Arthashastra- book review
Arthashastra is a historical Indian book which covers aspects of state functioning. It is about how economy, politics, military strategy and diplomacy of a state should work. It was written by Kautilya in 300 BCE but was lost at that time and was discovered by Rudrapatna Shamasastry in 1905 CE. He was a Sanskrit scholar. He published it in 1909 and was translated into English in 1915. Arthashastra was written for the King of that reign, Chandragupta Maurya. Kautilya was the Prime Minister of the Maurya Empire. It was a sort of a handbook for Chandragupta to run his kingdom. There are different views regarding the authorship of Arthashastra. Some authors say that it was written by three persons, Kautilya, Chanakya and Vishnugupta while others say that all three were one person. Vishnugupta was his real name and Kautilya/ Chanakya was his surname. So, all have a concord on this and call him Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra. Arthashastra is also compared to ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli because of its realist approach to the statecraft and politics.
There is a concept in Hinduism called the concept of Purusarthas i.e., four goals in human life. They are Dharma (moral values), Artha (economic values), Kama (psychological values) and Moksha (spiritual values). Artha is one of them and probably the most important one. Arthashastra is the combination of Artha and shastra (treatise). Its main concept is how a state, or an empire can work greatly. For this Kautilya combined 15 old books in Arthashastra and explained different concepts in it like economic prosperity, military strategy, political affairs, external affairs, internal matters of Harem of the King, King’s own characteristics, qualities of a Prince, ministers, spies, civil officers and how to manage the public etc. Following is the summary of the book covering important points related to the government, politics and statecraft of an empire.
It starts with greetings to Sukra and Brihaspati. It is a compilation of all the Arthashastra written by ancient teachers for the perseverance of the earth. It also mentions Kautilya as the author. Kautilya gives the most importance to the four sciences i.e., Anvikshaki, the triple Vedas, Varta and Danda-Niti. Then he determines the position of each science by mentioning different school of thought views. School of Manu believes in only three sciences, excluding Anvikshaki as considering it a special branch of Vedas. School of Brihaspati holds that Varta and Danda-Niti are the only sciences and triple Vedas are only an abridgement for a man experienced in Lokayatravidah i.e., three worlds heaven, earth and atmosphere. School of Usanas say that only science of governments is the only science having origin and end of all. But Kautilya believes in all four sciences from which righteousness and wealth is learnt.
For “Anvikshaki”, Kautilya says, it constitutes the philosophy of Samkhya, Yoga and Lokayata. Samkhya is associated with Yoga school and Lokayata is the philosophical school of materialists. Among the four, Anvikshaki is the most beneficial for dealing with worldly affairs and to get all kinds of knowledge and virtues. For “Triple Vedas”: Sama, Rik and Yajus combine to form triple or three Vedas. These with Atharvaveda and Itihasaveda called as the Vedas. Triple Vedas determine the duties of four castes in Hinduism i.e., Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Brahmans are responsible for teaching, studying and taking charge of sacrificial performances. Kshatriyas’ duty is performance of sacrifice, study, giving gifts and military services. Vaisyas do agriculture, cattle-breeding and trade. Shudras have to serve the twice born (dwijati) or Brahman and perform as craftsmen, singers, dancers and poets. Kautilya further explains the duties of other people as well. The duty of a house owner is to earn money, marriage among equals, giving gifts to gods and guests. A student or Brahmacharin should learn Vedas, prayers and respect for his teacher. Vanaprastha or the forest-recluse have to worship gods, self-denial, sleep on grounds and wear deerskin. The duty of an ascetic ‘Parivrajaka’ is self-control, abandoning material gains, living in forests and chastity. The observance of these duties lead man to heaven ‘Swarga’ and disobedience cause disturbance on Earth.
Kautilya now determines the “position of Varta and Danda-Niti”. Varta has descriptions about agriculture, cattle-breeding, trade and labor. It says it is army and treasury obtained through Varta that a King rules over his and rival’s nation. Danda-Niti is law of punishment or science of government on which the well-being of other three sciences depend. It allows man to acquire things or resources, improve them and then honestly distribute them among the people. If it is done nicely, then King can bring people under his control. Kautilya says if punishment is rightly given, then people will respect King and his words but if given under ignorance or anger, then it will only make people furious and rebellious. The absence of law of punishment will only bring imbalance in the society where strong will crush the weak. In the end Kautilya says that people can lead a happy and successful life if governed by the King.
Kautilya says that a student should “learn all sciences” from expert teachers. As for the Prince is concerned, he should be married after 16 and he also should learn all sciences from efficient and aged professors. In the morning, he should learn military art and weapons, and in the afternoon hearing Itihasa i.e., Purana, history, illustrative stories, Dharma Shastra and Arthashastra. When a Prince keenly hears his teachers, he gets knowledge, it leads him to application and self-control. All this makes him efficient in leaning. So, a well-educated and disciplined King would enjoy no opposition on Earth. If a King refrains from his six enemies i.e., lust, anger, greed, vanity, pride and overjoy then he would succeed. But if he fell prey to these then he shall be destroyed along with his kingdom.
Kautilya also sheds light on how “the life of a good King” shall be. If a King refuses to follow those six enemies and restrains his organs of senses, then he would gain knowledge, ensure safety and security of his people, keep himself in discipline and do good for the nation. With his senses under his control, he would refrain from unjust acts and without violating any rules, can enjoy his life, charity, wealth and desires. But, if any of these are overdone, can hurt others and itself too. Kautilya says wealth is the most important among all. Ministers who help the King in keeping away from such enemies, are respectable and hence they assist the sovereign.
Regarding the “selection of ministers”, there are various views from different school of thought. Bharadvaja says that the King should appoint his classmates as ministers because he knows them personally and can trust them well. Visalaksha says if ministers are King’s classmates, then they could dislike him as well. So, ministers should be those whom secrets are known by the King himself so they cannot betray him. Parasara says that King has his own secrets as well. So, he should appoint those who helped him in his difficult times and are trustworthy too. According to Pisuna, ministers should be men tried and tested of their abilities in respective fields. Kaunapadanta says that the King should appoint those whose fathers or grandfathers have been ministers before so that they have an established relationship with the King based on trust. Vátavyádhi says the King should appoint new persons specialized in polity as ministers because they would not offend him and obey him as the King. Son of Bahudanti says that ministerial position needs experience not just theory. Therefore, rather than new officials, the King should select ministers from high families who are noble, brave and have loyal feelings towards King. Kautilya says that indeed man’s efficiency in work shows his ability and such men, after considering their place and time of work, should be appointed as ministers.
For the “Creation of Council”, Kautilya describes the qualities which a minister should have. A ministerial officer should be a high family member, trained in arts, strong memory, health, skills, strong conduct and free from procrastination and hatred. Those who have half or quarter of these qualities, are posted on lower ranks. The King has much work to do simultaneously, so he assigns those works to ministers. As for the appointment of Priest, he should be from noble family, well educated in all sciences and has the ability to prevent calamities from the skies and human doings by performing rituals explained in Atharvaveda. A King should follow the teachings of him.
Kautilya explains another issue which is “Ascertaining by Temptations Purity or Impurity in the Characters of Ministers”. A King, with the help of his Prime Minister and High Priest, shall offer temptations to his ministers to test their character. The King along with a priest set up a situation where the priest disobeys King and is dismissed. Then he, disguised as a classmate, tries to provoke other ministers against King. If ministers do not fluctuate, then they are tested as pure. This is termed as religious allurement. In the same way, a commander of army and a woman spy, as disguised, make ministers go against the King, but if they remain firm then it means that they are loyal to the King and are pure in character. These practices are known as monetary allurement and love allurement, respectively. Kautilya says that the King or Queen shall not themselves take part in that, instead appoint agency of spies to test ministers.
Arthashastra discusses about “Institution of Spies” too. The King with his ministers makes spies. Those spies are disguised as fraudulent believers, hermit, a householder, merchants, colleagues, firebrand, murderers and beggar women. They swear that they would tell King everything they find suspicious. This way they would check the purity of character in King’s people or servants. It further explains who will become what type of spy. Orphans who are solely dependent on state for their food and living, will fight tigers and elephants in battlefield and will become firebrand. Those who are cruel, become poisoner. A Brahman poor widow, who wants to earn money, will become woman ascetic and live in King’s Harem. Women of Shudra caste will be wandering spies. Those spies who are well trained and educated will be assigned to spy on King’s ministers and officials. Dwarfs, eunuchs, dumb will be spies in their own houses and the local spies also have to trace the foreign spies in their lands.
Another concern is about “Protection of Parties For or Against One’s Own Cause in One’s Own State”. Along with set up spies on prime ministers, King shall also espy his people. Classmate spies shall start debates regarding King with opposing arguments in crowded area and see for traitors. They also have to confirm the rumors going on in the public. Spies disguised as astrologers shall look for greedy, angry and suspicious people, then their relationship with each other and foreign Kings. Contented people will be awarded and discontented shall be convinced by giving gifts or by punishments. Hence, a wise King shall guard his people with varying factions of enemy and foreign Kings among them. Another point is about “Winning over Factions For or Against an Enemy’s Cause in Enemy’s State”. There are some people who are against the King due to many reasons. Some are provoked whose rights are not delivered, some are alarmed who are furious and aggressive for King, others are ambitious and haughty. All these people have something against the King. These people are offered to work together with spies under formal terms to get their goals. The friends of foreign Kings can also be persuaded through gifts, threats or by pointing the defects of their Kings.
“Business of Council Meeting” is another point here. After taking care of local and foreign parties, the King then looks at the administrative affairs. The decisions related to administration are taken through deliberations at the council meeting. The subject of the meetings shall be kept confidential from all people even from birds because they used to be the couriers of information too. Therefore, without any back-up guarding force, a King shall never enter into a deliberation of council meeting. Whoever discloses information about council meeting, shall be punished heavily. So, the most important information shall only be known by the King because ministers could leak information through carelessness. So, the members of the council shall learn sciences and Vedas.
Kautilya in Arthashastra also talks about the “envoys”. The successful councilors are made as envoys. Those who have ministerial capabilities are made ambassador. Those who are one-quarter less capable shall be given missions. Whoever has half of the above abilities, convey summon. An envoy shall befriend the enemy’s officers who work on boundaries of cities. He also shall know about the size of enemy’s area and about precious things there. When he enters the fort of enemy King, he shall clearly explain the mission assigned to him. Other than these duties, an envoy maintains treaties, gains secret information and makes enemy’s officers and envoys his friends. Therefore, such envoys shall be appointed by the King and he shall guard himself from foreign spies.
Another most important topic covered in Arthashastra is “Protection of Princes”. King shall take extra care of his princes. There are various arguments about this as well from different scholars. Bharadvaja says that ill-tempered and jealous princes can end up taking the throne of their fathers. So, they shall be punished secretly when they show love for the King. Visalaksha says princes shall be guarded in a safe place because punishing them would be cruel and it would exterminate Kshatriya race. School of Parasara say that fearing from princes seems like fearing from a lurking snake. He may think that his father (King) is locking him up and ends up making his father responsible for his sufferings. So, the prince shall be guarded inside the fort. Pisuna argues that after getting to know the reason of his rustication, he may turn against the King. So, he shall send to the fort of the foreign King. It is like a wolf hidden in a flock of sheep. Kaunapadanta says it is better for a prince to live in his own state in case the foreign king instigates him against his father. Kautilya says a Prince shall learn sciences and refrain from allurements like hunting, liquor or women. If he has good qualities, then he may be appointed as commander-in-chief or the heir. If the King has only son, then attempts shall be made to procreate him a son but never a wicked prince shall be installed on the royal throne.
“The Duties of a King” are also explained in detail. Firstly, a King should be strong and energetic as the whole nation is looking up to him and would follow him. Secondly, if he is weak then enemies can easily hurt him. A King shall divide his time for different activities. He shall check accounts and expenditures, look into public matters, eat and study, collect revenue, attend superintendents, attend assembly of ministers, receive secret information through spies, his me-time, supervise infantry and military operations’ strategy with commander-in-chief. A King shall never make his officials and public wait. If he is inaccessible to them then confusions and conflicts shall happen, or he may end up falling prey to the enemies. So, he shall attend businesses himself and never postpone them. Kautilya says the King shall ever be active, he shall find his happiness in his people’s happiness. Being active is the only way to get wealth and successes or otherwise he shall perish along with his kingdom.
The King shall “make villages” on new land or ruins. Each village shall not be less than a hundred families and not more than five hundred families of Shudra caste. Boundaries shall be demarcated by rivers, mountains, caves or forests. Priests and other people who perform rites shall be given lands with the exemption of taxes and fines. Accountants, administrative people, physicians, horse-trainers and messengers shall be given land which they cannot sell. Lands which are ready for cultivations shall be given to taxpayers and those lands which are in process, shall not be taken away from people. Kautilya says that the King shall not only look after old timber forests, buildings and mines but also make new ones.
According to Kautilya, “finance is the most important thing” as many tasks depend on this. Things which constitute in financial prosperity of an empire are public prosperity, capturing thieves, wealth coming from crops, prosperity of commerce, less calamities, less taxes and income in gold. But things which cause harm to treasury include obstruction, fabrication of accounts, loss in revenue, self-enjoyments, trade-offs, misusage of funds etc. Kautilya also describes their punishments. For obstruction, a fine of 10 times of amount is imposed, lending money of treasury and trading by government’s money is punishable for the fine of twice the amount of profit earned, for fabrication the fine is 10 times, an intentional loss of revenue by someone’s doing is 4 times the loss, miscalculation of revenue collected is punished for 12 times of the total amount. There are forty ways of embezzlement and in case of embezzlement, a public announcement is made if there are any people affected by the offender. If someone comes forward then he is paid equally to the amount he lost, by the King.
Arthashastra also explains “remedies against natural calamities”. Eight kinds of natural calamities are there from which a King has to protect his nation. These are fire, floods, pestilential diseases, famine, rats, tigers, serpents, and demons. To prevent fire, cooking shall be made outside in summers, precautionary measures shall be taken, and offerings and prayers shall be made to the fire. To ward off floods, villagers living near rivers shall migrate to up countries in rainy days, boats and bamboos shall be prepared in case of persons affecting from floods, people who are intentionally neglecting rescue shall be fined 12 panas, rivers shall be worshiped, experts in Vedas and mystics shall perform incantations against rain and in case of drought, Indra and Ganges mountains shall be worshiped. To overcome pestilences or plagues, remedial measures shall be taken. Doctors with their medicines and ascetics with their purificatory ceremonies shall try to avoid floods. Moreover, offerings to God, milking cows on ceremonial grounds and spending nights in devotion to God shall also be observed. During famine, the King shall show mercy on people and provide them seeds from his own collection or seeking help from other friend Kings. Other policies include extracting wealth from rich people or the King emigrating to other green lands with his people. The King shall also move with his people towards seas or rivers where water is abundant, and his people can grow crops there or the King shall buy them food by hunting or fishing on a large scale. To ward off danger from the rats, cats and mongooses shall be let out. Those who kill caught rats shall be fined 12 panas. Same punishment is for those who do not control their dogs except for wild tribes. Rituals shall be conducted by ascetics and rats shall be worshiped on new and full moon. To overcome the danger of snakes, remedies shall be taken, and incantations may be done by experts, experts in Atharvaveda shall perform rites, and snakes may also be worshiped on new and full moon. To get rid of tigers, corps of animals filled with the juice of madana plant may be put in different places. They may be caught using nets and weapons. One who neglects a person in the clutches of a tiger shall be punished 12 panas and who kills a tiger, he will be awarded the same amount too. Experts in Atharvaveda and mysticism shall perform rituals to ward off demons. The King shall protect his people from demons as a father to his sons. Such magic experts shall be honored by the King.
According to Kautilya, “the elements of sovereignty” are the King, ministers, country, fort, treasury, army and friends. Then he describes best qualities of them. The best qualities of a King are member of a high family, brave, divine, righteous, truthful, grateful, has set great goals, enthusiastic, powerful, resolute mind, has assembly of high ministers and highly disciplined. The qualities of a good country or state include having capital cities in center and extremities of Kingdom, can maintain its own citizens along with the outsiders in case of calamities, dominates neighboring kingdoms, free from uneven tracks and wild beasts, has fertile lands, abundant waters, bears vast army and taxation, a population of agriculturalists, intellectuals and loyal servants to the King. A good treasury is justly obtained, rich in gold, silver and gems, and can withstand long time calamities. Kautilya says that a wise King is expert in politics and even though he owns a small territory, will conquer the whole earth with the help of his best elements of sovereignty and cannot be defeated.
Arthashastra also discusses a situation where “a weak King is attacked by a powerful King”. In this situation, Bharadvaja says that the weak King shall surrender, and it is the same as bowing before Indra, the God of Rain. Visalaksha says that the weak King should fight with all of his might because it is the duty of a Kshatriya despite of the fact that he wins or not. Kautilya says that he who completely surrenders, lives his life in despair. When a weak King fights a strong King, it’s like crossing a sea without boat. So, the weak King either seek help from a powerful King or seek refuge in an impenetrable fort. There are three types of invaders defined: just, greedy and demon-like conqueror. A just conqueror is satisfied with only respect, the greedy one needs lads and wealth but the demon-like not only needs wealth and family of the weak king but also his life. So, the weak King shall seek help of the first, satisfy second one with wealth and for the third one, he should keep a distance between them by offering him land and wealth.
In my opinion, Kautilya’s Arthashastra is much relevant in the 21st century. It has discussed so many points which are still present in states too. For example, issue of the purity or loyalty of ministers, institution of spies or now-a-days intelligent agencies, danger of attack of a strong state on weak state etc. States still interact on the basis on their interests, treasury or the finance department is the most important one in state functioning, embezzlements happen, the phenomenon of war is there, new towns have to be made, where monarchy is present those states still have issues related to princes or heirs and throne, public has grievances related to leaders and many more. In short, Arthashastra has everything which could occur in a state and it is a complete book to run a country under proper rules and regulations as it was written for the same very purpose by Kautilya for the King Chandragupta Maurya.
As far as the strengths and weaknesses of Arthashastra are concerned, I think its strengths are unmeasurable as discussed earlier as well. It is a comprehensive treatise beneficial for a country. But the weakness which I came across is that some points are really hard to digest. E.g., the part where the protection of princes is discussed, how can a King enlock his own kid just under the suspicion of future treason or send him to another King’s fort? It is something strange. Moreover, Arthashastra was written on Hindu Ideologies for an Indian Empire. There are various points where Hindu ideology clashes with other religions and ideologies. So, it would be difficult for non-Hindu states to follow those rules in the same sense. It is biased towards Hinduism.
In a nutshell, Arthashastra is a very good example and a guide to achieve a state’s interests inside and outside its boundaries. This clearly defines how a leader, its ministers, cabinet, officials, and people should be to acquire the best in their favor. Kautilya devised a state structure for public welfare which is needed in the 21st century world too where states still vague wars, directly and indirectly. States are struggling hard to survive because their state structure is messed up. If Arthashastra is followed in its true sense, then, I think, states would clearly see a difference in the aftermath of their decisions. The consequences would be good for all whether it is state, officials or the common people. But the states should imply those rules and policies keeping in view their political structure as well, as empires no more exist. But still, its policies are much relevant to gain successes for the state’s betterment.
Whose Human Rights Matter?
Every year, the US State Department publishes a report on the human rights situation in various countries around the world. The report reviews the various aspects of human rights in the countries over the previous year. In line with this, on March 20, 2023, the United States released the ”2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practises” on the global human rights situation and various aspects of human rights across the countries over the previous year. The report highlighted several aspects of the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh.
The report shed light on extrajudicial killings, disappearances, restrictions on freedom of expression, media censorship, and other significant issues in Bangladesh. But what is most surprising is that the report said that the national election held in Bangladesh in 2018 was not free and fair! As Bangladesh stands on the cusp of yet another national election following a five-year span, the sudden inclusion of the 2018 elections in the US report has naturally piqued interest and raised questions.
The historical, cultural, and political contexts of various countries, including Western nations, as well as their foreign policy objectives, have a significant impact on how they approach human rights. However, it is often the case that geopolitical interests and bilateral relations are given the utmost priority. Western countries, especially the US, are lenient on human rights with partners and allies, but tough on countries outside their circle or without political interests.
In recent times, there has been a change in the attitude of the United States towards Bangladesh. When it comes to foreign policy, Washington mainly prioritises national security and national interests. The Biden administration is currently focusing mainly on two issues. One is human rights and democratic values, and the second is consolidating their position in the Indo-Pacific region. And there is no denying that the US wants Bangladesh to be a part of their Indo-Pacific strategy.
The US-led Indo-Pacific strategy aims to counter China’s influence in South and Southeast Asia through partnerships with India, Japan, and Australia. While the US claims the strategy is not aimed at deterring any specific country, analysts believe the recent shift in US attitude towards Bangladesh is primarily driven by a desire to deter China’s influence in the country. It is worth mentioning that China is now Bangladesh’s largest development partner.
Bangladesh has maintained a balanced policy, avoiding alignment with major powers, but the US seems reluctant to agree with this strategy. Washington appears eager to determine Bangladesh’s stance, presenting a clear message: align with us or choose the opposing side. Analysts suggest that pressuring Bangladesh with human rights and democratic concerns may be part of the US strategy to force Bangladesh to curtail its engagement with China.
Perhaps it will be a daunting task to find a single country that has been able to ensure human rights for everyone. The brutal killing of George Floyd or the inhumane treatment of black people is a shining example of how human rights are constantly violated in the United States. According to a recent report from the influential British newspaper The Guardian, US drones and airstrikes have alone killed about 22,000 civilians in the 20 years since 9/11.
The United Nations Human Rights Council reported that over 8,000 civilians have lost their lives due to Russian aggression in Ukraine, leading to Western condemnation of Russia for grave human rights violations. While Russia holds responsibility for these deaths, it is ironic that the United States’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which resulted in civilian casualties, did not receive similar criticism as human rights violations. Likewise, the US rarely speaks out against Israel for violations of Palestinian human rights.
Regrettably, China, a formidable global power that frequently espouses a vision of a new world order centred around its influence, appears to show little interest in human rights. China has long maintained favourable relations with authoritarian countries like Myanmar and North Korea, which are frequently criticised for their human rights records. Despite its massive influence over Myanmar, China has consistently sidestepped the issue of human rights for the Rohingya and provided invisible support to the Myanmar military in this regard.
It is important to acknowledge that China, too, has faced similar allegations of human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslim community and constraints on political rights inside its territory. Ultimately, it has become ironic to anticipate impartial conduct from any nation when it comes to human rights, as the notion of neutrality has lost its essence in this context. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations has never really been universal; rather, the issue of human rights has unfortunately been turned into a political tool for self-interest.
Democracy in Disarray: India’s Uphill Battle against an Escalating Surge of Anti-Democratic Sentiments
India has consistently bragged about being the world’s largest democracy and having an ostensibly ‘secular’ outlook for many decades. The Nehruvian political ideology, which espoused the virtues of secularism as an important pillar of the Indian nation, served as the initial foundation for India’s political landscape after gaining independence. India has significantly departed from its once-celebrated founding principles in modern times, with the RSS BJP dispensation now in power embracing a narrow ideology based on “Hindutva” ideals. Therefore, several well-known Western media outlets have recently expressed their concerns about this apparent change and the implications of India’s ongoing democratic ‘backslide’. Despite India’s rise to one of the world’s most rapidly expanding economies and its crucial role in U.S.-led efforts to balance China, it is difficult to ignore the concurrent rise in repressive measures aimed at stifling dissent within its borders.
Unfortunately, the international community has mostly held back from openly criticizing New Delhi in an effort to preserve a strategic alliance. Most foreign governments, with the exception of Beijing and Islamabad, view India as a crucial trading partner and are therefore reluctant to express their concerns. Even leaders of the Muslim world have kept their opinions on the plight of underprivileged Muslims in India relatively quiet. It is true that self-interest, rather than moral obligations, predominately drives international relations. However, New Delhi’s significance to India’s democratic fabric ensures that the country’s deterioration of democratic standards remains a significant topic of discussion.
India frequently highlights its achievements, from the smooth operation of elections to the unwavering submission to civilian authority, and is proud to wear the title of “world’s largest democracy”. Additionally, programs like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and broader international cooperation aimed at confronting China are frequently presented as a joint effort by democratically inclined countries. In response to the stark reality of India’s democratic erosion, many parties have expressed concern, particularly among Western observers. Therefore, economic and strategic concerns are frequently cited as the reason why the international community is reluctant to discuss this issue openly, but India’s importance to its democratic credentials keeps discussions about its democratic trajectory ablaze.
On the other hand, the Indian authorities’ escalating persecution of journalists and online critics due to their criticism of government policies and practices, as exemplified by their use of counterterrorism and sedition laws to prosecute them, represents a flagrant disregard for the basic right to freedom of expression. The Indian authorities must show respect for this fundamental human right, immediately release journalists who have been wrongfully detained on false or politically motivated charges as a result of their critical reporting, and stop systematic persecution of journalists and repression of independent media. India must be prepared for whatever may happen as the world continues to embrace it more and more. It is crucial to understand that New Delhi will feel more empowered to intensify its repressive crackdowns inside its borders the more leniency and immunity it receives.
The fact that the United States and India lack a formal treaty alliance must be acknowledged, although they have developed a comprehensive strategic partnership that spans diplomatic, defense, and developmental interests. However, the alignment of these interests suggests a significant change in their relationship since the Cold War ended. Three main factors are responsible for this transformation. First, after the communist model fell apart in 1991, India shifted its attention to the West by embracing globalization and market economics. Second, despite India’s non-signatory status to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the relations between the two countries have become closer as a result of India’s emergence as a nuclear-armed power and the willingness to accept it into the international civil nuclear regime. Finally, China’s emergence as a regional power with global ambitions forced reluctant leaders in New Delhi and Washington, D.C., to acknowledge the necessity of combining their efforts lest they individually suffer the consequences.
The consolidation of a Hindu-majoritarian political style, the excessive concentration of power within the executive branch and the ensuing erosion of independent institutions, and the repression of political dissent and press freedom are the three main areas of concern when evaluating India’s regression in terms of democracy. While each of these issues is significant in and of itself, the presence of all of them together poses a serious threat to Indian democracy as a whole. The foundations of the U.S.-India strategic partnership, America’s broader interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and international initiatives aimed at promoting democracy will all be jeopardized if India’s democratic decline continues. This includes social stability and prosperity for more than a billion Indians.
Modi’s State Visit to the US: Expansive Engagement
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has travelled to the United States several times since 2014, for bilateral and multilateral visits but from June 21 to 24 he will be on an official state visit to Washington DC. White House press secretary announced that “the President and the First Lady are looking forward to welcoming PM Modi for the official state visit on 22nd June. This will be an opportunity to reaffirm the deep and close partnership between US-India.” Upon his arrival, Modi will receive an official welcome and hold bilateral meetings and delegation level talks. President Joe and First Lady Jill Biden will be hosting a state dinner in his honour. In a singular opportunity granted only to the closest allies of the United States, Modi will be addressing a joint session of the American Congress during his visit to the States.
It is noteworthy that a Democratic President is inviting the Indian Prime Minister for a White House state dinner, while a Republic Speaker has asked him to address the joint session of Congress, indicating bipartisan support for augmenting Indo-US ties.
State visits at the highest level of protocol are rare in the American system, and PM Modi is just the third state visitor during the Biden Presidency. Historically, Modi will be the third Indian leader ever invited for a state visit to the US, since those of President Radha Krishna 1963 and Prime Minister ManMohan Singh in 2009. During the state dinner hosted by President Obama for PM Singh, the two leaders spoke augustly about a “future that beckons all of us.” Modi’s state visit will also be one of the longest of any leader to the US. So in many ways this visit is a significant signalling of the prominence that the US accords to its relations with India. On the agenda are agreements on trade, defence and critical minerals and significant progression of the Indo-US defence partnership, with the signing of a joint production agreement.
Ahead of Modi’s state visit, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is in India on a two-day visit to explore ways to lay the groundwork for highly anticipated agreements on bilateral defence cooperation, especially in areas of transfer of critical technologies for co-development of military hardware.
With bilateral trade reaching a record-breaking $191 billion last year, U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) will also be hosting the INDUS-X conference, and scheduled to be held over two days in Washington coinciding with Mr. Modi’s visit.
Building Strategic Linkages over Two Decades:
After decades of intermittently frigid relations, Washington’s ties with New Delhi have grown significantly closer over the past twenty years. trade and investment flows have grown alongside shared geostrategic interests and China’s growing presence and assertiveness in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region is a concern for both. This rapprochement accelerated markedly after the Bush administration lifted the sanctions imposed after India’s nuclear test, and the completion of the Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Initiative. Since Narendra Modi came to power almost a decade ago, security and economic links with the US have enhanced conspicuously, alongside deepening security cooperation like counterterrorism around shared interests limiting China’s influence in the broader Indo-Pacific. President Barack Obama declared India a “major defence partner” and the Trump administration’s growing concerns about China’s regional assertiveness-including along the Sino-Indian border-cemented the U.S.-India security partnership. India was included alongside the United States, Australia, and Japan-as a counterweight to Chinese ambitions in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the ‘Quad.’
New Delhi and Wasington signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 which provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale of high-end technology from the US to India. This was followed by the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries. The pact provides Billions of dollars in American arms purchases were finalised by the Modi government though it did not accede to Trump’s demands to stop purchasing the S-400 and other Russian military equipment.
Biden Seeks to Broaden Ties:
Advancing on these two decades of deepening strategic linkages the Biden administration has sought to further broaden the scope of the strategic partnership between the two countries and deepen Indian integration into a shared security architecture. With more robust military cooperation such as acceleration of joint military exercises, there has also been revival of the US-India Homeland Security Dialogue, which seeks to strengthen cooperation on cybersecurity, technology, and countering violent extremism. These security-oriented steps with steps have been complemented with initiatives such as the launching of a Clean Energy 2030 partnership, etc. Both leaders oversaw the launch of the India-US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (ICET) during the Quad summit in May 2022. One of the most important results of the ICET was the commencement of negotiations on the General Electric (GE) deal to produce GE-F414 jet engines in India, complete with technology transfer. In February this year the historic deal between Boeing and Air India for the latter to buy more than 200 planes from the American plane manufacturer was announced. Air India is ordering 220 Boeing aircraft valued at $34 billion. The orders include 190 737 Max aircraft, 20 of Boeing’s 787s, and 10 of its 777Xs. The purchase also includes customer options for an additional 50 737 MAXs and 20 of its 787s, totaling 290 aeroplanes for a total of $45.9 billion at list price. In a phone call both leaders discussed the importance of the US-India strategic technology partnership and committed to continue working together and in groups like the Quad to advance economic growth and expand cooperation on their shared priorities.
Deliverables of the Upcoming State visit:
The signing of the MoU with General Electric deal will be the biggest deliverable of Prime Minister Modi’s State visit to the US. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has selected 99 F414 GE fighter jet engines to power the Mk II version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force. GE was engaged by the Biden administration, and a proposal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) officials was arrived at. The agreement is to build GE-F414-INS6 engines that will power Tejas-Mk II Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) being built by HAL. The engine of the Mk II works at super high temperatures, is the maximum thrust model in the F-414 model, and includes state-of-the-art technology to meet India’s demanding Air Force and Naval requirements. Although the final details of the agreement will only be clear once the MoU is signed, it is likely that the transfer of technology (ToT) and the percentage of locally manufactured components will exceed 60%, possibly reaching 75%.
Other deliverables include the go ahead New Delhi’s plan to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones at a cost of over $3 billion from US defence major General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.
The US is already India’s largest goods trading partner and the only major country with which India has a goods trade surplus. There is also tremendous excitement in the business community over the launch of the initiative INDUS-X, a platform for start-ups and enterprises from both countries to identify collaborations for high-tech innovations within the ambit of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET).
Given the kind of aspirations India has in terms of manufacturing, the US is a critical partner. The US has expressed on a number of occasions that it sees the rise of India to be in its interests. Both administrations have shown tremendous excitement for the “defence innovation bridge” of which the GE deal is just one element.
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