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Saturday, August 28, 2010

INDIA’S GRAND STRATEGY: ON TRACK

India’s Grand Strategy is not given out in a written policy document. However, its contours can be pieced together from the Prime Minister’s statements such as the yearly one from the ramparts of the Red Fort and from the actions being taken by the government on various fronts. This article attempts to make sense of India’s grand strategy. In doing so, it arrives at a conclusion markedly different from the spate of somber commentaries that greeted India’s Independence Day.

The refrain is that UPA II is a dysfunctional dispensation, much prone to infighting. Its coalition partners, tying down hefty ministerships in agriculture and railways, are a liability. Critics have it that the aging Prime Minister is waiting for handing over the reins to the next generation of the Gandhis. The party is in disarray in its critical home base, Andhra Pradesh. Kashmir burns. The CBI is barking up the wrong tree in Gujarat. The CRPF is lost in the jungles of Central India. The multiple blockades in the North East cast a shadow over the future. The CWG have driven the corruption index through the roof. Inflation is also through the roof. The Bollywood commentary on the times, Peepli Live, is entirely plausible.

The main line of critique is that India requires to grow at ten per cent in case it is to accommodate the demographic trends staring India in the face. India’s rise is to be economy driven and the economy is to be private sector led. This would place it favourably in the eventual face-off with China later. This requires infrastructure needs and governance and security issues to be addressed by the government. Since the government’s approach appears slovenly, India is said to lack variously national will, grand strategy, leadership etc. India is adrift.

However, a review of the initiatives of the UPA II seems to suggest that it is embarked on the right direction. Whether it gets anywhere, time will tell. It has major initiatives, in the tradition of UPA I’s coup de grace of MGNREGA and RTI, in the offing. There is the Right to Education Bill that seeks a demographic dividend. The Food Security Bill is to cast current reports of godowns overflowing with rotting grain a part of history. A revised Nuclear Liability Bill is to enable future energy needs for the growing economy. The trade with China, our largest trading partner, is set to top $ 60 billion. This would help avert conflict and moderate crisis someday. India has offered aid to Pakistan in its hour of need with the PM talking to his Pakistani counterpart on phone in an act of ‘disaster diplomacy’ of potentially long term consequence.

But two particular advances on the internal security front dispel the notion of a non-performing government. The two foremost threats have over the past decade been the rise of Maoism and of terrorism.

Though the casualty figures of the CRPF rightly suggest that action against Naxalism leaves much to be desired, the story has more to it. The latest is that the final clearance for South Korean steelmaker Posco’s project at Jagatsinghpur, in Orissa, will have to wait till settlements rights under Forest Rights Act, 2006, is complete.
Jairam Ramesh’s MoEF plans to send a team to undertake, ‘with due diligence’ in the words of the news report, the settlement of forest dwellers’ rights. Apparently there is cause to suspect the Jagatsinghpur collector’s report which said, “no claim for settlement of rights from tribals and traditional forest dwellers has been received.”

But more significantly, the mining giant, Vedanta, has been found to be afoul of the Forest Rights Act and the Forest Conservation Act in collusion with state officials implementing a fast tracked policy of mineral exploitation with political blessings. The NC Saxena committee report in preserving the Nyamgiri Hills, sacred to the Dongaria Kondh and the Kutia Kondh tribes, prevented a real life adaptation of the theme of the Hollywood megahit, Avatar.

This implies the state is serious, to the extent it can, of taking the ‘root causes’ approach to counter insurgency. In not deploying the military to chase down Naxals and persisting with CRPF, at some political cost, it has sensibly not militarized its response. Instead, it appears resolved that the experience in Bellary, the stronghold of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and the Reddy brothers propping up the BJP ministry in Bangalruru, is not to be repeated. A commission under the Commission of Enquiries Act of 1952 is on the cards. A National Mining Regulatory Authority Act is in the pipeline.

Clearly, the Sonia headed NAC appears to be back in action. NC Saxena is one of its members. To it is credited the backing of the common man for the Congress in the last elections. It has appropriated to itself the need to ensure that growth is an inclusive process, as promised by the Prime Minister from the Red Fort: ‘When our Government came to power in 2004, we resolved to build a new India under a progressive social agenda. We wanted the fruits of development to reach the common man.’

There is a consensus that India needs to come to grips with the Arjun Sengupta report pegging the poverty figures at 836 million people living on less than Rs 20 a day. The divergence is on the means to this end. Those enamoured of the growth rate opine that trickle down from the ten per cent figure is necessary to reduce these. Headlines, such as farmers protesting land alienation to the Noida-Agra expressway, indicate that this may not be enough.

The second major initiative is that of the Supreme Court. The Court appointed CBI team has zeroed in on the junior home minister in Gujarat for an ‘encounter’ killing, one passed off as one Jihadi terrorist less. Alongside another minister, Kodnani, has been displaced from the ministry for her role in the Gujarat pogrom by the working of the Raghavan team, yet again one appointed by the Court. This constraining of the forces of majoritarian nationalism is what has led in part to the absence of terror attacks, perpetrated by extremists of any camp, over the recent past.

From a security point of view those dispossessed by India’s infrastructure needs would be vulnerable to revolutionary propaganda. The Maoist threat, reportedly already in urban alleyways, would grow. Response incapacity would make the right wing stake claim to steward the state. The majority-minority cleavage would reopen for exploitation, reinforcing plausibility of the right wing’s claims to having answers.

India is not out of the woods yet. A ten per cent growth rate, as seen, may not be the right route out. The Center appears to be on the right track. The hope is that it does not get waylaid.

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