New on my other blogs

A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel


17 October, 2017

Budget cuts hit war on hunger

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Global Hunger Index report, released last week, came as a shock to India as it indicated a steep fall in its rank during the past three years.

The GHI rank had improved continuously under the Manmohan Singh government. From 67 in 2011 it moved up to 66 in 2012, to 63 in 2013 and to 55 in 2014, the year Narendra Modi came to power. Then it fell –to 80 in 2015, to 97 in 2016 and to 100 this year.

GHI is a multidimensional statistical tool developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, and has been in use since 2006 to measure the extent of progress in the fight against hunger.

The IFPRI figures led to a storm of criticism in the social media against the Modi administration. The government’s supporters questioned the claim that there had been a steep fall in India’s rank.

Pratik Sinha of Alt News, which specialises in fact-checking of media reports, found substance in their arguments. Until a few years ago, IFPRI had prepared the global chart after dropping from the list countries whose GHI was less than five. When these countries are also included, India’s rank during the last six years was as follows: 2012 – 106 out of 120; 2013 – 105 out of 120; 2014 – 99 out of 120; 2015 – 93 out of 117; 2016 – 97 out of 118; and 2017 – 100 out of 119.

While these figures dispel the impression of a huge setback in the fight against hunger, they confirm that there has been a reversal in the trend since Modi came to power, promising the people achche din (good days).

What’s more, India’s GHI rank is worse than that of North Korea (93) and Iraq (78). Its GHI score of 31.4 puts it at the top of the countries with a “serious” hunger situation.

India’s poor record has made South Asia, where all countries with the exception of Pakistan (106) rank higher than it, the worst performing region.

Ironically, India, which is the world’s second largest producer of food, also has the world’s second highest undernourished population. “A high GDP growth rate alone is no guarantee of food and nutrition security for India’s vast majority,” Nivedita Varshneya, a co-author of the GHI report said.

The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s 2017 report also showed India in a poor light. It said 1.45 billion people in the 103 countries it surveyed are multidimensionally poor, and of them 689 million (48 per cent) are children. India accounted for 31 per cent of these children.

The reason why India, which was making slow gains in the fight against hunger, started losing two years ago is easy to explain. For a long time, spending on health has hovered around one per cent of the GDP. In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP promised to raise spending to three per cent. But allocation for health shrank under the Modi regime.

In 2015, in his first full budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley reduced the Health Ministry’s allocation by about Rs 59 billion. Spending on public health was cut by eight per cent and the outlay on the National Health Mission slashed by 20 per cent.

The following year the Economic Survey called for increased investment on child nutrition programmes in order to capitalise on the demographic advantage offered by the young population. Yet in the 2016 budget Jaitley cut the provision for child health intervention from Rs 154.8 billion to Rs 140 billion. The allocation for the mid-day meal scheme for school children was also reduced.

Jaitley has defended the lower allocations on health and education, saying the states lack the capacity to spend and the funds provided in the past were not fully utilised.

Some states have found money from their own revenues to make up for the shortfall in Central allocations. This is not an option open to the poor states.

In March, the government placed before Parliament a national health policy, which Health Minister JP Nadda described as a milestone. It sets 2025 as target date for increasing state expenditure on health to 2.5 per cent of the GDP and reducing the number of households facing “catastrophic health expenditure” which now stands at 25 per cent.

Raising nutrition level does not figure among the priority areas identified in the policy document. This betrays lack of appreciation of the role of a healthy citizenry in achieving the nation’s development goals. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 17, 2017.

10 October, 2017

Self-perpetuating judiciary

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Supreme Court last week opened the door a wee bit to make known to the public how judges are appointed and transferred but the basic weakness of the process remains unaddressed.

The Constitution which came into force in 1950 empowered the President to appoint the Chief Justices and judges of the superior courts after consultations with such judges as he may deem necessary. Since he is required to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers, the Executive had primacy in the process.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India to the President will have primacy but conceded it could be refused for “cogent reasons”.

Through a 1993 judgment it brought into being institutions called collegiums of judges, comprising the Chief Justice and the seniormost judges, to formulate recommendations with regard to appointments and transfers of judges.

In 1998 AB Vajpayee’s government, through a presidential reference, sought reconsideration of the matter by the court. If it expected the court to moderate its position, that didn’t happen.

The three Court decisions upset the constitutional system of mutual checks and balances and made India’s Judiciary the only one in the world with the authority to choose its personnel. The Executive’s role in the appointment of judges was reduced to that of a postman through whom the CJI conveyed the collegium’s decisions to the President.

The changes came about when the Executive was patently weak.

The issue was debated in public forums and a political consensus emerged over the creation of a National Judicial Appointments Commission in which both the Executive and Judiciary will be represented. The Manmohan Singh government drafted a bill to set up the NJAC but was voted out before it could be taken up in Parliament.

Within three months of assumption of office Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed through both houses of Parliament a constitutional amendment as well as a regular law. They provided for a six-member NJAC, comprising the CJI and his two seniormost colleagues, the Union Law Minister and two eminent persons to be nominated by a committee comprising the CJI, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Although the Judiciary had an edge over the Executive in the NJAC the CJI blocked its formation by declining to serve on it as also to join the PM and the Opposition leader in the selection of its two independent members. A five-judge bench presided over by the CJI struck down the new enactments as unconstitutional and restored the collegium system.

It soon came to light that the collegium was not working the way it was supposed to work. Justice J Chelameswar, a member of the Supreme Court collegium, said successive CJIs had treated collegium members as supplicants and judges had been selected on personal requests of collegium members. He refused to attend collegium meetings and limited his participation in the process of selection of judges to submitting written comments on circulated minutes of its meetings.

Fresh questions about the working of the collegium arose last month when High Court judge Jayant Patel resigned after he was transferred twice, denying him the opportunity of becoming the Chief Justice. While at the Gujarat High Court he had ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the encounter killing of a teenage girl Ishrat Jahan and three others.

It was against this background that the collegium headed by Dipak Misra, who became the CJI last August, decided to go public with its decisions. Accordingly a statement was uploaded on the court’s website outlining the reasons why the collegium rejected three names and deferred decision on one while selecting six new judges for the Madras High Court.

The post indicated that there were adverse Intelligence Bureau reports on the professional and personal image of two candidates and that the third was facing an inquiry. All three are members of the subordinate judiciary and the published information raises the question whether they are fit to hold their present jobs. It is not known if those rejected on the basis of intelligence reports were given the opportunity to counter them.

The legal fraternity welcomed the development but some of them felt it did not go far enough. “What is the transparency here?” asked former Law Commission Chairman Justice AP Shah. He wanted the names of prospective judges to be revealed before the collegium took decisions.

The collegium system suffers from weaknesses which cosmetic measures cannot cure. If it is not democratic for a bunch of ministers or parliamentarians to pick the next lot to be entrusted with their responsibilities, how can it be democratic for a bunch of judges to do so? A closed system cannot ensure diversity and democratic accountability. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 10, 2017.

03 October, 2017

Worrisome economic portents

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lifted the Indian economy up, making it more competitive than it has ever been, the World Economic Forum said in a report last week. Ironically, the testimonial came as he was coping with the adverse effects of demonetisation of high-value currency notes and introduction of goods and service tax (GST).

Cheer leaders at home, aided by the quiescent media, were working overtime to create the impression that all was hunky-dory. A senior leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Yashwant Sinha, pricked the bubble. “The economy is on the downward spiral, is poised for a hard landing,” he said. “Many in the BJP know it but do not say it out of fear.”

In a long, clumsy sentence, Sinha gave a worrisome picture of the economy: “Private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, agriculture is in distress, construction, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, the rest of the service is also in the slow lane, exports have dwindled, sector after sector is in distress, demonetisation has proved to be an unmitigated disaster, a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs with hardly any new opportunities coming the way of the new entrants to the labour market.”

Sinha, who had resigned from the Indian Administrative Service and entered politics in 1984, was Finance Minister in Janata Dal leader Chandra Shekhar’s government. Later he joined the BJP and served in AB Vajpayee’s government first as Finance Minister and then as External Affairs Minister.

Modi did not respond to Sinha’s criticism. He assigned the task to Sinha’s son and Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Jayant Sinha, who claimed the government had created a robust new economy which would power long-term growth and job creation.

Sensing that the son’s defence was weak, three senior members of the government, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal joined the fray. Jaitley insinuated that Yashwant Sinha, who is 80, was wangling for his job.

Before Sinha, two other BJP leaders, Subramanian Swamy and Arun Shourie, had criticised the government’s handling of the economy but few took them seriously as they are disgruntled elements.

More often than not, an economic decline is the result of factors beyond the government’s control like a bad monsoon which ruins agriculture or external developments which push up oil prices. There has been no such development in the recent past.

What has brought about the present situation is Modi’s attempt to replicate the reforms with which he had supposedly transformed Gujarat’s economy as its chief minister. Within three months of assumption of office he wound up the Planning Commission and brought into being a think tank named National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Ayog, modelled after China’s National Development and Reforms Commission. He also abolished the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, a body of experts which had helped his predecessors by providing independent advice.

Under the new dispensation, sectors like education and health suffered. Much of the money allocated for these sectors went into institution building, resulting in a shortfall in the funds available for improving the lot of the people, especially the poor.

In an insightful analysis, Professor Maitresh Ghatak of the London School of Economics said Modi did not have on Gujarat’s economy the transformative effect he was touted to have. His centralised style of governance might have worked in Gujarat but was unsuited for running the economy of a country as large and diverse as India.

Ghatak welcomed the revival of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. “We do need experts,” he said, adding: “We also need a government that listens to them.”

Making a pointed reference to the exit of Raghuram Rajan, who was Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and Arvind Panagariya, who was Vice-Chairman of NITI Ayog, he wished the new group of experts would have a long tenure and freedom to pursue policies that would lead to course correction.

The immediate challenge before Modi, who has to face the electorate in 2019, is to create jobs to absorb the one million people entering the workforce each month. According to government figures, currently job creation stands at just over 10,000 a month. -Gulf Today, October 3, 2017

26 September, 2017

Grave threat to free media

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India is turning out to be an increasingly dangerous place for journalists. Even as a wave of protests over the gruesome murder of Gauri Lankesh, a gutsy journalist, at Bangalore early this month was sweeping the country, two more were done to death, one in Tripura and the other in Punjab.

Gauri Lankesh, a bilingual journalist who edited a Kannada weekly which bore her name and wrote for English publications, was shot dead at her residence on Sept.5. The killers remain unidentified.

Shantanu Bhowmik, a reporter of Din-Raat, a television channel, was beaten to death while recording a clash between the police and workers of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) at Mandai in Tripura in the northeast. Police made two arrests the same day.

Karan Jeet Singh, 66, a veteran journalist who was working for online media after quitting mainstream publications, was found dead in his house at Mohali in Punjab with his throat slit and several stab injuries on his body. The unknown assailants also strangled to death his 92-year-old mother.

The three journalists are believed to have been silenced by groups annoyed by their professional work.

Gauri Lankesh was a trenchant critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva plank. The needle of suspicion, therefore, pointed to groups associated with its ideological parent, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. She was killed in circumstances similar to those attending the unresolved murder of Narenra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare of Maharashtra and MM Kalburgi of Karnataka, all of them scholars whose writings had angered the Hindutva camp.

Pro-RSS cyber campaigners sought to deflect suspicion away from the Hindutva elements by drawing attention to Gauri Lankesh’s writings critical of Karnataka’s Congress government and her role in persuading a group of Naxalites to abandon the path of violence.

The Tripura police said IPFT men might have targeted Bhowmik as he was a member of the CPI(M).

KJ Singh’s assailants took away his car and a television set but the Punjab police ruled out theft as the motive of the crime since they had left other valuables behind.

The number of media persons killed since 2014 now stands at 13. With attacks on the rise and authorities failing to bring the culprits to book the safety of journalists and the state of press freedom have emerged as matters of grave concern.

In a report released early this year the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had said 42 journalists were killed in India in the last 25 years. This was the fourth highest number of murder of journalists for reasons connected with their work, after Mexico and Russia (38 each) and Brazil (37).

Parliament was told last July that the National Crime Records Bureau, which began collating data relating to attacks on journalists in 2014, had reported 142 instances of assault during two years and 73 persons were arrested in connection with them.

Three large Hindi-speaking states accounted for most of the cases: Uttar Pradesh 64, Madhya Pradesh 26, Bihar 22. Madhya Pradesh accounted for 42 of the 73 arrests.

It is rare that journalists working for the large English-language newspapers, who know which side of the bread is buttered, are targeted. Most of the victims are low-paid reporters working for the regional media. For this reason the attacks did not attract national attention until recently. 

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index placed India at the 136th position among 180 countries. Outlining the situation in the country, it said, “Journalists are increasingly the target of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.”

The government dismissed the RWB report, saying “it does not portray a proper and comprehensive picture of freedom of the press in India”.

The recent cases of attacks on journalists have to be viewed against the growing climate of intolerance and the attempts by the ruling Establishment to emasculate the media.

According to Sohini Chattopadhyay, a columnist, what is going on is not just murder of journalists but murder of journalism itself. She writes: “The attacks are relentless – an editor fired here, a legal notice there, a TV show cancelled abruptly, a blackout of a TV channel. The majority of legacy media outlets, owned by corporate entities, have aligned themselves to toe the government line.”

Most of the journalists who came under attack were covering politics and corruption. The state’s poor record in handling cases of attacks on media persons contributes directly to the impunity with which those who dislike a free press operate. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 26, 2017.

19 September, 2017

A Bullet train at high cost

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The launch of the 508-kilometre high-speed railway project, which will link Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s industrial hub, with Mumbai, India’s financial capital, is sure to boost the prospects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the assembly elections in his home state but there is much scepticism across the country over its intrinsic worth.

Modi and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe jointly inaugurated work on the mammoth project last week at Sabarmati, the Ahmedabad suburb where Gandhi had set up an ashram on his return from South Africa 102 years ago. Assembly elections are due in the state in December and the Opposition dubbed the event as inauguration of the BJP’s poll campaign.

Many view the proposed railway with Japanese style bullet trains moving at 320 kmph, which will cut travel time between the two cities from eight hours at present to a mere two hours, as a symbol of the New India that Modi is talking about.

Modi made an attempt to make the gullible believe that Abe is giving the Rs 1,100 billion project virtually free. The claim is based on Japan’s grant of a loan of Rs 880 billion, repayable over 50 years with an annual interest of 0.1 per cent, for this project.

Only two per cent of the high-speed line will run on the ground. As much as 92 per cent will be elevated and six per cent in a tunnel. Seven kilometres of the 21-km tunnel will be under the sea.

If the project is completed on schedule, the first bullet train will run in 2023. Modi is urging officials to advance it by a year. The project will be viable only if 40,000 passengers use it daily, paying Rs 3,000 to travel one way.

It remains to be seen how many people will switch from plane or night train to the bullet. In the 1960’s, Vikram Sarabhai, the father of Indian space science, travelled each week from his Ahmedabad base to Delhi on Monday, from Delhi to Mumbai on Wednesday and from Mumbai to Ahmedabad on Friday. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad journey was always by a night train. He said that helped him save daytime for work.

It will, of course, be wrong to draw a general lesson from one person’s experience. However, the proposed fare does appear to be a factor which may limit the bullet train’s appeal.

Japan has had a good deal. A pioneer of bullet train technology with large idle capacity it has been looking for foreign customers for years. The only one it could find so far was Taiwan. The United States did not show interest in its offers. Two years ago Indonesia picked China to execute its $5.5 billion bullet train project.

From India’s point of view, the crucial question is whether the project, as now conceived, is in its best interest.

Critics pooh-pooh Modi’s claim that the project comes virtually free of cost. Japan, they say, has done no favour in providing loan to cover more than 80 per cent of the cost of the project at a low rate of interest. In view of stiff competition with Chinese and European conglomerates, in the past 10 years it has offered loans at near-zero and even negative rates of interest.

They also point out that the interest payable by India may actually work out to three per cent or more as over the 50 years of the loan period the rupee is likely to depreciate against the yen. Besides, the agreement binds India down to use 35 per cent of the money to buy overpriced Japanese technology.

The strongest criticism of the project came from Jawed Usmani, a retired bureaucrat who was involved in the discussions with the Japanese by the Manmohan Singh government 12 years ago. He insinuated that the Japanese had tricked India into buying an expensive toy. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bulletin train would need to be subsidised forever as the operations would not be economical, he said.

India’s rail system is one of the world’s largest. It runs 12,000 passenger trains which transport 23 million people and 7,000 freight trains which carry 2.65 million tonnes of goods each day. Its finances are in a bad shape, forcing it to look up to government for assistance and to delay investments in maintenance of tracks and rolling stock.

The government has shown poor judgment in giving priority to the high-cost bullet train project over measures to ensure rail safety such as filling posts of maintenance and signalling staff and doing away with unmanned level crossings. Nearly 60 major rail accidents have occurred since 2010 and more than 25,000 were killed while crossing railway lines last year. -gulf Today, Sharjah, September 19, 2017.

13 September, 2017

Journo Murder: Outlook article

A Life Defined By Fierce Agitations

A Hindutva surge that is end angering democracy worried Gauri. Her end highlights the risks serious journalism faces.


Gauri Lankesh belonged to a generation of young people who came into journalism in the 1980s when the press, mostly under a new crop of editors, was celebrating its freedom re-won after the Emergency that had forced it to go into subservience. She honed her skills, reporting on Karnataka developments for the English-language media. In the fullness of time, as most of her contemporaries settled down comfortably as upholders of the Establishment, Gauri metamorphosed into a restless, doughty anti-Establishment warrior.

The transformation of the scribe into an activist came into full view as Gauri switched to Kannada journalism on the death of her father, P. Lankesh, in 2000. He was a multifaceted personality and the founder-editor of the popular weekly Lankesh Patrike, whose conduct as a fighting paper blazed a new trail in Kannada journalism. Without leaving room for advertisers to dictate his agenda, Lankesh carved a niche role for his 1980-founded journal by vigorously championing the cause of the weak and the downtrodden, particularly the Dalits, peasants and women. Gauri carried forward the tradition with fresh vigour. Under her, the Lankesh brand acquired a new life. Five years later, she floated a new journal, appropriately styled as Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
Human rights issues were a major concern of hers and they started claiming much of Gauri’s energy and time. All the same, there was no weakening of her commitment to investigative journalism. She reportedly assured friends that she would continue to publish exposes as that was what a journalist was meant to do. Gauri made all causes that she considered just and legitimate and brought to bear a deep sense of commitment to them. She began reaching out beyond Karnataka, and identified herself, in the immediate past, with the struggles of the students of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Dalits of Gujarat and the youths of Kashmir. Agitations became a part of Gauri’s life and agitators became even members of her extended family.
She was an agitator with a problem-solving mind. At one stage, Gauri bent her energies towards dissuading the Maoists and the predatory state from continuing along the path of violence. Her efforts led to a few persons giving up arms and resettling to lead peaceful lives.
The rise of Hindutva worried Gauri. For, she saw it as a grave danger to India’s fragile democracy and a severe threat to its age-old secular fabric. As lawless elements enjoying the patronage of the Hindutva establishment unleas­hed terror across the country, hers was one of the loudest voices against it.
Gauri was disturbed by Karnataka dev­elopments that indicated attempts to convert the state into the Gujarat of the South. When the state was under President’s rule in November 2007 after a spell under a Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition, she cited specific instances to show that much of the media had been saffronised. The varsities were being coerced to accept Sangh Parivar’s demands, she alleged, adding that Muslims, Dalits and backward classes were coming under attack, and the police were playing a partisan role. Late last year, a court found her guilty in a case of defamation filed by two BJP leaders. Gauri was sentenced to six months’ impr­isonment and fined too. She was immediately granted bail, pending appeal, but the BJP’s IT cell allegedly used the conviction to threaten other journalists who did not toe its line.
Dwelling on the situation in the state at the time, Gauri said, “In Karnataka today we are living in such times that Modi bhakts and the Hindutva brigade welcome killings, as in the case of Dr M.M. Kalburgi, and celebrate deaths, as in the case of U.R. Ananthamurthy, of those who oppose their ideology, their party and their supreme leader, Narendra Modi.” She added, “They are keen to somehow shut me up too. A jail stint for me would have warmed the cockles of their hearts”.
This September 5, they somehow did it. That evening as Gauri returned from work, three armed men intruded into Gauri’s house and shot her at point-blank range, killing her instantly. Gauri certainly was not unaware that she was living a dangerous life. Personal safety was not an issue that bothered her unduly. Individuals or inst­itutions were never her prim­ary concern. She was primarily concerned about the state of her society and polity.  
Gauri’s martyrdom momentarily highlighted the risks that serious journalism faces today. September 6 saw a spontan­eous display of solidarity by not only journalists but civil society country-­wide. But the total silence of the only two men who matter in the Establi­sh­ment and the gleeful celebration of her murder by Hindutards (incidentally reminiscent of the distribution of sweets by Hindu communalists after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948) remind us that there is a battle ahead that needs to be fought to make safe our democracy and its institutions, including the media. That is a battle to be fought not in the studios of corporate television but in the citadels of democracy, and perhaps even in the streets where Gandhi had fought his battles.


12 September, 2017

Rejig of India-China relations

The global scenario may be changing but the security and diplomatic establishments of India and China are not free from the hangover of the past.

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India-China relations underwent some quick changes in the last fortnight. For two and a half months the two countries were in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at Doklam, high up in the Himalayas. Just ahead of the five-nation BRICS summit at Xiamen they ended the face-off to facilitate its smooth conduct.

The joint declaration issued at the end of the summit contained enough material for both the countries to claim diplomatic successes for themselves.

The Doklam face-off, which was accompanied by beating of war drums, had raised fears of a clash of arms although it was obvious that the Himalayan heights were not the best place for a test of military strength. The imminence of the scheduled summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) prompted the two sides to wind down.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have found it difficult to go to Xiamen when Indian and Chinese troops were staring at each other at Doklam. His absence would have robbed the summit of much of its significance since India is the second most important member of the group. China was the host and President Xi Jinping was keen that the summit should succeed.

The two governments differed in their interpretation of the terms of the Doklam disengagement. They were aware of each other’s need to satisfy domestic sentiments. If they were equally solicitous of each other’s strategic interests, the face-off might not have occurred.

China underestimated India’s readiness to step in to protect Bhutan’s interests which are intertwined with its own. India did not show sufficient sensitivity to China’s interests while cosying up to the United States.

China is a regional power which, by virtue of its increased economic clout, is a candidate for global-power status. Though way behind China in economic strength, India is moving in the same direction. As nations with similar ambitions, they are bound to find themselves in circumstances of competition from time to time. But the best chance of attaining their common goal lies in friendly competition rather than hostile confrontation.

Like the Doklam formula, the joint declaration issued at Xiamen was interpreted differently by India and China to satisfy people at home.

For a nation with global ambitions, India, under Modi, has limited the contours of its foreign policy parochially. As a global issue, terrorism was on the BRICS agenda. A few days before the summit, a Chinese spokeswoman, answering a newsman’s question, referred to India’s reservations about Pakistan’s counter-terrorism record and said it was not an appropriate topic for discussion at the summit.

That didn’t prevent Modi from raising the issue at other international forums. The declaration adopted at the summit, for the first time, named two Pakistan-based militant outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaishe-e-Mohammad, whose activities have been directed against India. The government claimed this was the result of Indian security managers’ carefully focused diplomacy.

China’s official English language newspaper the Global Times attributed the Indian claim of diplomatic success to lack of research. The United Nations and Pakistan had previously listed LeT and JeM as terrorist groups subject to strikes, and China had agreed to their inclusion in the declaration as it was in line with Pakistan’s official stance, it said.

China took the earliest opportunity to make it clear that the Xiamen declaration did not involve any change in its “unbreakable friendship” with Pakistan. Welcoming his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif, who came to Beijing to discuss Afghanistan developments, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “Pakistan has been a good brother and an iron-clad friend to China. No country understands Pakistan better than China.”

Afghanistan may be where India and China face the next test. From Barack Obama’s time the US has viewed India as the country best suited to help in Afghanistan’s reconstruction after the conflict ends. While Pakistan was unhappy about it, China never raised any objection publicly.

After President Donald Trump mentioned further development of US strategic partnership with India in the South Asia policy he outlined last month, China appears to have decided to take increased interest in Afghan affairs.

After the meeting with Asif, Wang announced that China, Pakistan and Afghanistan would hold tripartite discussions to push forward negotiations for a settlement with Taliban.

The global scenario may be changing but the security and diplomatic establishments of India and China are not free from the hangover of the past. --Gulf Today, September 12, 2017.