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Free Vaccination: EASIER SAID THAN DONE, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 16 June 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 16 June 2021

Free Vaccination


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


The Centre will start rolling out free vaccines to all States for those above 18 years from next Monday. However, the big question is whether this time round it would have done its homework thoroughly. More so, as to achieve its target of fully vaccinating its adult population of around 94 crores,by year end, it will have to step up the average daily vaccination levels close to five times from what has been achieved from January 16 to June 7. This possibly appears an impossible task and experts are unanimous on this point.


States such as Uttar Pradesh may need a nine-fold jump in daily vaccinations, Bihar over eight-fold and Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Assam over seven-fold. Five of the country’s most populous States in terms of 18 plus population face the task of raising the daily vaccination levels five-fold or more. 


According to census projections, it would need to administer further 170 crore doses in the remaining 231 doses of the year. That would require an average of around 75-80 lakh doses a day (weekends included), a nearly five-fold increase over the average so far. Vaccinating such huge population is not merely a challenge of supplies. It would mean adding many more vaccination centres than have been used at any point in the vaccination drive and finding the extra personnel needed to man them and to administer the doses.


Therefore, it’s necessary that there is close coordination between Centre and the States and that there is a task force set-up or the existing Raisina Hill-centric one revamped, which enables proper monitoring of the vaccines’ supply and distribution. It needs to be noted that Prime Minister Modi made the announcement of Centre’s decision to buy 75% of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25 per cent of the State quota, and give it for free, following strictures of Supreme Court on the differential pricing in purchase of domestically manufactured vaccines. 


The apex court had raised serious doubts about the Modi government’s liberalised vaccine policy of “fixing higher prices as a competitive measure” and stated that it’s the responsibility of the Centre and not the States to provide free vaccination. The bench headed by Justice Chandrachud said the Centre’s policy of allowing vaccine manufacturers to charge the States’ higher rates violated the fundamental right to equality, as did its policy of providing free vaccination only to those aged 45 and above. The court underlined that this year’s annual budget had set aside Rs 35,000 crore exclusively for vaccine procurement and wanted to know how it has been spent.


The present cost of free vaccination would come to around Rs 45,500 crore and to make a modest recovery of expenses, only those who can afford to pay can get the jab from private nursing homes. Unfortunately, though the Centre chose to ignore experts’ advise on pandemic control and vaccination of maximum population through development of health infrastructure. Diverting maximum resources towards this end, specially by shelving the Central Vista project by at least a year or two, would have been the right decision.


This was a demand among others raised in a joint letter by 12 Opposition leaders to Modi as also a group of 187 eminent persons, who pointed out that “it is shocking that the GoI has neither welcomed the suggestions (of Opposition leaders) nor created a truly national task force comprising all parties, State governments, experts and civil society to tackle the unprecedented situation India is facing”. It too had regretted the Government outsourced procurement of vaccines to States, resulting in “differential and exorbitant rates”.


While the sticky issue of free vaccines for all stands resolved and the Centre giving in, it would also need to consider seriously the large number of children in the country who could be affected by the pandemic. Our current vaccination policy extends to cover all those above 18 years. There is need for herd immunity level of 80% to contain the epidemic. It is impossible to achieve this level by vaccinating only those above age 18. Thus, India must urgently draw up plans to vaccinate children under 18. The question that arises is how long will fear of Covid keep children away from schools, given that parents, children, teachers, educationists, nutritionists and paediatricians are all alarmed by the adverse effects on children’s well-being.


With vaccinations still moving in a rather slow pace in the past two months and unlikely to pick up steam from July, there are fears that the incidence of the pandemic may not be curbed in rural and semi-urban areas. However, even here an internal government projection for August and September shared by a source put the monthly number of Covishield doses at 100 million out of 200 million for all the three approved shots combined, as claimed by the government.


The official figure of those who contracted the disease had reached 30 million (widely believed by experts to be a gross under estimate) and deaths exceeding 300,000. Meanwhile the The New York Times had suggested last month that actual Covid infections in India could be 20 to 26 times the government figure and the death count could be 5 to 13 times the official toll.


A section of experts are talking of a third wave as official warnings have surfaced of this possibility. Though the magnitude of its impact is yet to be ascertained, its incidence is likely to impact children. The fear is perpetuated by the shocking slippage in vaccination coverage and the shortages of vaccines for adequate and fast protection of the virus. Moreover, the fear factor may restrict mobility and social and economic engagement and sentiments of consumers may not be back to normal in the coming months. 


The problem in the country is that the Modi administration being seen as heavily centralised, there is little scope for professionals to air their independent views, even in internal meetings. It is said Modi does not entertain other’s views and professionals and experts have just to carry out orders. In such a situation, what is needed is a decentralised system where views of experts are given due cognisance and there is no diktat from the top.Note that in the United States, it is a renowned expert Dr Anthonu Fauci, who is taking decisions relating to the pandemic and related issues.


Advice of experts needs to be given topmost priority and a communication drive launched that could clear misconceptions and effectively tackle such pandemics or other types of disasters. While vaccination has to be enhanced with not even 15% of the population vaccinated as on date, it is also necessary to ascertain whether a booster dose would be necessary within 12 months of full vaccination, as predicted by Pfizer CEO.In all, pragmatism is the need of the hour, which sadly has been lacking in governance so far. There is need to go beyond ad-hoc decisions and take a holistic view of building the country’s health infrastructure. The government would do well to remember, a stitch in time saves nine.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Market For Defectors: MONEY HAI TO POWER HAI!, By Poonam I Kaushish, 15 June 2021 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 15 June 2021


Market For Defectors


By Poonam I Kaushish


In these hot climes, political India is feeling the heat and how! One doesn’t know who is sleeping with whom, who is jumping from one bed to another, as friends and enemies are all rolled into one. Underscoring that in rajniti there are no permanent friends or enemies only permanent interests with power being the glue to a raj gaddi. Undeniably, defections are the new normal!


Last week, India stood testimony to another ring-a-ring-roses with BJP’s Mukul Roy’s ghar wapsi to Mamata’s Trinmool followed by Congress small UP Brahmin neta Jitin Prasad flip to  BJP and 5 MPs of Chirag Paswan’s LJP declaring themselves as the real Party leaving him holding the can.


At one level, one could argue that Mamata was paying back BJP in its own coin after mass desertions from TMC pre-Assembly polls, yet at another, those who switch sides are not important in themselves but the act of switching is. Prasad’s departure from the Congress only points to it being rudderless and sinking ship.


But by welcoming turncoats, all is not hunky dory for BJP. It faces organizational challenges as there is unease among old and loyal cadres in Bengal, MP and Karnataka. Party workers led a protest march in Kolkatta. In MP and Karnataka even as Shivraj Chouhan and Yediyurappa successfully dethroned Congress and JD(S)-Congress Governments by engineering defections with the help of Jyotiraditya Scindia brood of 25 MLAs and 15 MLAs respectively, their Ministerial bounty has left Saffronites angry.


Today, BJP controls a major chunk of India’s political landscape with its ‘mahagathbandhan’ of turncoats with Congress’s stocks crashing to a handful of States. True, these defections have got the Party new States and constituencies where it had little presence, North East, West Bengal and Andhra. But the changeover comes without any guarantee and for a few, it is turning out to be a one-way ticket to obscurity. Plainly, rajniti is all about depleting the strength of the rival. Once that purpose is fulfilled, they discard you.


Politicians girgit-like transfer loyalties from one Party to another based on winnability. The modus operandi: Paisa and satta bargains are struck, depending on value of legislators, who switch sides devoid of ‘meeting of minds’ pretensions, common ideology, principles or personal fondness.


Patronage, opportunism and clout is the jam that keeps swarm of hoppers together with its new benefactors whereby legislators poaching is extolled as smart political management: use of State machinery for intimidation etc is commended as resourcefulness. The winner can commit no sin; a defector crossing to the ruling camp stands cleansed of all guilt and criminality to fulfil their lust for power.

Data analysed by Association for Democratic Reforms is revealing: Nearly 182 MLAs (45%) of 405 who switched Parties and contested elections again between 2016-20 joined BJP while 170 MLAs (42%) left Congress. Resulting in the fall of MP, Manipur, Goa, Arunachal and Karnataka Governments. Only 18 (4.4%) BJP MLAs defected.

Interestingly, of 357 MLAs who defected to contest Assembly elections only 170 (48%) emerged victorious. But in Assemblies bye-elections 39 (81%) of 48 defectors got re-elected. During the corresponding period 38 MPs, 12 Lok Sabha and 16 Rajya Sabha defected to re-contest polls. Of these 5 (41.7%) left BJP and joined another Party during the 2019 elections. Yet, none who contested polls again won. Of 16 who switched sides in Rajya Sabha 10 (62.5%) joined BJP of whom 7 (43.8%) were Congressmen. All defectors were reelected. Of 433 MLAs and MPs who switched 52% won.


Certainly, the 1985 Anti-Defection law did act as a speed-breaker but only temporary, as the ruling Party allowed it to be violated by anointing its MP or MLA as Speaker. The law says a defector can either resign or be disqualified by the Speaker on the basis of a petition by another member of the House. So if the defection suits the ruling Party then the Speaker accepts the MLA’s resignation without looking into the motive behind it, obversely disqualifies him if it runs contrary to the Party’s wishes.  

Moreover, Telangana and Goa underscored that every loophole was exploited --- both in Speaker’s and legislature’s conduct. In 2019, 12 of 18 Congress MLAs merged with the ruling TRS in Telangana which was endorsed by the Chief Minister and accepted by the Speaker, thereby making a mockery of the Tenth Schedule’s Para 4 which states the original Party should merge with another Party first. As there was no evidence of the Congress merging with the TRS, it is not a legally recognisable merger.


In Goa 10 Congress MLAs jumped ship to the BJP with three made Ministers taking the total to a comfortable 27 in a 40 MLAs Assembly. In Andhra TDP MLAs are queuing to board BJP bandwagon.  A similar strain runs across India with various types of chameleons crossing Party floors, the colour of politics is changing.

A sense of de ja vu overwhelms. Reminiscent of the 1967 Aya Ram Gaya Ram culture when Gaya Lal an Independent MLA in Haryana switched three Parties in 15 days. Followed by Bhajan Lal who hijacked his Janata Party Government to Congress, thereby opening the floodgates of revolving door politics and institutionalizing it through Indira Gandhi’s 60s-80s. Elucidated by JMM Suraj Mandal in the Lok Sabha 1993, “Paisa boriyoin mein atta hai….Do saandh ke beech ek bachra kya kare?”

Bringing things to farcical charades where defecting legislators switch sides with some being anointed “Opposition Ministers in Government” even before they officially changed Parties with Speakers looking the other way. Worse, nobody queries them of what happened to the commitments they promised to abide and uphold, serve society and work for peoples’ upliftment. Were they merely posturing?

In a milieu where Parties multiply like amoeba, splits have become the rule whereby it is easier to ‘buy’ a legislator than fight polls and where paper tigers sell their political soul to the highest bidder taking giant strides as king makers in the political nautanki. The never ending ‘hunger for power, muscle and money’ has become the touchstone of rajniti today.

Clearly, until and unless the ‘politics of convenience and self-gain’ is not reined in this mockery of democracy will deteriorate further. Time now to plug loop-holes in the Anti-Defection law as the ‘Conduct of Politics’ necessitates fairness, freedom, reliability, equality, integrity, honesty, and credibility. It remains to be seen if our leaders and Parties will restart practicing politics of conviction, courage and consensus.

What next? One way is to debar defectors from becoming Ministers and holding any public office or remunerative post at the Centre or States until the next poll. Two, votes cast by defectors to topple a Government should be treated as invalid. Three, bring a new law which says that there will be no defections or resignations and when there is one it automatically needs a fresh election.


In the ultimate, defections need to be effectively tackled. Specially as we Indians have an infamous genius for driving a coach and six through any law. It remains to be seen if in the bheed of opportunistic turncoats, the murmur of ideology, beliefs and honesty will find favour. Gaddi and Ghaddari must not go together. Can we put an end to political harlotry? --- INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


Ideology & Principles: UP RESTATES IT BE DAMNED, By Insaf, 12 June 2021 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 12 June 2021  

Ideology & Principles


By Insaf


Ideology be damned! The political development in Uttar Pradesh sadly reiterates it. With Assembly elections slated February next year, the BJP has started poaching on ‘important personalities’ and on Wednesday last got its first catch. Congress leader JitinPrasada exited the grand old party and joined the saffron brigade. Apparently, the first among Group of 23 Congress leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi seeking sweeping changes in the party. While his leaving may not be significant loss given his performance as AICC in-charge of West Bengal was a disaster, the fact of BJP gaining cannot be denied as would use it to shift the narrative from the dominant Thakurs community under Yogi Adiyanathto the Brahmins, which Prasada belongs. And the timing is vital as Yogi is under tremendous pressure within his own flock and met Modi-Shah team. Be that as it may, Congress needs to worry. Madhya Pradesh’s JyotiradityaScindiaand Gen-next leader shifting to the BJP last year was a setback and there are rumours of Rajasthan’s Sachin Pilot contemplating a switch, though he has rubbished it saying the BJP may be referring to Sachin Tendulkar. Crossing the fence and opting for greener pastures appears to have become normal for the political class. A big question to be asked what ever happened to ideological commitments and principles? Sab ek hi thali ke chatte batte hain or say birds of a feather flock together!

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Farmers’ Not Pleased

The Centre’s plans to entice Punjab and Haryana farmers has flopped. ‘Too little, too late’, is the response of leaders of farmers’ agitation at Delhi borders to the hike in MSP announced by Union government on kharif season crops—3.8% for paddy, 1.1% for maize and 3.8% for cotton. Obviously, Prime Minister Modi’s tweetthat the hike will boost farmers’ income and improve their living standards, has made no dent in the farmers’ resolve. The raise is unacceptable on various counts: not as per recommendations of Swaminathan Commission (2006) or RC Committee (2015); announcement now when sowing of cotton is over in Punjab and Haryana, is of no relevance and it’s nothing compared to increase in prices of diesel, fertilizers, and insecticide in the past one year. What next? Undoubtedly, the attention on the stir has weaned, but the spirit, at least of Haryana farmers remains high. They continue to boycott leaders of BJP-JJP government in their districts and specially Chief Minister Khattar and his deputy Chautala. Withdrawal of FIRs or non-arrest of farm leaders, or public apology by district administration for the cases registered have not led to a change in heart. Can a dialogue, as suggested by leader of Opposition Hooda, resolve the stand-off? Time will tell.

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States’ Give & Take

States can heave a sigh of relief, but need to exercise caution. On Monday last, Prime Minister Modi finally relented and announced the Centre has decided to buy 75% of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25% of State quota, and give it for free to State governments. However, since then, it has given Union Health Ministry leeway to issue advisories. On Wednesday last, it expressed ‘serious concern’ over ‘low coverage’ of vaccination among healthcare and frontline workers and that States/UTs must prepare effective plans for expediting the 2nd dose among these priority groups. In a meeting to review vaccination progress, Health Secretary noted that while national average for 1st dose among healthcare workers is 82%, for the 2nd it is only 56%. Clearly, States were told to put their house in order. A day later, another advisory advised them not to share data of eVIN system on vaccine stocks and temperature of vaccine storage at public forums “without prior consent.” The information, it said was “sensitive” and should be “used only for programme improvement.” This did riffle feathers as Ministry had to clarify: its intent was only to prevent any misuse of information by various agencies for commercial purposes, as it can be used to manipulate the market and associated research with respect to various vaccines and cold chain equipment…” Guess, the message is clear: there is no free lunch!

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Maharashtra Abuzz

With political alignments ever-changing over a period of time, Maharashtra was abuzz with rumours whether cracks were emerging within the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. This after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had a one-to-one meeting with Modi in New Delhi on Tuesday last. He sought to quell any doubts and said they discussed important State issues such as GST, Maratha reservation and hoped Modi would resolve these positively. The Shiv Sena said there shouldn’t be a conflict between Centre and States as the latter needs assistance during a crisis  and CM-PM should have a dialogue. Two days later, at the 22nd foundation day of his party, partner NCP chief Sharad Pawar too stepped in and expressed confidence the MVA government ‘will complete its full term’. He praised SS saying it’s a party which one can ‘trust’ and the MVA ‘will do well in next Assembly/Lok Sabha polls.’ Was he suggesting the two along with Congress will contest 2024 polls together? Too early and outstretched, many would say, but guess the assertion was important as his meeting with BJP’s former CM Fadnavis last week had political circles abuzz too. More so, as true to its style, the BJP would like to see cracks and government falling. As an MP said the meeting ‘would set in process reunion of the SS-BJP and “a new realignment of political forces in the State”!  Is the clock ticking?

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TN Privacy Case

All eyes would be on the Madras High Court as it deals with the critical issue of free speech and right to privacy. On Wednesday last, it issued a notice to the Government of India following a petition by Ramon Magsaysay awardee and Carnatic musical vocalist and writer, TM Krishna, challenging the new IT guidelines. Filed by Internet Freedom Foundation, the plea states not only are the rules against the Constitution and IT Act 2000 but “offend my right as an artist and cultural commentator by both imposing a chilling effect on free speech, and by impinging on my right to privacy.” The Code of Ethics in the rules, which lay down regulatory mechanisms for digital content by news media and on OTT platforms, elaborates the plea is ‘vague and unclear’ and guidelines regarding content around belief, race or religion, will “thwart artists from raising difficult questions against existing aesthetic, gender and caste hierarchies in Karnatic music,” besides upsetting dissent against existing norms. It took a cue from Supreme Court’s judgement of 2017 which guarantees right to privacy as a fundamental right under the right to life and personal liberty, and claimed the rules ‘violate my rights as a user of social media services’, and ‘are in breach of my rights as a creator of online content.” The Union government is given three weeks’ time to file its counter-affidavit. Long, it may seem, but certainly worth the wait.  

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Bizarre Vaccination Drive

Trust the police to help the administration in its vaccination drive in bizarre fashion.  “Mujhse dur rahein, maineabhi corona ka tika nahilagwaya (Stay away from me, I haven’t got vaccinated for Covid),” posters/stickers with skull masks are being put on people who haven’t taken the jab. One of the initiatives in Madhya Pradesh’s Niwari district, where policemen are conducting checks on roads to create awareness. The defaulters are asked to read the message loud and take oath they will get vaccinated within two days, as in this region if someone swears, he will definitely fulfil it. The idea says district SP is to dispel fears of vaccination and that instructions were to hand over posters/stickers only. Interestingly, those who have taken the vaccine are given badges with colours of Tricolour reading: “Mein sacchadeshbhakthoonkyunkimaine corona ka tika lagwayahai (I am a true patriot because I have been vaccinated).” An overreach, given there’s a shortage of vaccine and the drive has tapped only a small percentage--8,582 of the 2.03 lakh population in 18-44 age group? What if the drive is a success and the authorities are unable to meet demand? Get a poster ready for themselves too!---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


Bank Sales & Middle Class:FOLKS HIT, RETHINK APPROACH, By Shivaji Sarkar, 14 June 2021 Print E-mail

Economic Highlight

New Delhi, 14 June 2021

Bank Sales & Middle Class


    By Shivaji Sarkar


The middle class is supposed to be the backbone of the Indian economy. It is shrinking and in the midst of it, the government chooses to announce sale of two major public sector banks, Central Bank of India (CBI) and the Indian Overseas Bank (IOB). Should India privatise critical assets when it needs the finances most? The sales instead would be used for one-time financing of budgetary deficits.


Both the banks, like many other public sector banks (PSB), have shown improvement in their balance sheets of late and no sooner their privatisation is announced got impressive quotes at the stock market. On June 8, shares of Central Bank and IOB soared 7 to 14 per cent soon after Niti Aayog announced their privatisation. Both the lenders are currently under the prompt corrective action (PCA) imposed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and have shown marked improvements. This shows that the market is ready to lap up assets worth Rs 9.7 lakh crore -- CBI Rs 3.56 lakh crore and IOB Rs 2.44 lakh crore. Another asset of United Insurance is Rs 3.7 lakh  crore --  a good sum for a race to a multi-trillion dollar economy.


The banks’ health is mysteriously linked to the growth of the middle class. Since 1969 nationalisation of banks for development purposes has helped both the banks and the depositors, largely from the middle class. As they grew, so have the bank deposits and industrial and economic activities risen. But as the middle class got a jolt after the 2008 Lehman Brothers meltdown due to incentivisations by the UPA government causing erosion in bank assets, because of non-payment of huge sums (over Rs 50 lakh crore by large lenders i.e. corporate), shrinkage of jobs and activities the middle class took the hit.


This has been exacerbated by the introduction of a low-interest, high prices and high-tax-on-deposit regime. This may marginally buff-up government revenue figures, but has caused impoverisation of the middle class. Majority of this class is paying income tax on a skewed higher income as interest were not considered as hedging against inflation but unwisely as “income”. This erodes savings. The process started during the UPA and the NDA never heard or paid heed to the people’s pleas. It condescended by 2018 with the middle class slipping. This and the poor were also hit by unwise demonetisation that had shaken the economy in 2016, when it was just about turning around.


The Pew Research Centre is now looking into the severe pandemic lockdown and says that 33 million (3.3 crore) people during the last one year have slid into poverty of a 99 million (9.9 crore) supposedly middle class, defined as people with $10 to 20 a day earners. Its report states the poverty rate in India rose by 9.7 per cent in 2020, up from January 2020 forecast of 4.3 per cent and projected to have reached 134 million (13.4 crore). If food dole is a standard, then the pandemic has hit 80 crore people. Despite large bankisation of the poor, the banks have not got that boost in actual deposits though the operational cost has increased manifold.


The size apart, the class that is stated to be the key to growth has now lower incomes and capacity to consume and savings are down. The first officially declared recession has left its middle class fearful of future.


This means the future growth would be delayed and if instead of corrective steps, banks that were nationalised with great ‘political will’ are sold back to the private, it would mean social assets would decline, leading to further economic chaos. Often it is justified that PSBs are unable to cope up with private banks. This is a misnomer.


India’s private banks such as Axis, ICICI, HDFC and others have a record of being eroded by its own bosses. Axis has asset quality problems, ICICI was moth-eaten by its Chief Executive Chanda Kochhar and HDFC was fined Rs 10 crore for wrongfully selling third-party non-financial products to its auto loan customers. There are many complaints against HDFC insurance as well. By privatising some of the biggest financial institutions, would the nation be forcing these also to go the unethical chaotic way?


It musn’t forget that during demonetisation and the pandemic, the PSBs have given services to the people, even with a dwindling number of employees. The CBI has 33,481 employees in 4685 branches, IOB 26334 in 3400 branches and UIA 14,322 in 2271 branches. Once privatised, one-third or more of their employees would lose jobs.


Despite the PCA curbs, both lenders have managed to grow their loan books. Central Bank’s gross advances rose nearly three per cent between March 31, 2020 and March 31, 2021 to Rs 1.77 lakh crore. IOB’s advances stood at Rs 1.37 lakh crore as on December 31, 2020, up two per cent year-on-year.


Being State-owned banks, they continued to enjoy the trust of depositors despite being under PCA. Central Bank’s deposits grew over five per cent in a year to Rs 3.3 lakh crore as on March 31, 2021 and IOB’s deposits also increased by a similar degree to Rs 2.34 lakh crore as on December 31, 2020.


Since nationalisation, the Indian banking sector expanded at an unmatched level but it made banks prone to political interference for many purposes including the 2008 incentivisation of the rich corporate or Jan Dhan accounts that raised operational costs. Largely, the financial woes of the PSBs are not due to corruption and nepotism. Many loans of banks such as Bank of India, Punjab National bank, Bank of Baroda, Axis bank and IDBI Bank were written off to shore up balance sheets. The quantum of PSB loan stood at Rs 32,853 crore higher than recoveries of Rs 23,894 crore. Such figures are gradually coming down.


This also does not justify the process of privatisation. Even the United Insurance is preferred to most private insurers as its claim settlement process is more realistic and ethical.


It is not easy to create Rs 10 billion asset. It might go to one or the other defaulters? Instead, retaining the asset would help government create these more economic activities and boost jobs. An empowered middle class with lower taxes and TDS exemptions on their deposits can do wonders. Mere change in approach could strengthen the economy and open up many avenues for the government. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)



India’s Foreign Policy: IT’S TIME TO RETHINK By DrD.K.Giri, 11 June 2021 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 11 June 2021

India’s Foreign Policy


By DrD.K.Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JIMMC)


The Forum of Former Ambassadors of India, wrote a piece on 5th June in a leading daily titled ‘Playing down the external threat, why criticism of PM Modi's Foreign policy is unfair’.As an independent observer and a student of India’s foreign policy, I would like to engage with the issuesraised by the Excellencies and contend that there has to be criticism wherever appropriate and constructive in the interest of the country.


Although foreign policy is usually based on a consensus across political parties, an internal debate on its strategy and function will not be out of place. Their letter is premised on three issues which are debatable; so instead of criticism of Modi’s foreign policy this piece calls for a serious rebuttal of these premises.


First, they rationalise Modi’s foreign policy by invoking what was done by his predecessors from his own party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress Prime Ministers like Manmohan Singh and Narshimha Rao. They say Vajpayee made India nuclear,which was endorsed and legitimatised by the historic nuclear agreement signed between George WBush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The nuclear project is understandable as it broke the monopoly imposed through the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)by the nuclear ‘haves’ for denying access to nuclear energy, peaceful or otherwise to the ‘have-nots’.


They say the dialogue with Pakistan broke down under the UPA. Yes, but it was expected that Modi should take fresh initiatives in foreign policy and make radical departure from past traditions set by leaders, including the first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, who was considered the architect of India’s foreign policy. The strategic shift couldhave included perhaps normalising relationship with Pakistan,as steady and healthy relation with Islamabad based on peaceful coexistence good neighbourliness could be better for both the countries as well as the South Asian region; while it excluded the interference by external powers including their arms sale. So that wasa miss.


They appreciate Modi’s personal equations with world leaders as a sign of success. But as careerdiplomats, they should know that while personal chemistry and charm contribute to enhancing bilateral relations, that is not enough. In fact, overdoing it by overriding diplomatic normsand protocols could be counter-productive. Take for instance, the endorsement of Donald Trump’s candidature by Modi was a diplomatic naivety. The Group of Ambassadors said it was a great success, when, in Texas (‘Howdy Modi’ conclave), both the leaders addressed over 50,000 people of Indian Diaspora. However, in a foreign country backing one of the candidates was not in line with diplomatic protocols. And look at the results. President Trump lost and we are dealing with aPresident whom we opposed during the elections.


Likewise, Modi’s,‘swing and stroll diplomacy’ with Xi Jinping, walking around a lake in China and the beach in India, did not go well for our country. When the red carpet was being rolled out for Jinping on his last visit, we did not get any diplomatic dividend, whereas acountry like Nepal took the pretext of India warming up to China,signed a slew of agreements and walked deeper into Beijing’s bear hug. We know the consequences of Jinping’s leadership,expansionist, aggressive, and autocratic as it is, on India.


Third example is the talk of personal friendship with Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu. Again, both Netanyahu and Modi presented their personal chemistry as a beacon for good diplomacy and bilateral relations.Netanyahu has been ever so controversial, who survives by waging wars on helpless Palestinians.


Fourthly, the friendship with Shinzo Abe of Japan. New Delhi has a growingrelationship with Tokyo bilaterally and within Quad, not because of individuals, it is because of confluence of interest of two countries.Anyway, Abe withdrew from the premiership for nobody knows why.New Delhi now deals with a new Prime Minister.


Finally,recall Modi made a dash to Pakistan in a stopoverenroute from Russia via Afghanistan without perhaps a schedule. He popped by to wish happy birthday to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was going to be 66 in 2015.But did that help in the light of whatever happened to Sharif.Our relationship even during his tenure deteriorated.All in all, bilateralism grows when there is comprehensive links between two countries not just two leaders who come and go. Like the English poet Tennyson said in Brook,‘men may come and men may go, but I go on forever’. The countries and its people outlast individuals.


Now the third premise is therelationship with China and USA. The contention here is that India is continuing with the policy of selective engagement with China, growing attachment with the US and maintaining good relationship with Russia. They say India is attending regularly meetings of G20, BRICS and SCO. Let us see how practical and beneficial this position is.


Under the chairmanship of India,BRICS foreign ministers meeting took place on 31st May. AResolution that emanated from that meeting sought tocriticise the so-called exceptionalism of USA and selective multilateralism of QUAD.How ironic it is that when India is the lynchpin of QUAD and is perhaps the key stakeholder,is a party to a resolution which is critical of India’s role and perspectives in the region.


I have said more than once before in this column that BRICS and SCO are serving no purpose for India.China is in a serious face-off in multiple points of the Indian border. Russia is increasingly engaging with China and Pakistan and India is kind of an odd man out in the group.


Also, Beijing maintains that its relationship with New Delhi is contingent upon India’s external alignment, choice of allies.It is infact openly saying thatif India decides to go with USA, it may have to pay certain costs. The US says, “India is at the front and the center of American engagement of India-Pacific region”. India is their partner as a geopolitical counterbalance, economic alternative and democratic contrast to China. But does India buy that perspective and seek to benefit from it for the sake of external balancing and capacity building; begin to decouple with Beijing and explore an alternative resilient supply chain to reduce the dependence on China.


The final point of their defense of the current foreign policy is that Modi is accused wrongly of leveraging foreign policy for domestic political purpose. Thegroup argues that all governments in most countries do it in order to enhance security, public expectations and popularity and so on. They are perhaps referring to the electoral dividends derived out of anti-Pakistani rhetoric during elections etc. There is no problem with that strategy,which is practical politics,but the Ambassadors who served mostly outside the country, should know that the domestic situation-- political, economic, social, cultural and civilisational -- is a major determinant of our foreign policy.


While we leverage foreign policy for domestic gains, we will  have to use our domestic resources for enhancing its objectives. This is a major drawback of the current regime as there is depletion of democracy,cuts into the social fabric and is a let-down over the management of health issues, let alone the ongoing pandemic that’s wreaking havocon lives and livelihoods of the people.So, the mismatch created by this regime more than any before between domestic policy and foreign policy is affecting our standing in the world as well as harming our interest. This needs to be repaired urgently. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


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