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India: Domestic policy trends and development problems

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The impressive victory scored in last spring’s parliamentary elections in India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspired numerous comments about the start of a new stage in the development of one of the largest countries around. However, the spate of dramatic events that have since happened in India has drawn attention to the negative trends in the world’s second most populous nation.

Since its coming to power in May 2014, the current Indian leadership has set itself ambitious and long-term goals aimed at strengthening both the country’s authority in the world, its status as a “serious global player” and creating new opportunities for its accelerated development and economic growth.

“Over the past five years, Modi has sought to regain India’s lost strategic position in South Asia and ensure its recognition as a regional leader according to the country’s de facto role in the region,” said Dattesh Parulekar, vice president of the Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS). In its effort to overcome the growing imbalances in development, the Modi government launched a number of large-scale economic administrative, financial and social reforms. Moreover, authorities still declare their intention to bring the national GDP to $5 trillion by 2024.

Another important goal being pursued by the government is centralization of the state and national consolidation, which it considers vital for the country’s further development and sway, including in international affairs. From the standpoint of domestic policies, it is primarily about encouraging the growth of Hindu national and religious identity. Hence, as many foreign observers believe, the elimination by the Modi government in August 2018 of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, then the country’s only predominantly Muslim administrative unit. The decision was fully in line with the ultimate goal pursued by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the forces supporting it, i.e. the proclamation of India as a Hindu nation. Playing to the sense of ethnic identity of most of the country’s inhabitants already brings political dividends with the BJP winning 37 percent of votes in the last  parliamentary elections, compared with 31 percent it had in the previous legislature. Narendra Modi’s party has also been quickly strengthening its hand in state power structures, including through “defections” from rival parties.

On the other hand, the government’s policy of centralization, above all consolidation of the state and society, is inevitably contributing to the radicalization of the country’s ethnic minorities, primarily Muslims, whose number, according to recent estimates, now exceeds 200 million. Last year saw a spate of Muslim protests. In the summer of 2019, the BJP-led government of the northeastern state of Assam established, under the pretext of combating illegal immigration, a National Register of Citizens. Of the state’s 32 million residents, 2 million, mainly Muslims, were recognized as “non-citizens.” In August 2019, the central government revoked the status of limited autonomy granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with local media reports putting the number of protesters under lockdown at “thousands.”

Finally, a new version of the Indian Citizenship Act, which critics accused of discriminating against Muslims and of being an attempt to undermine the secular underpinnings of the Indian state, was adopted in December, 2019. The new-look Act raised a new wave of protests among the country’s Muslims. As a result, the ethno-religious issue can also become a convenient tool in the hands of Narendra Modi’s opponents.

Finally, with the government boosting the country’s national self-awareness, it becomes almost inevitable that it will take a tougher stand vis-à-vis India’s  traditional opponent, Pakistan, and its strong economic competitor, China. The escalation of military tensions with Pakistan that happened in February 2019, showed how quickly these two traditional foes can actually come to blows. Moreover, the dispute between Beijing and New Delhi over the ownership of the Aksai Chin Plateau, a region on the border with China, Pakistan and India, indirectly enmeshes Beijing in the territorial problems of Kashmir.

According to Indian observers, “unable to stand up to the inevitable large-scale industrial and infrastructure offensive by China through the Himalayas and the sea routes of South Asia, which are the traditional sphere of India’s influence,” New Delhi needs to implement “a counterbalance strategy.” However, despite its undoubted foreign policy and diplomatic achievements, which have contributed to Narendra Modi’s popularity inside the country, India has increasingly been lagging behind China in economic terms. Therefore, fundamental financial and economic problems threaten to become India’s Achilles heel.

The relatively slow pace of India’s socio-economic development remains the main obstacle to strengthening the country’s position in Asia and the world as a whole. The country is subject to all the standard “developmental diseases” that always come with accelerated economic and social transformations. The modernization of Indian society is also hampered by vestiges of traditionalism. Intense discussions continue “regarding the sustainability of the current models of socio-economic development.”

The Economist singles out environmental degradation, serious problems in the field of education and a crisis in public administration as the three main challenges to India’s development.

After he came to power in 2014, Narendra Modi had to tackle multiple problems that had remained unsolved for decades. His government is trying to combine federal programs to help the country’s poorest, who account for up to 22 percent of the country’s population, with initiatives such as “Make-in-India” and “Startup India” designed to stimulate economic and business development. Experts say that “although no special breakthroughs in these areas have yet occurred, the secret of Modi’s popularity is that he at least started these programs.”

They also point to the government’s traditional (and growing) appetite for playing a strong directive role in the economy.

In November 2016, the government took out a hefty 86 percent of all cash out of circulation as part of an experiment to root out corruption only to face a liquidity crisis. Combined with a campaign against “shadow economy,” the measure seriously undermined production and employment, slowed down the pace of economic growth, “and also reduced tax revenues.” A sweeping reform of the national tax system, undertaken in 2017, provoked a months-long “collapse” of the taxation sphere and sparked mass-scale protests.  According to HSBC, India’s GDP growth rate has been steadily declining since mid-2017. According to Bloomberg and the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the volume of new investment projects in India has also been declining since 2015. The downturn began a year after Modi came to power. Amid the continuous growth of the Asian countries’ role in the global economy, finance and trade, the current slide of the region’s second largest economy appears very contradictory and illogical.

Narendra Modi and his opponents are fiercely arguing whether the current economic downturn is cyclical or structural. Economists are also debating on this issue. “The government apparently believes the recession is cyclical.” Modi’s critics argue that despite “consistent cuts in interest rates” and a budget deficit “of 102 percent in 2019,” the economic slowdown has been going on for several years now, Asia Times wrote.  Mounting problems in the economy even forced New Delhi to withdraw from negotiations on the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP) after seven years of talks, “literally just a step away from signing the agreement.” According to Indian business publications, RCEP, which was negotiated between ASEAN and the bloc’s six free trade agreement partners, “will now be dominated by China. India’s membership in RCEP would have been tantamount to a trade agreement with China; something Indian industry is unprepared for now.”

Leading Indian economists believe, however, that pulling out of the RCEP agreement will benefit the Indian economy only if the government “immediately” starts to reform the land, labor and capital markets. New Delhi should also focus on encouraging competition, deregulating the economy and facilitating market access if it doesn’t want to see its regional commodity circulation seriously falling behind China’s, and its capital and technology exports, as well as state financing of domestic companies’ overseas projects, remaining significantly inferior to Chinese.

Russia’s chances of playing an important role in the positive transformation of its long-standing strategic partner look pretty good. In geopolitical terms, we are talking about the dialogue between the leaders of Russia, India and China, which resumed in December 2018. All three parties consistently emphasize the partnership nature of their relations as well as their shared interests and goals “in the field of development.”

Economy-wise, the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs believes that Moscow can do a lot in terms of helping its Indian partners on issues ranging “from high technology and defense, to building modern infrastructure and poverty reduction.” This, however, requires a qualitative improvement in the existing model of interaction to bring it fully in line with the realities of 21st century global politics, all the more so amid attempts being made by a number of countries, primarily the US, France and Israel, to sidestep Russia on the Indian track.

Right now, it looks like India could be one of the first major world powers to solve a super-complex dilemma of successfully dovetailing the priorities of security and national development. Despite all the shortfalls of his first term in office, Narendra Modi and his team have managed to even expand their support base among voters from across the country’s political spectrum.  The government now has to prove its ability to kick start the country’s long-term internal development, while simultaneously move toward making India a system forming power in South Asia.

From our partner International Affairs

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South Asia

Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

Prof. Pankaj Jha

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Street scene in India, August 2020. © UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

One of the most populated countries in the world, India has been facing problems with regard to well-being of its citizens while sustaining their developmental needs. The need for better health facilities, and developing antidotes for new kinds of pathogens and viruses have made the task more challenging. The respective governments, pharma companies, and testing labs are trying to develop safe trial mechanisms and developing safeguards for protecting the lives of vulnerable sections of society. Within India, the community health programme involves the non-governmental sector, healthcare professionals, economics aspects and social interaction through people and voluntary workers. While the health ecosystem exists, the problem has been finance, support and critical knowledge repository. India did well to address issues such as polio vaccination and creating community awareness for regular medication against tuberculosis. There is a mounting impact of chronic diseases in economic and social sectors, need for quality health services in the wake of changing demographics, and increasing life expectancy have made matters more complex.

In terms of understanding the requirements for building better resilient and health-conscious societies, it is important that the vaccines, lifesaving drugs, and medicines should be developed with certain generalised regulations which can improve the health of the society and address problems faced by people living across regions. While India is a subcontinent comprising of all geographical features, it is also a cauldron of different ethnic communities, and physical features which provides exceptional opportunities for testing and developing medicines which can cater to different physical and pathological profiles of people. Within India, one can find people with different levels of immunity. As the eating and food habits have been different, there is higher incidence of diabetes, hyper tension and cardio diseases in a cross-section of people. It has also been seen that people who are above 40-70 years of age have been more vulnerable to pandemics, and other communicable diseases. A sizeable mortality profile of people suggests that.

In this context it becomes very important that medicines which should be developed should have a better shelf life and give results which can be corroborated with testing facility, with a cross-section of people. The results have usually varied with regard to people with different eating habits and also nutrition factor. Pandemics such as COVID-19 have brought to the fore that India has better resistance mechanisms which has helped in relatively less mortality rate when these people have been infected with COVID-19. The duration of sickness because of COVID -19 has varied from five days to more than three weeks. In such certain times, it has been found that because of lack of any effective medicine or any sure shot diagnostic mechanisms the treatment has prolonged and the recovery has been slow. In terms of legal and other regulatory mechanisms, it has been found that most of the clinical trials which are done in India enroll the vulnerable  and poor people and human trials are conducted. There is a grey area of medical compensation and addressing post-tests complications from legal point of view.

For India it has become imperative to develop projects and conduct feasibility studies through government mechanisms rather than through medical companies. While projects have been undertaken to study different kind of diseases that school children and adults will be facing in the next two decades, it has been found that most of the complications will be related to teeth, eyesight, anxiety and mental well-being. However, in the case of pandemics and community health programmes it has been encouraging signs that initiatives such as creating awareness with regard to AIDS, mental well-being, depression and anxiety disorders have been fruitful and rewarding with institutionalising counselling and telephone helplines. Most of the programs have been done and supported by NGOs as well as a few voluntary organisations.

The projects and programmes which can be initiated in India should address core issues. Firstly, the incidence of non-curable diseases, depression, immunity disorders, other issues related to community transmission, and the development of proper safeguards and awareness with regard to pandemics and life-threatening diseases. Secondly, the COVID-19 has opened a Pandora’s box with regard to the incidence of diseases which impact community, and thereby also affect government health budget. Lastly, it is necessary that India will have to create medical soldiers and inform voluntary workers so that the community transmission and community health well-being should be addressed on a priority level.

As the COVID vaccine is in different trial stages, many countries are looking for testing facility in India and also conduct human trials, as legal structure in medicinal trials is still in infancy. India needs to address the issue of IPR on developing vaccines and medical history should be addressed jointly as it has been found that many western countries have been purchasing medical history of the patients living in developing Asia, providing vaccines through great testing mechanisms and subsequently using copyright laws to deny cheap medicines to the larger community.

 In this regard it is important that India should conduct research on immunity vectors of its population and develop generic drugs which can help in protecting communities from most transmissions. It is also pertinent to note that in terms of the temperature variance across India it provides unique testing opportunities in different conditions. However, there is a need for a holistic approach and therefore it is important that training and sensitisation of the personnel working in this field is of paramount importance. Initiatives related to preventive and therapeutic services is critical. Also, looking for quick alternatives would save the lives of personnel.

Just like any emergency, there is a need for rapid action medical force which can provide immediate assistance and better cognitive abilities track critical illnesses and the reasons thereof. It has been seen in the case of midwifery and associated postnatal diseases that it has worked wonders with a better equipped and knowledgeable person existing in each society for better assistance and awareness.

The critical importance of voluntary workers is that with sufficient technical assistance (which might come from government and state units) gives them confidence and also strengthens their application of knowledge for better informed public health practices and policies. Technical assistance and quick action through centralised control centre has to create the first line of defence in case of a pandemic. 

The institutes which have been working in this field are Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institutes of Public Health and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, which have been disseminating information through online workshops, seminars, and social media. They have created affiliates and sister agencies working in the field all across India. Networking of public health institutions in medical education need to address issues such as environmental health and countering new kind of diseases which are dominating.

This clearly highlights the fact there is a need for understanding pandemics, developing awareness among communities about public health, and stress on hygienic environment, conducting long term  research on emerging diseases and promoting research in tropical medicine.

India need to allocate separate fund for public health initiatives and promote exchange of medical workers with third world countries for better understanding the nuances of medical and health research. In fact, in most of the think tank meetings, public health and awareness is not listed as topics whenever Track II dialogues are held. There is also a need for better practices in public health, education, and developing health demonstration projects, barefoot nurses and doctors, strengthening an eco-system of education, training, and scholarship. Developing traditional medicine and making it easily accessible should be the bulwark against diseases. Restructuring Community Medicine/ Preventive and Social Medicine colleges which impart this kind of education in developing countries is required as the number is relatively less. Across developing world scholarship in community medicine and hospital administration is low and needs structural financial support. The data collection and diagnostics apparatus need micro management to create better response chain. COVID-19 has provided the reason for public health to be taken as a national initiative.

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Sino-India Himalayan Chess Game: Breakthrough or Stalemate?

Vineet Malik

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The continuous geopolitical blame game between India and China hasn’t witnessed any positive development with respect to either sides pulling back their respective troops, dragging the recent skirmish even further till winter.

In 45 years, India for the first time has witnessed a conflict-like situation vis-a vis China which witnessed the martyrdom of 20 troops on June 15thand rounds of shot firing in the LAC where the Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed about the PLA first initiating the firing ,after which the two sides have constantly held each other responsible for increased tensions whereas India has tremendously shown goodwill, hopefulness and looking at many factors to keep the ties stable.The year 2020 was supposed to be the 70th Anniversary of Sino-India Cultural ties where unfortunately, the celebrations were overshadowed with this recent border mishap.

The Himalayan Chess- Game

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s scepticism on the territorial claims and debate on Aksai Chin are not new, which has its roots to the abrogation of article 370, the recentlychanged rule declaringLadakhas an integral portion of the Indian Union was unfavourable to the Chinese side, reiterating about India getting into a strategic misadventure by violating their own territorial sovereignty and national interest and the former justifying on those and trying to flex its muscles in the Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Gogra, Kongka La, Depsang.

Border infrastructure is becoming a new method for these two aspiring Asian powers to assert their economic cum political interests with respect to further claiming of territories leading to the road towards being victorious, where the Indian side has further increased its focus viewing the strategic ramifications in the neighbourhood .by providing 8 bridge infrastructure projects each  in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh , which India requires to ensure easy connectivity in harsher terrains, promote tourism, distance reduction in order to reduce time for movement of goods to ensure welfare and safety for troops and natives residing in high terrains which again China suspiciously looked at in its counter statement, blatantly opposing any infrastructure in disputed boundary.

Notabledefence experts, Victor Gao and PremShankharJha, opined that China is aiming at a strategic bargain and believe that this move of the Indian side developing infrastructure in Ladakhcould be a counter to the Chinese G219 highway , covering a distance of 179 km connecting Xinjiang and Tibet which is in close proximity with Daulat Beg Oldi, where a 450 metre bridge over the Shlyok river was constructed last year which was only accessible by air before the construction of this project .

Amidst this prolonged crisis, 7 rounds of the India China Military Commander Meetings were held on a frequent basis at the Line Of Actual Control, in order to maintain tranquillity, peace, further enhancement of mutual understandings and deterrence to reduce the chances of an armed conflict, nevertheless there has been no proper agreement and the troops aren’t stepping out from their current positions either side.

Also, even the recent Moscow visits of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister, Mr. S Jaishankarin September for meeting their respective counterparts, haven’t been completely fruitful where they have also held discussions on showing respect towards each other on territorial claims and not cause these ties to deteriorate towards an upper trend which means that no country wants to compromise on its territorial claims and any change in status quo, which has led to unprecedented uncertainty in the relations as of now.

CCP Apprehensions of an Alliance

Chinese scholar, Fu Xiaoqiang , in his article, stated about India creating unnecessary tensions in the border leading to further straining of relations which are motivated by selfish political agendas. He also felt that India is being persuaded by the US to join an alliance like structure such as the Quadrilateral Initiative and set preferences with respect to choosing friendships with countries such as Japan and Australia, which have a common perception likewise India, regarding China as a potential competitor in the region.

Currently, China is fearing any conflict or alliance like structure with respect to its role in spreading the pandemic for which it was hiding its strategy, due to which these justifications are being used by Xi Jinping to protect his own image in the masses so that no crisis or dissent arises which could put the Communist Party’s survival and reputation at stake at a time where he is being questioned about the corruption and internal party pressure. There is a reason behind why China is involved in scapegoating on this conflict to show an innocent and a positive image by blaming Indian politiciansusing nationalism to mobilise the public, narrating their growth story, ideology, rich historical as well as cultural heritage, where the same goes for the dragon’s promotion of their nationalism  as well.

Alliances are important for India but they will take time to come in support if any mishap takes place in the neighbourhood, keeping India under uncertainty with regards to its strategic autonomy, it was following for many decades.  These alliances can be useful only to deter an enemy organising territorial strikes and put the latter on check creating some amount of fear and introspection.

Recently, steps have been undertaken by the Indian government to ban Chinese products and apps due to surveillance plus information threats in security. It is looking towards making itself self-reliant (aatmanirbhar) to reduce any more dependence on countries which have their own interests which could change anytime, if it doesn’t suit them which could be seen through India’s past experiences, where the same mistakes can’t be repeated againlike 1962 or 1975, at a time when the multipolar world is moving towards Asian multi-polarity where China is currently at an edge.

Concluding Points

The Chinese feel that the ball is in India’s game to choose between the have’s or have not’s while looking at the opportunity costs involved .The dragon is basically assessing the elephant’s capability and coping strategies in the winter, leading the standoff to be extended even further for which it is crucial for India to enhance its capacity in order to build up on its equipment, give support to the troops and further focus towards economic development in the borders.

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Immediate broad-based Reforms needed in the Political system of Pakistan

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Image source: Pakistan PM’s website

Opposition parties have launched a comprehensive campaign to de-seat the PTI Government by its grand show of power on 16 October 29020 at Gujranwala. All major opposition parties attended the Jalsa, and opposition leaders delivered speeches, criticizing the PTI government and even the military.

In a democratic country, it is common practice for that opposition to criticize the ruling party. Pakistan, with no exception, has a long history of agitations, protests, strikes, criticizing, rallies, blames on the ruling party, from opposition parties. Even PTI also played a very aggressive role as the opposition party in 2014, against the Government of PML-N. It was the longest Dharna in the history of Pakistan, and the first time protesters entered into Parliament house, PTV, Pak. Secretariate and sensitive areas, etc.

But the current behavior of opposition since 16 October is even more severe and blame on Pakistan Military is rather unacceptable. However, PTI ministers are also giving irresponsible statements. The ruling party must maintain political temperature under control. The opposition wanted to create chaos and confrontation, but the ruling party should mild-down the conflicts and manage the situation to complete its tenure. Either the ruling party’s ministers, spokespersons, advisors are unaware of consequences or lacking the understanding of the real issue.

Till this moment, the masses of Pakistan are not convinced with the narrative projected by the opposition parties, but neither happy with the ruling party. The common man is concerned with the issue he faces daily – inflation, price-hike, jobs, health care, education, social justice, and welfare. The ruling party failed to deliver, and the common man kept suffering.

Indeed, the masses do not love opposition, but neither the ruling party. It is their sufferings, which might help the opposition to convince them to stand the Government.

The majority of people are still admiring PM Imran Khan and believe that he is honest and a man of integrity. Yet, he failed to recover the economy or provide any relief to the common man. He was unable to recover to looted money from corrupt politicians of past governments. He also failed to punish the national criminals too. However, the people of Pakistan acknowledges his contribution toward foreign policy, Kashmir issue, and International relations, where Pakistan’s narrative was projected appropriately and improved the county’s image.

The people of Pakistan think that all wrongdoings by the ruling party are due to his wrong cabinet,  nothing to do with PM Imran Khan himself. His economic team, imported and landed by helicopter, are failed to revive the national economy. Although the oil prices in the international market have dropped to record low levels, even minus yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. Even due to the Pandemic, Global Financial Institutions have extended a helping hand, yet, Pakistan could not improve its economy. The Sugar crisis or Wheat crises are traced back to the ruling elite, and responsible is sitting on the right and left side of PM.

The intellectuals of the nations think that PM Imran Khan might be a pious person. Still, he is responsible for selecting his team – consisting of foreign nationals, dual nationals, elect-ables, corrupts, and incompetents ministers and advisors. It was his choice, and he could have refused to take anyone into his team if he was not satisfied fully. If there were some pressures from certain quarters, he should stand against such pressure. He should have judged the person before admitted into his team. He knows the importance of merit, and he has announced on several occasions the importance of merit. Even though if he misjudged anyone and admitted into his team, but it is never too late; as soon as he understands the person and found unsatisfactory, he can change immediately.

The country is passing through a very critical era, the geopolitics are changing too rapidly, challenges are enormous, and time is too short. Pakistan can not afford the luxury of any mistake anymore. The nation needs unity, the right policies, appropriate reforms, legislations, merit, and consistent hard-work. Attention may not be diverted and struggle with a clear focus and pre-set goals. Divide, intolerance, extremism, corruption, incompetency are the curse for a nation, must be averted.

Although PM Imran Khan is a visionary leader and has all the leadership qualities to lead the nation, but alone may not be able to achieve anything. A strong team, equipped with knowledge, wisdom, patriotism, honesty, and integrity, needs the time. Reforms based on proven successful experience, addressing the futuristic issues are required urgently. The nation has the potential to revive its past glories.

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