A billionaire member of ruling Tehrik-e-Insaf of Pakistan is currently embroiled in a web of accusations. He, and his business coterie, allegedly obtained financial benefits to the billions through political influence. In public explanations, he inter alia disclosed that the PTI could not have won elections without acting upon his advice_ nominate and support rich political elites (mafias), not vulgar people, at hustings. What, in essence, is democracy?
Democracy: his study of political systems (oligarchy, monarchy, etc.), Aristotle concluded demokratia was probably the best system. The problem that bothered him was that the majority of free people (then excluding women and slaves) would use their brute voting power to introduce pro-poor legislation like taking away property from the rich. During Aristotelian age there was only one house, a unicameral legislature. Aristotle too was a man of means. His household had slaves.
Aristotle suggested that we reduce income inequalities so that have-not representatives of the poor people were not tempted to prowl upon haves’ property.
Like Aristotle, American founding fathers were unnerved by spectre of `rule of the proletariat’. James Maddison harboured similar concerns. He feared `if freemen had democracy, then the poor farmers would insist on taking property from the rich’ via land reforms (Noam Chomsky, Power Systems, p 84). The fear was addressed by creating a senate (US) or a house of lords (Britain) as antidotes against legislative vulgarities of house of representative or a house of commons., a house of peoples (lok sabha) vs. council of states (rajya sabha) in India, and so on.
Mafias: William A. Welsh says, `The rise of democracy has signaled the decline of elites (Leaders and Elites, p.1). Not true of Pakistan? Here talent rusts and mafias prevail. We see mafias all around, in media, politics, justice, education and health-care.
Pak democracy flawed: Democracy in Pakistan failed to deliver the goods as it ignored ‘sine qua nons’ of Aristotelian demokratia. The SQNs were honesty, merit, nationalism, spirit of sacrifice, corruption-free public services, across-the-board military-civil accountability, truthfulness and welfare of the masses. History shows that the demokratia (the power of the people) has always been an ideal. No system, including ochlocracy (mobocracy), could ever diminish the power of the governing elites. Although the goal of democracy was to equalise citizens, the ‘equal citizen’, as enshrined in the golden words of our constitution, remains a myth.
The demokratia envisioned opportunities of political participation for larger proportions of the population and across-the-board accountability. But, Michel’s Law of Oligarchies precluded popular participation in democracy. A handful of legislators exercised brute power forcing Noam Chomsky call even American public a `bewildered herd’.
Aristotle would rejoice in the grave to see both, Pakistan’s National Assembly and the Senate, being populated by the rich. One member defiantly wears Louis Moinet `Meteoris’ wrist-watch, worth about Rs. 460m. Another, with a capacity to shut down the whole country, lives in a 30-kanal house (his divorced wife denies having gifted it). They never took any legislative steps to equalise citizens in access to education, medicare, housing and jobs. In short, in all realms of life.
They never looked into the origin of landed aristocracy, chiefs and chieftains in the subcontinent during the Mughal and British periods.
Iron law of technocratic oligarchy: A German sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties postulated Iron Law of Oligarchy. Michels stated that the raison detre of representative democracy is eliminating elite rule. It is an impossible goal. The representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable.
According to the “iron law,” democracy and large-scale organization are incompatible. The `rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable upshot of “tactical and technical necessities” of democratic organisations. All organisations eventually come to be run by a “leadership class”, who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons or political strategists for the organization. Far from being “servants of the masses”, the “leadership class,” rather than the organization’s membership, will inevitably dominate the organization’s power structures. They control access to information, with little accountability. They manage to centralise their power, as masses (rank-and-file members) are apathetic, and indifferent to their organization’s decision-making processes.
No large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy. Power within an organization will always get delegated to individuals within that group, elected or otherwise.
Democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are bound to fail. The oligarchy has power to reward loyalty, gag dissent and influence members (masses).
The Iron Law of Oligarchy smacks of ideas in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a fictional book in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell. Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. The examples of Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore, Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping in China, Park Chung-hee in Korea illustrate how `high’ visionary leaders backed by a strong central government can rapidly transform nations.
Covid 19 and Indian rich:
Info Tech czar Azim Premji committed Rs. 1000 crore ($134 million) through his philanthropic arm, the Azim Premji Foundation. Software developer Wipro Limited committed Rs.100 crore ($13 million), while engineering services company Wipro Enterprises Limited donated Rs 25 crore ($3.3 million).
India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani contributed Rs. 500 crore ($67 million) , additional Rs. 5 crores ($660,000) for the relief fund of the chief minister of Maharashtra, and an equal amount for the relief fund of the chief minister of Gujarat state. Besides Jehangir Tareen and their ilk, there are hundreds of billionires in Pakistan. They made no visible contribution to Pak relief fund.
Lack of transparency: Shabbar Zaidi’s book Rich People, Poor Country portrays a sorry state of Pakistan.The book contends that our national discourse “does not provide adequate knowledge and information to the public at large on policy issues”. Nor does it help professionals in providing practicable, independent and honest advice to policymakers.
Authors’ estimates, based on the amount of assets revealed under Foreign Assets (Declaration and Repatriation) Act, 2018 (tax amnesty scheme) suggest that a substantial number of Pakistanis – around 7-8 per cent of the country’s total population of 210 million – are very rich. These Pakistanis have individual incomes possibly exceeding even the highest average per capita incomes in the world. In sharp contrast, our government remains poor — being able to collect taxes that constitute only 10 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
He argues, a government not able to tax the rich will never have the resources required to provide the poor with economic and social protection.
Presidential or parliamentary system: General Zia was enamoured of the presidential system. He claimed that the Quaid-i-Azam had opted for this system in a note in his diary. What was the Quaid’s note? The handwritten note dated July 10, 1947 states: “Dangers of Parliamentary Form of Government: 1) Parliamentary form of government– it has worked satisfactorily so far in England nowhere else; 2) Presidential form of government (more suited to Pakistan)”. But, in true context. The Quaid did not expect elected governments could be dismissed under a presidential system. While speaking in the Indian Central Assembly on the colonial government’s decision to punish the officers of the Indian National Army, the Quaid said: “…when the time comes, my army in Pakistan shall, without doubt, maintain all loyalty, whatever the liability, and if anyone did not do so, be he a soldier or be he an officer or civilian, he will go the same way as William Joyce and John Amery.” (The two members of the English elite, the latter a son of the secretary of state for India, were executed for supporting Hitler during the Second World War).
The Quaid may have had the subconscious worry that feudal landlords in a parliamentary system would not allow democracy to function. The landlords in Punjab and Sindh always supported the Unionist party. They switched over to the Muslim League as the Congress had vowed to follow socialist secular policies.
No social democracy: In Pakistan, it is the vested interests, not demos (people) of demo-kratia, who rule. There is no social democracy. In India, feudal fiefs were abolished in 1948. But, they have a heyday in Pakistan even today because of a decision of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case of the Qazalbash Waqf versus Chief Land Commissioner, Punjab, on 10 August 1989 (made effective from 23 March 1990). The Court, by a 3-2 vote declared land reforms un-Islamic and repugnant to injunctions of Islam.
Jamsheed Marker, in his book Cover Point, observed ‘Liaquat … moved the Objectives Resolution, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic State’”. Liaquat Ali Khan could not foresee that Objectives Resolution (Allah’s sovereignty) would be warped to justify perpetuation of feudal aristocracy and persecution of minorities.
Under Article 38 (f) and Senate’s resolution No. 393 (9 July 2018), the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan enforced Shariah Governance Regulations 2018 for abolition of riba. Gnawing reality of complex interest-based economics forced the government to continue paying interest on loans and international transactions notwithstanding.
Article 38 is titled ‘Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people’. And abolition of riba is just a sub-paragraph. While we re-christened riba as PLS, partnership as modarba/mosharika, and so on, we did nothing to provide social justice to the people. We tax people without taxpayers’ welfare. Locke and others say government can’t tax without taxpayer’s consent.
Quest for stability: Neither the presidential nor the parliamentary form of government is a bulwark against instability. Pakistan’s demokratia practitioners are subconsciously contemptuous of separation of powers. The stakeholders appear to suffer from ‘I’m the constitution’ narcissism. They ‘glistened’ our constitution with ‘golden’ interpolation of a president in uniform, and another a life-long president. We had a civilian martial-law administrator also. Former finance secretary Saeed Ahmed Qureshi in his book Governance Deficit: A Case Study of Pakistani recounts ‘Eight blows to the Constitutional System’ including dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, dismissal of elected prime ministers, induction of Gen Ayub Khan as defence minister on 24 October 1954, and imposition of martial or quasi-martial law ‘for 33 out of Pakistan’s 68 years of history’.
I’m-the-Constitution paranoia: Pakistan’s constitutional history is marred by egotistic clashes between power claimants. Even judicial judgments swung in the direction of the wind vanes of the time. Shortly before pronouncing his verdict in the Dosso case, then Chief Justice Muneer declared that ‘when politics enters the portals of the palace of Justice, democracy, its cherished inmate, walks out by the backdoor’.
The kingpins in various institutions tend to forget French jurist Jean Bodin’s dictum ‘majesta est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque salute potestas, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects, unrestrained by law’. Bodin explained power resides with whosoever has ‘power to coerce’. It does not reside with the electorate, Parliament, the judiciary or even the Constitution.
In the past, Pakistan’s bureaucrats, judges, politicos, and even praetorian rulers fought tooth and nail to prove ‘I’m the locus in quo of ultimate power.
Take General Zia. He had nothing but contempt for the Constitution and democratic norms (p.87. ibid.). While addressing a press conference in Teheran, he said, “What is the Constitution? It is a booklet of 10 or 12 pages. I can tear them up and say that from tomorrow we shall live under a different system. Is there anybody to stop me? Today the people will follow wherever I lead them. All the politicians including the once-mighty Mr. Bhutto will follow me with their tails wagging.” Dicey said, “No Constitution can be absolutely safe from a Revolution or a coup d’état”.
Ambedkar’s prophesy: The drafter of India’s constitution, Dr. B R Ambedkar, prophetically remarked, ‘However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good’. Ambedkar’s atman (spirit) must be swirling in pain to see the conduct of the practitioners of democracy– saffronisation, bigotry, war cries, exploitation, and what not. But a plus-point for Indian democrats. The Indian Constitution allows the President to dissolve the elected parliament (doing so is treason in Pakistan). But, he has never done so.
In Pakistan, it is the vested interests, not demos (people) of demo-kratia, who rule. There is no social democracy. To quote Ambedkar, ‘Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life’. The fault lies with democrats, not democracy, whether presidential or parliamentary.
Inference: To correct multifaceted social injustice, all stakeholders, in khaki and civvies, should try to evolve Aristotelian `Golden Mean’. Or else, continue on auto-pilot until divine retribution strikes. Already some leading hospitals have been shut down ostensibly for lack of COVID19 protective gear. No basic needs for the common man.
Looming Humanitarian Crisis – Millions May Die in Afghanistan
There is a dire need for massive funds transfer to Afghanistan in present circumstances where banks and businesses have collapsed, the hunger crisis is also rising while the prices of basic commodities like shelter, fuel, and food have increased. There is a clear warning from World Health Organization (WHO) that within one year over 3 million children may suffer from malnutrition. UN World Food Program has also issued multiple warnings of deteriorating food insecurity in Afghanistan. The Winter season will also become too risky for the survival of one million children as the temperature will drop to an extremely low level.
There are numerous cases of acute shortage of money, where families are compelled to even sell their babies and daughters as child brides. Public hospitals are facing a shortage of medical equipment; the nurses and doctors are not paid prompting them to quit. The majority of Afghans want to move to other countries for life security and a better future. Heavy human traffic from Afghanistan has gathered on borders with Iran and Pakistan. UNHCR has called on authorities of Afghan neighboring countries to cease the forced return of Afghans, noting that many of them may require refugee protection.
The private sector, which works for the progress of the country, has halted due to uncertainty. There is a serious and shocking analysis by UNDP that by July next year 97% of the Afghan population may fall under the poverty line. Millions of people are living hand to mouth and will face harsher economic crises due to troubling economies.
Even $1.29 billion aid, recently announced from US and EU for Afghanistan & its refugees living in surrounding countries cannot solve the economic crisis permanently. This aid will only be able to postpone the human disaster for some time but it is not a permanent solution.
The world’s best economists are constantly warning that the present economic situation will lead to anarchy and chaos in Afghanistan. Abdallah Al Dardari, UNDP’s Afghanistan head, said, “I’m comparing Afghanistan with Venezuela, Lebanon, and so on; we haven’t seen such an immediate, abrupt drop”.
After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the first step by the Biden administration was to freeze the $9.5 billion foreign reserves. Taliban recently called on the US delegation in Doha for the unconditional and immediate unfreezing of Afghanistan’s financial assets.
IMF has also warned that this year Afghan economy will get contracted to 30%. During Ghani’s government, US aid accounted for 75% of the government budget and 45% of the country’s GDP. The majority of sectors of Afghanistan were run by foreign aid including a majority of public-sector jobs in the medical, teaching, policing, and legal sectors.
From the last few months, the life of millions of daily wagers/ working class has become hopeless. They gather in various downtowns for the sake of work but as the construction industry has halted so they get back without getting any work. They are unable to buy food for themselves and their families and live miserable lives. Another fact of the matter is that Afghanistan has long been dependent on imports of basic utensils.
In Ashraf Ghani’s government, the Afghan economy was fragile because of poverty and corruption. Customs, administration, and traffic officers, who have gone unpaid for months, are asking for more bribes. Things have become highly disorganized in all segments of the country.
Taliban have placed withdrawal limits on currency ranging from 200-400$ per week to counter complete currency collapse. Taliban have appealed to fill its billions of dollars vacuum from Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan, and China. Taliban are also pressing the US for the release of its frozen funds and they think that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is increasing as a result of their frozen funds. Afghans are facing a shortage of crucial goods due to trade disruptions and the collapse of financial services which have supplemented traders’ woes that depend on U.S. dollars and bank loans for imports. Issuance of sanctions’ exemption, by the Biden administration at the end of September to ease out the process of aid, is still not enough.
Afghan interim government has to find the best economic team from inside and outside the country which should be able to bring some fruitful strategies and planning to solve this economic crisis. The International community needs to come together to join hands with the Afghan interim government to avoid the worst-case scenario in Afghanistan. The international community should also play its role in bringing “explicit humanitarian exemptions” for the delivery of aid to prevent a “catastrophe”. Watchdogs like UNSC and the US government should do their utmost to raise the living standards of the Afghan people.
What ails Modi’s relations with its own people and neighbours?
The veneer of “democracy” cloaks “autocratic and hypocritical” style of Modi’s government. Modi first tried every Machiavellian trick to suppress the farmers’ protest movement against the three farms laws. He tied to sow seeds of discord among them by portraying them as “Khalistani” through a multitude f fake social media accounts. He then tested the protester’s patience by letting the movement linger on for a years. He allowed police to beat them mercilessly. Tried to turn the Supreme Court hostile to them. And finally a farmer was mowed down under a vehicle (Lakhimpura incident). About seven hundred farmers including some women lost their lives. But, Modi shrugged off the claim saying their deaths were due to natural causes. He kept insisting that the laws were enacted for farmers’ welfare. And they would repent their repeal. The farmers saw through the ruse and stayed put. The laws were finally withdrawn without any discussion. This gesture strengthened the opposition’s allegation and farmers’ perception that the laws were meant to surreptitiously benefit the crony capitalism (Adanis, Ambanis, et al).
Modi deprived the disputed Jammu and Kashmir of even its nominal statehood without caring a fig for sentiments of the common man or the politicians. He is unwilling to repatriate the Occupied Kashmir widows or wives of so-called militants. Instead of repealing draconian laws, he is killing innocent Kashmiris in fake encounters (Hyderpora encounter being the latest). In 1990s, India’s reign of terror forced large number of Kashmiri natives to cross over into the Azad Kashmir. India launched operation ‘Sadbhavana’ to lure back the refugees. Some refugees even married the Azad Kashmiri nationals. Those who returned mostly wives or divorcees had been suffering immeasurably being without nationality documentation. Indian government could have deported them back to Azad Kashmir. But, India flouted its own promise of rehabilitation and international norms by denying them nationality. Defying restrictions, hundreds of wives protested in Srinagar and held a press conference (November 21, 2021) to highlight their plight. Modi is unwilling to repatriate the widows or wives. Be it observed that Pakistan immediately returns innocent border crossers back to India.
Modi imposed a corrupt friend (Patel) as governor of Lakshadweep (32 square kilometers), a predominantly Muslim archipelago of 36 islands (10 of which are uninhabited). It is sparsely populated with population of 63000, growing at about six per cent against national average of 17 percent.
The governor issued many orders which were perceived as anti-Muslim. For instance, no-one could slaughter a cow without a permit but liquor was allowed in all the islands ostensibly to promote tourism. The government could acquire any piece of land from inhabitants in national interest. The isles are in COVID grip and the people used to airlift the sick to nearby Kerala. The governor ordered that no sick shall be flown out without the governor’s permission. The people interpreted the governor’s move s as an effort to impair their life style and links with Kerala. He wanted to facilitate the isles link with Mangalore (Karnataka). The islanders are convinced that the Centre is trying to depopulate the island and convert into a naval base. Within framework f QUAD, the Modi government wants to strengthen “Chagos-Lakshadweep-Maldives choke”.
India’s volatile North East
At the time of partition, India was in grip of countless insurgencies and separatist movements (Dravidstan, Khalistan, Bodo, Nagas and Mizos). It is still a simmering cauldron. India’s north east was a porous border. Through deceit, coercion, and financial incentives, India mellowed some of the insurgencies. Ambushes and confrontations still take place in some north eastern states. Indian bowed to insurgents’ demands for the creation of new states. And, insurgency leaders became chief ministers! India forgot yesteryear when they used to burn to ashes copies of the Indian constitution and uproot rail tracks. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland and East Punjab merged into the Union.” India has become synonymous with a thousand insurgencies waged by mysterious outfits, known only by their acronyms. It has become synonymous with grandiose announcements by successive prime ministers of many thousand crore packages that disappear without trace, leaving a handful of political brokers very rich. And in the Indian bureaucracy, a posting in the Northeast is treated on par with incarceration in Siberia” (Swapan Dasgupta, India’s Siberia, Rediff dated October 2004).
Modi‘s “might is right” style is conspicuous from India’s policies towards her neighbours. India’s former foreign secretary Shyam Saran (How India sees the World) thinks none of the disputes with Pakistan are intractable. They were almost solved except for lack of political will to sign the final draft deals. To pander to the galleries, India’s home minister Amit Shah roared in Parliament that “Aksai Chin and POK (Azad Kashmir) are part of India. And we would lay down our lives to get them back”.
To topple KP Sharma Oli’s government, Indian embassy in Nepal had been bankrolling corrupt politicians and other members of Nepalese society. Oli was ultimately ousted by Supreme Court of Nepal and appointed the new prime minister until the next elections. Oli
debunked India’s conspiracies during a ceremony to commemorate sixty-ninth anniversary of the Party’s popular leader Madan Bandari. He claimed, `Conspiracies were being plotted against him since the constitutional Nepali map amendment’. No-one thought that a prime minister would be removed from office for printing a map’.
Be it observed that Nepal amended its map when its objections fell flat on India. India’s defense minister Rajnath Singh, went ahead to inaugurate an 80-kilometer-long road connecting the Lipulekh Pass in Nepal with Darchula in Uttarkhand (India). Indian army chief insinuated that Oli was being prodded by China against India.
After being ousted by the Nepalese Supreme court, Oli continued to criticise India’s machinations. Inaugurating the 10th general convention of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) in Chitwan, Oli claimed if his party comes back to power it will “take back the disputed territories such as Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek from India through dialogue”. The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India. Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory — India as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Dharchula district. (‘Will ‘take back’ Kalapani, Lipulekh from India, If…’ KP Sharma Oli. One India, November 27, 2021).
Indo-Maldivian relations are no longer hunky-dory. They are rather in a state of flux. India reneged on contract to supply a hundred thousand doses of corona virus vaccines to Maldives. So did India despite that fact that it views the current president Solih as pro-India as compared to Yameen the previous president. India withheld supplies thoughMaldives had already paid the cost. In perhaps a tit-for-tat, Maldives banned all Indian tourists including films stars.
Fluid political situation in Maldives
There is a widespread impression in Maldives that India has subjugated the country’s sovereignty through a host of treaties. The present president Solih is perceived as an Indian stooge. People resent granting immunity to Indian forces in Maldives and allowing construction of military infrastructure. The subsurface resentment led to “India out” social media campaign. The Indian High Commission became terrified of the ferocity of the protests. And, it sent a note verbale to the Maldivian government for protection of its staff.
President Solih is up against opposition from within his party. Through a tweet, Nasheed, the former President and at present Parliament Speaker, has highlighted corruption scandals against President Mohamed Solih9 (‘ventilator-import scam). Nasheed tweeted “I see the government colluded in this… I do not want the MDP to stand by a government that steals,” adding that he would ‘not budge’ against attempts to put a lid over the scandal. He alluded to the Health Ministry MVR 34.50 million (US$ 2.2 million) contract to Dubai-based Executors General Trading to procure 75 ventilators. The Auditor General’s office found out that nearly 90 percent of the contracted amount was paid in advance without any ‘performance guarantee.’ It was found that only 15 of the 75 ventilators were received.
The ruling party’s internal rift portends that it may be ousted in next general elections. Mr. Nasheed is likely to put himself as a presidential candidate. Already, the -ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) could not sweep the municipal elections. It secured 43 percent of all seats, with opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) having won 34.9 percent.
India is not sincere even with Bangladesh. At India-Bangladesh Business Forum, in Delhi, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina expressed grief (Oct 4, 2019) on the onion crisis in her country. Hasina taunted, `We are facing crisis on the onion issue. I don’t know why you have banned onion export. Maine cook ko bol diya ab se khana mein pyaaz bandh kardo. (Indian Government had banned export of Onions on September 29).
India is the biggest supplier of onions to Bangladesh, which buys a yearly average of more than 350,000 tons. India abruptly slapped a ban on onion exports to Bangladesh. Following the export ban, onion prices in Bangladesh jumped by more than 50 per cent, prompting the government to procure supplies from elsewhere.
In retaliation, Bangladesh’s involved the Chinese in a proposed $300 million project in the downstream of Teesta River.
India claims that Bangladesh is her close strategic and economic friend within its `Look East, neighbour’s-first policy”. But, the history of broken promises indicates that India looks to its own interest. A raft of issues from water disputes to religious tension mask mistrust in the relationship.
India backed out of its agreement (December) with Bangladesh to supply 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University in cooperation with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. The Institute announced that India had barred Serum from selling doses on the private market until everyone in India had received the vaccine.
Later, Salman F. Rahman, a Cabinet minister and co-founder of the Beximco Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate, took over the responsibility to distribute three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Bangladesh.
Modi government is insincere not only in dealing with its own people but with also its neighours.
China’s rise in power and India’s rise in fear: Strategic hedging amidst growing threat
India, the nation long being under colonial oppression started its journey of foreign policy with the ideology of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Alignment; abstaining from taking sides of the bipolar power blocs and securing its newly gained national sovereignty and independence. But soon after, it realised the crux of surviving in the internationally interlinked world that the countries were fast approaching towards. Therefore, in 1971, India joined hands with the Soviet Union in a Treaty of Friendship, but with the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991 and the United States emerging as the sole superpower, India felt back into the state of isolation and helplessness.
As the famous saying goes on to say “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, India soon learnt from its mistakes to not put all its might and trust into one entity as concepts such as ‘trust’ and ‘no strings attached’ are non-existent elements of global politics and international relations.
Today, the 21st century is largely seen as an ‘Asian century’, the century where Asia’s burgeoning economy and demographic dividend will make it rise to everyone’s notice and be the talk of the center stage. This is what is envisioned by experts and to no surprise it is what is slowly molding to be the fact; a fact that is greatly favoring the People’s Republic of China.
Despite the pandemic’s birth from Wuhan and the global economic stagnation in 2020, China managed to log 2.3 percent growth for 2020, becoming the only major economy that grew during a year when the virus exacted a devastating global toll (Gerry Shih, 2021). This shows the success rate of the country into turning its far-sighted ‘China Dream’ a reality. It is of no surprise that the rise of China is rampant, aggressive in some instances, strategic and far-sighted into changing the existing world order; posing a threat to the rest of the major power houses today.
India, being the largest rival neighbour to China has a lot at stake, for which it has shifted its foreign policy from hedging for to strategically hedging against the collective threat imposed by China. Contemporary geopolitical and strategic circumstances present a multifaceted challenge to India’s foreign policy, with regards to its neighbourhood, border and the Indian Ocean region, for which incorporating a pragmatic realpolitik approach is the need of the hour.
What balancing China means is to strengthen India’s capacity and linkages in order for it to be well-equipped to counter Chinese aggression. India has been working towards this aspect in the following ways-
-India has embarked on its own “Diamond Necklace” policy to counter China’s ‘String of Pearls’ through which it is building ports in strategic points such as Singapore, Indonesia, Oman, Seychelles and Iran and strategically cooperated with Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam and the Central Asian regions.
-India-Russia and Indo-Pak relations although sour, have been tried to reconcile in the recent past as maintaining a somewhat cordial relationship with China’s ally should be one of India’s priority as both the nations are militarily heavy. India has built its defence cooperation with Russia and Putin recently told that “there is no contradiction in the relationship with India”, giving it a stronger tie. Russia has also managed to show great support to India during its fight for Pandemic. Maintaining this cordial relationship is of great benefit to both and is a way towards balancing relations.
-In addition to all this, what is more important today to withstand international threat is the coming together of like-minded states that are willing to support each other and target China with a common motive. India has therefore, signed bilateral and multilateral agreements on different fronts to achieve its hedging goals, which will be further looked upon ahead in the paper
-Along with external ties, India needs to be well-equipped domestically as well by building up its defence capabilities. It is here that India’s ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) initiative plays importance.
However, on the flip-side, India cannot manage independently without China. The two being giant players in Asia with the two largest populated countries in the world and more so, being geographically in close proximity and economically dependent on each other, it is inevitable for them to have zero contacts. Therefore, whilst battling China’s String of pearls and border disputes, India must also be wary of having a middle ground with China wherein it can conduct its peaceful coexistence and continue its trade relations.
Overall, it can be said that New Delhi’s policy of strategic hedging works on a mode of attempting to find a modus vivendi with Beijing, while also slowly moving towards building security and political links with other regional and international powers as an insurgence against China. The Modi government has adopted a mixed strategy towards asymmetric rival China by maintaining a relationship of cooperation at the regional level (the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), competition at the regional level (Indo-Pacific), rejection of China’s unilateral initiatives (Belt and Road Initiative), and deterrence along the Himalayas and in the Indian Ocean (Manjeet S. Pardesi, 2021).
When the survival of a state is threatened by a hegemonic state or a coalition of stronger states, they seek to join forces with other states and establish an alliance to preserve its own independence by keeping in check the power of the other state. This is the Balance of threat theory (Stephen M, 1985), wherein the threat levels can be affected by geographical proximity, offensive power, and aggressive intentions and when all this is together met with one nation alone, the severity of forming coalition and strategically hedging speaks for itself.
The United States
If the rise of China poses a direct threat on someone, it is United States’ hegemony. US being the super power in the globalized multipolar world, while India being the largest democracy, an emerging economy and a key important player in Asia proves both the states to be in a mutually benefitting coalition.
The two biggest democracies have joined hands on various fronts such as pursuing the joint interest in freedom of navigation in the highly contentious South China Sea where China has shown a great deal of interest as well. The US recently has shown a shift in their focus to the Asia-Pacific region through its new policy of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its decision to station 2500 marines in Australia. This has been regarded by China, who staked claim over South China Sea, as a hedging strategy if not outright containment by the USA. In 2020, Indo-US ties have elevated to a “comprehensive global strategic partnership”. This has been a great achievement in India’s vision for development. Moreover, both the nations have successfully concluded three 2+2 dialogues, wherein USA reiterates to support India in defending its territorial sovereignty against the “greater threat”, referring to China. In addition to these, the highlights also follow the four foundational agreements between the two nations, which are – Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The two nations have also released a Joint Statement on shared Indo-USA goals in the Asia-Pacific region. The developments so far have been quite beneficial on both sides and are a great strategic hedging handling on India’s part. And to top this policy of strategic hedging is the establishment of QUAD (Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue) between the four members- United States, Japan, Australia and India with their common vision of securing global order, liberal trading and freedom of navigation between the countries. The informal dialogue between these four nations has seen to be a driving force is curtailing a ‘rising China’.
India’s foreign policy is built on its three foundational pillars, which are security, economic development and status and Japan plays quite a significant role in all three aspects. This bilateral relation is of great benefit to India. Japan and India’s upward trajectory gives it a status of being ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’, transforming the relation into a ‘cornerstone of India’s Act East Policy’. The relationship between Asia’s largest democracies is deemed to be Asia’s fastest growing relationship as well. Japan was the first country with which India held its 2+2 ministerial level dialogue which along with military and defence talks, also shared concerns of China’s rise in the region. As Japan acquires world class navy and high-tech capabilities; if the two countries continue to add concrete securities, a high hope is instilled in this strategic relationship of becoming a game-changer in Asia. The two countries have already deepened ties in the field of maritime defence and infrastructure such as the construction of India’s first high speed railway corridor between Mumbai and Ahmadabad.
The two nations have had a cordial relationship even before independence and continue to share common interests in trade, sustainable development, and student-to-student ties. It has been building its strategic partnership and recognizes India’s critical role in the Indian Ocean and therefore, the two nations are committed to working together to enhance maritime cooperation, along with engaging in a naval exercise called AUSIDEX since 2015. Trilateral engagements with crucial nations like Indonesia and Japan, deeper engagement with regional groups like the Indian Ocean Rim Association and East Asia Summit and the very efficient quadrilateral dialogue with Japan and US have all contributed in strengthening the ties between India and Australia. A cordial relation with Australia will help India in the long run as by 2027, India is expected to have world’s largest population and henceforth require the up-skilling of 400 million people. Australia is well-equipped to assist with this huge need for knowledge-sharing, education and skill development. The two countries also have enormous potential to build on their people-to-people links and thus their soft power influence (Parakkal, 2018). India is the third largest source of immigrants to Australia and the second largest source for skilled professionals. The pandemic is seen to have exacerbated Sino-Australian relations and this further strengthens Australia’s relations with India is managing China.
The recent past has seen a reboot in the relations between India and EU which have both embarked on the journey of resuming the long stalled talks on a free trade deal with an aim to strengthen their economic cooperation in the face of an increasing Chinese assertion.
In 2013, trade talks suspended between the two nations but today it rises together to hedge strategically amidst the pandemic. The nations aim to double the trade by 2030 which shows the optimism it withholds for the future endeavours.
In a speech, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar highlighted how the pandemic has shown the necessity of diversifying supply chains, especially for the EU. He says “Europe is looking at strategic autonomy, looking at a multipolar world, which is actually hedging its risk” (Jaishankar, 2021). This was told in the backdrop of repercussions faced by EU and more so, for the majority of the world for being overly dependent on China for trade. Glorifying on this aspect, India has an edge to build connections in the European world and sustain Chinese growth.
In addition to the trade boon, EU countries also signed the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” that aims to impose greater European influence in areas of Chinese superiority. Keeping this in hand, the two nations remain steadfast on building infrastructure across Europe, Asia and Africa in the name of “connectivity” partnership. It doesn’t brand it to be an “anti-Beijing” plotting, but a mere alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative of china, a way of disallowing Chinese investments.
Today it can be said that the world has come up together, galvanised in order to counter China in the changing world order. This pushback against China has been manifesting itself in multiple ways and in particular, by the regional players who have been successful in persuading more coordinated actions along the way so as to create a more stable balance of power in these highly tumultuous world that we live in.
The complex rivalry between India and China has led to hedging strategically by a mixed approach of cooperation, deterrence and balancing, which is seen to be working efficiently for India till now. After all, India’s ultimate aim is to build its own capabilities without overtly provoking China and silently transform itself to be a competition. To achieve this, India is building its relation with China’s neighbours such as South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, along with maintaining a cordial relationship with Russia and mending relations with Pakistan and ultimately gaining support from the western nations in strategic cooperation with a common aim.
It is evident today how China’s belligerent agenda on regional states has caused it a greater pushback with the unity of the rest of the world against it. The BRI is confronted with numerous fault lines, the Indo-Pacific is well-established, QUAD resurrected and various regional players are beginning to engage with each other much more cohesively.
The only concern that remains today is the growing influence China has over India’s neighbours through its ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ and its ‘aggressive wolf-warrior diplomacy’, for which India needs to make sure to make the neighbouring countries believe in the hidden agenda and bring unity with India in countering the spread and rise of China. India’s ‘vaccine-maitri’ initiative was a good way of handling the neighbourhood, but more needs to be done in this aspect.
The way forward is to accept each other’s legitimacy in certain aspects and hedge accordingly in others. Military escalation such as in 2020 Ladakh is to be prevented in order for both to maintain its relations. To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping (1988), “unless China and India are able to co-exist peacefully, “there will be no Asian century.”
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