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Why Russia-Pakistan ties should not vex India

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How’s this for timing? On September 23, as many as 250 troops from the Indian Army’s Kumaon Regiment arrived in Vladivostok for INDRA-2016, an 11-day joint exercise with an equal number of Russian Army troops. On the same day, 70 Russian soldiers arrived in Pakistan for the first-ever Pakistan-Russia joint military drills named Druzhba-2016.

Coming days after the Uri attack, Druzhba-2016 has caused a collective uproar across the international border, with some media outfits calling it a Russian snub. To most Indians it appeared to be a betrayal by a long-time ally.

It’s understandable that the average Indian person would react with such dismay at a time when tensions are running high over the Pakistan masterminded attack that left 18 Indian Army soldiers dead.

However, considering the extensive and strategic nature of the Indo-Russian partnership – BRICS, G-20 and defence – it should be a no-brainer that Moscow’s engagement with Pakistan does not come at the expense of its ties with India.

Those who believe Moscow is flirting with Islamabad because India is drifting into the western camp belong to two categories. One, they probably live under a rock and have no idea about the nature of India’s ties with Russia. The second group comprises western commentators – and their camp followers in India – who want it to happen and are therefore expressing their inner desire.

According to Petr Topychankov, South Asia expert and Associate in the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Nonproliferation Program, “Pakistan cannot replace or even influence Russia’s strategic partnership with India. This is just impossible. Russia’s priorities are very clear. No matter how long New Delhi will enjoy its ‘honeymoon’ in relations with Washington, both India and Russia understand that their ties cannot be influenced by any third parties.”

Historical context

Russia-Pakistan ties had plummeted to such abysmal depths during the Cold War that they are only now recovering to normalcy. In 1947, when Pakistan was carved out of India by the retreating British, Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin believed the emergence of the two countries was just a deal between the Indian elites and the British imperialists.

In fact, the Soviet media did not pay any attention to the proclamation of the formation of Pakistan. Nisha Sahai Achuthan writes in ‘Soviet Arms Transfer Policy in South Asia -1955-81’ that the Kremlin did not deem it necessary even to felicitate to Pakistani leaders on the occasion of the formal inauguration of their new state. Stalin told an Indian diplomat: “How primitive it is to create a state on the basis of religion.” He even expressed the view that a federation between India and Pakistan would be the ideal solution, and doubted the survival of Pakistan as an independent nation.

While the Pakistanis didn’t like the negative Russian views on the world’s first Islamic state, the Soviet Union took exception to Islamabad’s denouncing of communism. And when the first Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan visited Washington in 1948, and declined Moscow’s invitation, the rift grew wider.

On October 24, 1952 Izvestia wrote: “After Partition…Pakistan began to draw the fixed attention of the United States imperialist circles. The latter were enticed not so much by the country’s natural wealth as by Pakistan’s strategic position, especially its western part. Taking advantage of the United Nations mediation of the Kashmir dispute, the United States ruling circles endeavoured to derive from this “mediation” everything possible for strengthening American position in Pakistan. United States influence on Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy increased especially after Liaquat Ali Khan’s trip to Washington.”

The chances of the two countries coming together disappeared when General Ayub Khan engineered a coup and took Pakistan into the Baghdad Pact in 1959. Denouncing the bilateral agreement, Moscow Radio said the Soviet government had several times drawn the attention of the Pakistan Government to the “grave consequences of Pakistan’s membership of the Baghdad Pact which had made that country an American bridgehead for the atomic bombardment of the USSR”.

However, it was after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 that ties with Pakistan rock bottom. Under the dictatorship of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan assumed the role of a frontline state against communism and became the conduit for weapons to be used against the Soviet forces. Over 15,000 Soviet soldiers died as a result of Pakistan’s involvement.

It is a miracle that the mighty Soviet Army did not strike Pakistani supply lines and the numerous training camps where lumpen elements from all over the world arrived for jehad – in reality a one-way mission – against the ‘godless’ Soviets. Indeed, it is a measure of how much Pakistan was disliked in the former Soviet Union that long after the country dissolved, it wasn’t safe for Pakistani students and travellers to declare their nationality in places such as Uzbekistan and Azerbajian, where people held Islamabad responsible for the deaths of their boys in the Afghan War.

Thawing the Cold War

To borrow the words of Indian diplomat Eenam Gambhir, Pakistan has become the “Ivy League of terror”. The Pakistani passport is the third most unwelcome travel document in the world after the passports of Iraq and Afghanistan. Its only friend – or rather patron – is China, which uses it as a test market for its export model weapons. In this backdrop, Pakistan is desperate for new friends, allies or backers.

The country is an excellent example of what happens to a US ally after it is past its use by date. It was abandoned after the Afghan war by all its western backers, to be requisitioned a decade later for the War on Terror, which was in reality America’s War in Favour of Terror. Now that the US is winding down its operations in Afghanistan, America is again jettisoning Pakistan. To be sure, Islamabad has played both sides in the war so it can’t really point fingers at the US.

Russia and Pakistan have been circling around some sort of agreement for decades. During the 1950s, when communist newspapers were attacking Pakistan, Soviet diplomats left a door open for Islamabad. They said Moscow and Islamabad differed only 10 per cent while the remaining 90 per cent of their mutual relationship was fine.

Ayub Khan also hinted that Russia was waiting if the pact with the US didn’t work out. In an interview published in the French newspaper La Monda, he stated that Pakistan might turn to other powers for help if the United States continued to underestimate Pakistan’s needs. He said, “The camp opposed to the Americans attaches great importance to our country both militarily and politically and persistently makes advances to us.”

The Pakistan Times in an editorial commented: “Our foreign aid requirements are vital and urgent, and we cannot be expected to wait indefinitely in the hope that opinion in America will eventually be persuaded to view our needs with greater sympathy and understanding. Some other states in a position to help, have in the recent past repeatedly expressed their desire to give us substantial aid without political strings, and America should have no grouse if we turn to those countries to make up the shortfall between our needs and the aid available to us from our major allies.”

History repeats itself. With America withholding military and economic aid, Pakistani generals – who form the deep state that runs the country – are interested in building bridges with Russia.

What Russia wants

The United States’ retreat from the Middle East and its pivot to the Asia-Pacific has created several low-hanging opportunities for Russia in the region. Moscow is moving into Egypt with advanced MiG-35 jets. Iraq is buying Russian attack helicopters after a 25-year gap. Weapons sales are being considered for Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is among these new opportunities.

For the first time ever Russian and Pakistan interests have converged – in the backdrop of a resurgent Taliban. America’s slow motion exit from Afghanistan has got the jehadis salivating at the prospect of regaining power in the war-torn country. While the Taliban may not have won more than a handful of battles in America’s longest war, in the popular Afghan narrative they have defeated yet another superpower. If, and when, they storm the gates of Kabul, the emboldened Islamists are likely to target Pakistan next.

This has set off the alarm bells in Moscow. The Russians are paranoid about waves of Islamic terrorists attacking their soft underbelly in Central Asia. “First they will hit Tajikistan, then they will try to break into Uzbekistan… If things turn out badly, in about 10 years our boys will have to fight well-armed and well-organised Islamists somewhere in Kazakhstan,” current Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin had warned way back in 2009.

The Pakistanis are worried too. Not only will they lose the hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation that the United States doles out for the use of Pakistani military bases, Islamabad feels it is being abandoned in the midst of its fight with the Islamists.

Although it is a fact that they created the Islamist genie in the first place, for once the Pakistanis are right in saying they are bigger victims of terror than India. For instance, in a joint attack in 2011 the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda nearly totalled the Karachi Naval Base. While India suffers a major terror attack once or twice a year, across the border bomb explosions are a weekly or sometimes daily occurrence. It’s got so bad that Shia mosques in Pakistan don’t have regular prayer times for fear of being bombed by Sunni terrorists.

So, whether India likes it or not, Pakistan is really at the frontlines in the battle against the Taliban. The Pakistanis are, therefore, looking at extricating themselves from the US-created mess. For Russia, there could be no better time to pry Pakistan away from the Americans.

The Mi-25 saga

Druzhba-2016 isn’t the first instance where India has behaved like a jilted lover. In 2014 there was considerable anger among the Indian public when Russia announced it would supply Mi-25 helicopters to the Pakistan Army. Since Indians have for decades considered Russians as friends, many felt the sale was a betrayal. However, it is very likely Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin had sounded out South Block before green lighting the deal.

At any rate, New Delhi wasn’t upset over the sale of a few 1970s vintage gunships to the rust bucket Pakistani military. In a previous era, despite being equipped with better weapons than the Indian side, the Pakistanis botched both the 1965 and 1971 wars. P.V.S. Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra describe in their book Eagles Over Bangladesh how the Indian Air Force neutralised the Pakistan Air Force “in less than 72 hours”. Today the Indian military is a behemoth and the balance is skewing – in India’s favour – by the day.

Besides, the IAF itself operates two Mi-25 helicopter squadrons (No.104 Firebirds and No.125 Gladiators) and so the gunship is hardly a secret weapon.

The reason why the Russians offered the Mi-25 helicopter is significant. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Russian pilots nicknamed the Mi-25 the “Flying Tank” because it was not only extremely survivable, it also created terror among the Afghan mujahidin. The gunship was so effective that the fear-stricken Islamic fighters called it the “Shaitan-Arba” or Satan’s Chariot.

While a handful of gunships to Pakistan won’t change the military balance vis-a-vis India, the Mi-25 can be the game changer in battles with guerrillas up in the mountains. Also, in Afghanistan where airfields are as rare as hen’s teeth, helicopters are the only way to get out and about. By supplying these gunships to Pakistan, the Russians get the Pakistanis to continue with the job of clearing up Islamist opposition.

In fact, the proven effectiveness of Russian helicopters was the reason why the US Defence Department – no less – paid Moscow $1 billion for supplying the Afghan military with their gunships.

India’s leverage

As the world’s largest arms importer, India has considerable leverage over Russia. Moscow is hardly likely to risk its strategic relationship and defence trade amounting to dozens of billions of dollars by allying too closely Pakistan.

So long as Russia doesn’t cross the red line by supply strategic weapons like long-range jet fighters, submarines or missiles to Pakistan, India doesn’t have any reason to be alarmed by low-key joint military exercises. Sergey Chemezov, the CEO of the Russian state-run technologies corporation Rostec assures, “Our strategic partner has always been, and will be, India.”

Long-term partners

And finally, a note to the media: do not label every new development as a “landmark deal” or a “strategic decision” as you did when Russia announced in 2014 that it was lifting its unofficial arms embargo on Pakistan. Here’s why: between 1996 and 2010 Russia had sold 70 Mi-17 transport helicopters to Pakistan. There was nothing “landmark” about the Mi-25 deal.

Joint military exercises are essentially confidence building measures. For Russia and Pakistan, considering their bitter history, defence contacts are necessary for erasing their past distrust in order to start over.

The India-Russia relationship is quite stable so the Indian public and media have no reason to get worked up over 70 Russian soldiers conducting drills with poorly motivated soldiers of the Pakistan Army.

According to Topychankov, “India will always play a very special role in Russia’s foreign policy and Russia is very much interested in keeping the strategic level of its ties with India.”

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South Asia

Application of Galtung’s ABC Model on the Naxalite Insurgency of India

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The conflict analysis model proposed by Johan Galtung in 1969 includes both symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. In the author’s opinion, a conflict can be viewed as a triangle whose sides are represented by A (attitude), B (behaviors) and C (contradictions.

Figure 1 GALTUNG’S ABC MODEL

The Naxalite Insurgency

The Naxalite revolt which developed in the 1960’s is the most seasoned of all. The Naxalite revolt gets its underlying foundations from a remote town called Naxalbari in West Bengal. They are the progressive communists bunches resulting from Sino-soviet split in Indian Communist Movement. The Naxalite uprising is a low-level war of Maoists against the Indian government. The insurrection began as a labor resistance in the eastern Indian town of Naxalbari in 1967 and has now spread to an extensive swath in the southern and eastern parts of the nation. In 2004 the Maoist dissident association People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Center of India converged to shape the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The Movement was driven by Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal.

Contradictions

The main conflict includes real or perceived “incompatibility of goals” between the conflicting parties. In symmetrical conflicts, the contradiction is defined by the parties, their interests and conflicts of interests. In asymmetric conflicts, the contradiction is defined by the parties, the relationship between them and the conflict within this relationship.

Before continuing with Galtung’s model analysis, it is necessary to highlight the differences between symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. When A and B have a relatively similar or equal position and they enter into a conflict due to diverging interests; we are talking about a symmetrical conflict. When in the relationship between A and B one of the parties has a clearly superior standing compared to the other (i.e. a clear situation of inequality between the two sides); we are referring to asymmetric conflict. This type of conflict occurs between the majority and a minority, between a government and a rebel group, between an employer and his employees, or between a master and his servants (“Transforming Civil Conflicts”, The Network University. The University of Amsterdam, June 2000).

A conflict in Galtung’s view = attitude + behavior + contradiction, where contradiction (C) is the root of the conflict, and attitude (A) and behavior (B) are meta-conflicts after (C). CAB is a possible example of a conflict sequence starting objectively with an attitude of inner life that is expressed externally through violent or not verbal and / or physical behavior. This definition helps us to talk about the CAB as a guiding conflict theory, as a dynamic phase of the conflict, or as an approach to solutions (Galtung, 2007, 22).

The contradiction here in this conflict is inequality and dispute over political rights and resources. The Naxalites get most help from Dalits and Adivasis. Together they sum for one fourth of India’s population; a large portion of them live in rural India. Their bases for supporting the insurgency includes unemployment, new timberland provisions with confinement for their jobs, cultural degradation, feeble access to social education, confined and constrained access to regular assets, social abominations, relocation, political underestimation and suppression of rebellions. The affected areas have rich mineral resources but the inapproachability and negligence of the government is another which has kept the insurgency alive.

The demands of the insurgents are not of succession rather they demand their democratic rights. They want the government to implement improvements in the farming sector, give accommodations and full authority to the farmers, and abandon all private finances taken by the agricultural community to stop suicides by farmers, prepare a lasting and unified plan for tackling the scarcity situation and to be given equal opportunities, jobs, education, acceptance from the upper caste people.

Attitudes

Includes the perception of the parties; It can be positive or negative, strongly negative especially in violent conflicts when the parties develop humiliating stereotypes about each other. Attitude consists of emotive and affective components (I like or I do not like X), cognitive components (favorable or unfavorable information about X) and cognitive/ behavioral components (desire, will).

Attitudes or we say perception of conflicting parties, i.e., Government of India and Naxal rebel’s groups are entirely negative. Indian government thinks of it as a national security threat and wants to counter it one way or the other. In 2006, the Ex-Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites “The single greatest inward security challenge.” As the insurgency is not in just one part of the country but it is expanding in many regions which is a serious threat to the state’s internal security. While the rebel groups being untouchables, think of the government as racist and discriminatory and want equal rights and opportunities as any other Indian.

Behavior

Involves cooperation or coercion / conciliation or hostility regarding the behavior, in case of violent conflict we talk about threats, coercion or destructive attacks.

The Indian National Congress is India’s oldest party. Hence has seen a number of conflicts and insurgencies. The INC government sought after a double pronged approach depended on military and cruel police activities.

SalwaJudum was launched as part of counterinsurgency strategy by the Indian government. The Naxals and SalwaJudum used to assault each other with much greater savagery; numerous individuals were killed by Naxals and SalwaJudum. The SalwaJudum was at long last prohibited by the Supreme Court in 2011 for damaging human rights and the Constitution itself. The government then presented “Operation Green Hunt”, an organized activity over a few states (Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal among others), to handle Naxalism. But the operation was also a failure.

The government then realized that using the military on their own people is not the solution to the problem hence, they made some developments in the affected regions but it did not give long lasting results; it resulted in the failure of the policies of Indian National Congress.

Andhra Pradesh has the best strategies to counter the Naxalite insurgents among all affected states. It perceived the Naxalite insurrection as a genuine risk. It has put resources into the Greyhounds; a unit arranged for a counterinsurgency reaction and has given extensive recovery bundles to repatriate the previous Naxalites.

They likewise made a few projects to help police faculty and their families if executed in the line of duty. Andhra Pradesh’s counterinsurgency approach is unmatched in the whole country.

The Naxalite rebellion entered in these states later. They are the most badly influenced states because of their topography and demography. Because of a crackdown by police and military against the naxalites, the movement spread into many states. Since these states have a huge population and forested territory, they were the ideal areas for the guerillas to develop. None of these states has a solid counterinsurgency approach. Chhattisgarh has connected comparable guerrilla strategies and many operations like Operation Shikhar, Operation X, Operation Thunder and Operation Hill Top but neither of these operations have been able to purge the insurgency in the state. Jharkhand has led a few hostile activities, Odhisa uptil now have no strategies that can manage the uprisings. Every one of the three states is rich with mineral resources but none of them have powerful counterinsurgency technique. West Bengal is relatively successful in countering insurgency. The state government additionally got assistance from the central government.

The BJP government counterinsurgency strategy against the Naxalites combines a twofold unit approach; one approach is to utilize safety powers to create security whereas the other is winning hearts and minds of the overall public. Past governments utilized the relative systems, yet in light of a nonappearance of coordination and uneven execution between influenced states, it didn’t give incredible results.

Social and economic inequity is seen as the main drivers of the Naxalite insurrection. Accordingly, the BJP government has reported sweeping policy, which incorporates improvement measures to manage social and economic degradation. The government has invested in the expansion of infrastructure which includes the creation of communication linkage and rail and road accessibility also in educating and providing basic services to the people. The number of violence decreased during BJP’s time period, the credit is not alone to BJP government but also to previous governments.

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Is Peace possible in Afghanistan without a clear vision?

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photo: UNAMA/Mujeeb Rahman

Peace is the absence of war, while war is the absence of peace! A negotiated peace in Afghanistan presents a number of challenges. The duration of the war over several decades has created a number of situations, that requires an in-depth examination in light of the peace negotiations that took place between the United States and the Taliban leading to the signing of an agreement without inputs from the Afghan government in spite of their being a strategic partner of the United States.

The war has been a very costly undertaking both in financial and human terms.

On the human side, there has been a large number of civilian casualties and a flow of both internal refugees and those that have fled to neighbouring countries, Iran, and Pakistan in particular. Will the conditions of peace allow their return and what employment possibilities will they find? In particular will the professionals and corporate managers of the diaspora return?

On the financial side, the income of the Government of Afghanistan is too meagre to finance the rebuilding of the country. Will the United States and other major donors such as the World Bank contribute in a significant way to assist in this momentous effort?

Afghanistan’s geographic position has attracted major powers in the past. How will the country still be viewed as a masterpiece in the Great Game and will it continue to be subject to constant instability?  Corruption may well prove to be one of the most important barriers to development. What policies can be put in place to reduce, or eliminate, corruption? What process will be put in place to disarm both the Taliban and the other armed groups to prevent a civil war?

Why do powerful countries always easily achieve their goals in Afghanistan? The answer is simple, because some leaders are ready to do anything to gain power by asking for the support of these countries. In order to be able to bring political stability to Afghanistan, it is essential and indispensable that the Afghan leaders come to an understanding among themselves in order to have internal stability. As soon as they manage to put this in place, they will have moral authority over powerful countries with a specific, clear, and lasting purpose for Afghanistan. Presently its political leaders are ready to negotiate in an aggressive, competitive, egocentric, and defensive manner to have the power in order to remain in their current positions without worrying about the interests of the country or the people.

Often, we hear that Afghanistan is a strategically positioned country. Of course, Afghanistan is well placed, but our analysis is different: we believe that something else is more important than that situation. Afghanistan is a weaker country in the region with leaders who are only interested in political power, with a lack of global vision for the development of the nation:  this is the reason why every powerful country achieves its goals very easily across Afghanistan, according to its wishes. At any time, they may abandon Afghanistan. At the same time, Afghanistan faces major economic and development challenges. Although the country is rich in natural resources, gas, minerals, and oil (estimated at over a trillion dollars), insecurity, war, lack of infrastructure, weak leaders, have limited the possibilities of finding and extracting these resources and Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries in the world.

Each country has its advantages and disadvantages, but Afghanistan has two major drawbacks that need to be addressed:

1) Very weak leaders or leaders by accident, who think only of their personal interests and who settle in power for life.

2) As mentioned above, Afghanistan is the weakest country in the region.

Every leader, when he comes to power, forgets his real job, which is to create enduring systems and values ​​for today, tomorrow and the day after, and at least reduce existing problems and use their power to serve the people and the country, instead of monopolizing this power for personal interests.

On the contrary, unfortunately, when a leader comes to power, he increases the problem because he thinks traditionally, and above all he puts his relatives in the most important positions, without looking at their qualifications, because competence is less important than relational confidence.

Although there are very qualified people, but since they do not belong to the ethnicity of the political leaders, and share their point of view, thinking more for the country than their private interests, such kind of people have very little place in the mind of these leaders.

Today, politics in Afghanistan is becoming like a business, and everyone is doing politics … However, the real job is still abandoned, because the vast majority of the People no longer trust the Politicians, and even the real ones, those Politicians who want to change something for their country.

Before having to manage peace, they must understand why we are at war. The war in Afghanistan has five dimensions:

1. A leadership crisis, meaning that the Afghan leaders do not agree with each other and look at power sharing.

2. Certain countries of the region, and more particularly Pakistan, are very involved in Afghanistan, which they destabilise.

3. Major powers, too, have their own agendas on the region.

4. Certain countries support terrorism and extremist groups.

5. The negotiation process must be led not by politicians, but by neutral Afghan experts.

Therefore, we make the following recommendations:

1.Encourage the leaders to have a government in which no single ethnic group monopolizes power. There should be one president and four vice-presidents. Each two years a rotation of the president would be put in place. The entire mandate would be limited to ten years. This would allow power sharing that would prevent having one ethnic group monopolising power through a rotation system of two years as President.     

This proposal would definitely solve the power problem while also allowing for government savings of time and money.

2.The United States should intervene in Pakistan to force a peace process between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has been a major destabiliser in the region by harbouring terrorists and using them as their second army as indicated by several international sources. Should this problem not be solved, it would become, sooner or later, a global threat for democracy and humanity. It would not be a good inheritance for the future world leaders.

President Joe Biden, mentioned that the United States would again lead the world, we strongly believe that the above issue should be a priority, failing what, it may be too late to bring peace to the region and worldwide. The United States should avoid countries that back terrorism and, particularly, those actions that kill children and humanitarian workers.

3.As a major power, the presence of the United States in Afghanistan could develop a strong relationship, instead of a partnership, just as the United States has done in other countries, providing its presence in the area is of interest. This would be a break from the present situation in which the Afghan population lacks a clear understanding of its position. Should the United States develop a mutually beneficial relationship, the Afghan population would strongly support it.  A complete departure before peace puts in danger democracy, women, and children not only in Afghanistan but also worldwide.

4.The United States, as a powerful country, should sanction all countries, or groups and persons, that support terrorism, wherever the terrorists may wish to strike. As an example, economic sanctions banning the purchase of military material should be implemented. Doing so in Pakistan would be a good starting point.

5.The negotiation process cannot be done by people that are thirsty for power and have no vested interest in peace as they hold power. We would suggest that the negotiation process be led by neutral experts with politicians and the civil society backing-up them.

We are certain, if the United States takes into consideration the five points mentioned above, the peace process will be successful and lead to stability in the area. If there is no peace in Afghanistan, there will be a major threat in the area in the region and in the world. Afghanistan is the first line of defence against terrorism not only for themselves, but also for the entire world.

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Major Modi Programs Meet Success … And Failure

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modi airplane

A much admired quality, initiative, can in a leader improve the lives of his people.  The key of course is well considered and clearly thought-out initiatives. 

In his long political career Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India has introduced some startling initiatives, although often with mixed results.

His clean India campaign aimed at ending open defecation, common in rural areas and estimated to be practiced by 620 million or by half of India’s population, was lauded even by opposition parties.  NGOs welcomed it and the Gates Foundation presented Mr. Modi an award.  By 2019, 110 million toilets had been built and there was hope that diseases like diarrhea, sometimes fatal for children, would be significantly reduced.

Rural India does not have sewage systems to remove and treat human waste.  So the toilets installed were open pit latrines requiring periodic emptying, a manual process performed by the lowest caste Indians, when available, for a fee.  In the meantime, a pervasive smell permeated the house compound.

Once toilets were built in a village, the Modi government considered it free of open defecation.  This was not factually true because installation is not the same as actual use.  No systems were in place for proper maintenance, say NGOs like RICE the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics. According to them, a survey in late 2018 revealed that some 44 percent of Indians in an area surveyed still defecated in the open, although down from 70 percent.  If one googles the question now, a figure around 620 million pops up.  That is 44 percent of India’s population of 1.4 billion, and not too different from the estimate in 2014.  To be fair the total population has increased since 2014. 

Another Modi initiative commenced just before he left on a state visit to Japan in 2016.  He delivered a speech (Nov. 8, 2016) announcing the abrupt withdrawal of 500 and 1000 rupee notes to be replaced by newly designed 500 and 2000 rupee denominations.  This would attack corruption and ferret out illegal cash holdings, he claimed.  The move removed 86% of cash in the economy almost overnight and naturally caused a liquidity crisis.

By the time Mr. Modi returned from Japan, the country was in chaos.  In a mostly cash economy, people lined up at banks to withdraw cash and presumably deposit any of the old notes in their possession.  Economic activity was disrupted, shops shuttered for lack of customers, weddings were canceled, and Indians were angry.

On Mr. Modi’s return from Japan, there was no mention of corruption — given the lines of ordinary middle class people at banks — instead it was now called a move to modernize India and turn it into a cashless economy.  How in a poor country with high illiteracy remains a mystery.  Economists now estimate the cost to the economy of Mr. Modi’s banknote initiative at roughly $15 billion or 1.5 percent of GDP.

The moral for Mr. Modi’s initiatives takes us all the way back to Aesop’s fable about the fox and the goat and the well, and its adage, ‘look before you leap’.  Unsurprisingly, Mr. Modi’s current visage has taken on the appearance of a sage even if the facts do not support it. 

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