers of digital finance services can be profit-seeking corporations that use digital finance to maximise their profitability or profitable opportunities of businesses affiliated with digital finance providers, namely banks, financial and non-financial institutions.

Corporate providers of digital finance services use an aggressive marketing tactic to persuade high and middle income customers to utilize a new or existing digital finance platform or infrastructure. They must use a less-aggressive marketing tactic to persuade low-income and poor customers to employ new or existing digital platforms or infrastructure if they believe the latter cannot afford the associated fees.

This is a challenge which goes unrecognized with the changing dynamics of digital financial inclusion. Governments globally will have to step up and take control of its regulatory provisions to deal with discrete challenges, which have emerged with the rampant use of technology and multiple stakeholders. Adequate knowledge of challenges in digital financial inclusion, is a priority which must be addressed with precision.

India has to contend with its geographical and cultural divide. The aversion of ‘other India’ to digital finance has more to do with their aversion to everything that has to do with technology. This stems from their lack of trust in it. It is also partly on account of consumers low technical literacy.

Women often face additional barriers: Less access to mobile phone, lower literacy and numeracy levels, less confidence in using technology and restrictions on travel or social interaction. Furthermore, villagers’ value personal relationships particularly when it comes to money. They will not trust technology which they do not understand for anything except very basic payments.

India culturally believes in cash and a paradigm shift in thinking will need time and resources. It involves migration to new social, cultural patterns and habits given marked demographic and class issues built into India's cashless transition. Although it would be impossible for it to become a cashless economy in the immediate future as making India cashless is like treating multiple chronic societal diseases with one injection. Also, there are several challenges which may constrain full-scale digital transition in the foreseeable future.

It’s in everyone’s interest to pay heed to ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan words: “In managing, promoting and protecting the Internet’s presence in our lives, we need to be no less creative than those who invented it.” Clearly, there is a need for governance, but that does not necessarily mean that it has to be done in the traditional way, for something that is so very different. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: Developing a Sense of Internationalism,: By Dr. D.K. Giri, 12 July 2019 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 12 July 2019

Random Thoughts

Developing a Sense of Internationalism:

By Dr. D.K. Giri

Commentator, International Politics

 

Parliament’s Budget session is on and things appear to be smooth, except the Congress facing a leadership void and its State units falling apart in frustration and confusion over their future. Amidst this there is total absence of discussion on international issues. Unusually, there is a lull after a storm created by politicians mainly by of the BJP over lack of nationalism in the Opposition and the menacing security threats from Pakistan sponsored terrorists. Two planks: nationalism and security which contributed to Modi’s victory.

Today, there is no talk of looming security threat, depleting nationalism amongst the Opposition. It could be that the country is now imbued with nationalism and the threat from Pakistani terrorists has been neutralised. But, this sounds incredible, given India’s diversity and Pakistan’s unabated obduracy on Kashmir.

A diverse country like India could not come so soon under a ‘nationalism’ unless it is communicated well to the people as ‘nationalism’ as a concept is interchangeable with patriotism which is inclusive, persuasive and non-aggressive. Also, Pakistan will not cease its aggression and incursions until it is totally subdued by a treaty or a military showdown.

Why is there no noise on internationalism when there are other issues like trade, arms deals, India-Pacific peace and security, border disputes with China, environmental issues, dealings with our neighbours and above all, New India’s aspiration to be a $5 trillion economy and a world power? Both economy and international political status cannot be accomplished without internationalism.

Actually, politicians in any democracy play on and respond to people’s concerns in order to win elections. In India, the level of people’s internal concerns is quite low even though international politics affects them down to the grass-roots level.

Indians like others in many developing countries do not have much interest in internationalism. Besides, many common people do not comprehend that the international community comprising both State and non-State actors influence each country including India in multiple ways. The external influence has intensified under the ongoing process of globalisation.

The global outlook has so far been the prerogative of Westerners --- Europeans, Americans and Russians. Chinese and Indians are new entrants. Ironically, China has resources but not enough ideas that will enable it to play a credible international role. India has ideas drawn from its rich civilisation and long democracy, but lacks resources, although it seems to be slowly catching up. As a consequence, the international order is impoverished of robust ideas, as Western countries dominated it for so long, and have now run out of fresh thinking.

The benefits of international consciousness and activism for countries has been under-appreciated in India. Parties, which are supposed to articulate people’s perspective and aspirations, do not have a foreign policy cell in their organisations. The Congress has one for namesake, but is not functional, others have none. Thus, foreign policy is left to diplomats serving the Government hence, one can understand the dearth of freshness and innovation in our foreign policy approach, as bureaucrats are no risk-takers and are largely conservative.

Benefits of internationalisation are many, for individuals, institutions, and the country. Going by logic of growth, the levels below the top have to be strong to hold it, so nationalism becomes stronger when we become international. Our economy at home has to be viable if we go global, as it demands quality and rigour.

Second, the current nature of economy and even politics is interdependent, so any country cannot operate in isolation. Even national security from external threat or hegemony cannot be ensured by a country on its own, it will have to seek allies and partners. Third, the domination, suppression and discrimination within the country cannot be fought without international solidarity hence one has to go global.

On methodology of developing perspectives in foreign policy, one could praise and pillory the Government on merit. One could endorse the Government as it makes India secure and prosperous with strategic alliances, and beneficial and purposeful partnerships, and could be critical when government’s policies fail to secure India and cause damages.

Government’s policy on Pakistan and China and on our other neighbours has been patchy and inconsistent. One could make suggestions as well as pleas to rectify the situation. India’s new approach to Israel is a big radical departure. In strategic terms, one could support this without compromising Palestine’s interest, and in fact, one could urged the Government to broker a durable peace between the two countries, as Bruno Kriesky, the famous former Austrian Chancellor a Jew himself had tried in his times.

India, at present, pulls a paradoxical perception about its international position. One, it is a fast growing economy, about to outpace China, has world’s largest workforce, rich in scientific and technical knowhow, a sustained democracy, all of which enable and entitle India to play a significant role on the world stage. Some optimists would even suggest that it is a ‘super power’ in the making.

Candidly speaking, it is a far-fetched wishful thinking. Yet, India certainly has the potential to be a world power. On the contrary, India is still a developing country in multiple aspects, low in human development index, with vast swathes of poverty and backwardness. If a country’s external influence is a function of its domestic determinants, the prognosis of India emerging as a world power does not hold. Although, arguably, a country can punch above its weight in international politics by playing to its strength and making others believe in it.

India could perhaps do that. But, New Delhi suffers from several strategic dilemmas. One, it seeks to remain non-aligned, second, it wants to make strategic alliances, and the third, it attempts to create a multipolar world, which is like a strategic snowstorm, one does not know when it comes, and how long it would stay, and, above all, how deep it can go. Second constraint is attitudinal.

Like the European Union which gets embroiled in the internal matters, with little enthusiasm and energy left for internationalism; New Delhi seems to be caught in the problems of Union of India. Third, New Delhi like Brussels fails to realise that playing an international role will enhance the internal strengths. As the improved international engagement requires the backing up of domestic strengths – economic and political, and of various other sectors; a diminished role will level down the internal initiatives, reforms and rejuvenation etc.

At any rate, New Delhi needs to internationally position India that is commensurate with its national strengths and strategies. It can no longer underplay internationalism in the current state of global affairs. If people are convinced of these political accruals of internationalism, they ought to develop a sense of and cultivate internationalism in their personal and professional lives. It is a necessary and an unavoidable concern people have to assiduously develop, as it is ultimately in their interest of that of the country. Long live international solidarity!

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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