On This Day in History: June 6, 1981 — Passenger train plunges into Baghmati River in Bihar killing more than 500 people
On this day, June 6, 1981, India witnessed one of its most dangerous train accidents. More than 500 passengers were killed when a train fell into a river in Bihar. A passenger train travelling between Mansi (Dhamara Pul) and Saharsa fell into Baghmati river of Bihar, killing more than 500 people.
The nine-car train was filled with about 1000 passengers. The actual reason of the accident is unknown but reports suggest that the train engineer applied brakes too hard to avoid hitting a cow, which was crossing the bridge over the river. The outside weather had monsoon-like conditions and heavy rains were making the track slippery.
While trying to avoid hitting the cow at all costs, the engineer applied the brakes too hard and the train derailed on the wet tracks. Seven cars of the train fell straight into the river. Since the water levels of the river were far above normal due to rains, the cars sank quickly into the river. After five days, about 286 dead bodies were found while 300 missing people were never found. The estimates of the total deaths range between 500-800 people. The tragedy is the worst train accident ever recorded in the 20th century.
Narendra Modi speaks for entire Indo-Pacific
If there is an impression that the prime minister travels abroad frequently, it may not be entirely wrong. But when the world has shrunk and the national economies are vastly integrated in the global economic order, Modi’s foreign visits are quite justified. A leader of the fastest growing economy with the second largest population in the world cannot adopt an isolationist attitude. Maybe in some cases the country could have been represented by the External Affairs Minister, but mostly the PM’s presence was warranted.
He could not have avoided going, given the needs of protocol which insists on a head of government fronting for his country when other heads of government are present. Having said that, it must be readily acknowledged that despite being new to the conduct of foreign relations, Modi has surprised by proving to be an adept practitioner. He has not only conducted himself with becoming dignity and confidence, what is more he has marshalled the delicate business of diplomatic give-and-take with foreign interlocutors with a thorough understanding and knowledge of the issues in hand. Aside from the seeming failure to mend ties with Pakistan, where the flip-flop was embarrassing and unproductive, his foray into foreign diplomacy by and large has been positive.
Relations with China threatened to go downhill, especially following the long standoff over Doklam, but to the credit of both the nuclear powered-neighbours, their leaders saw the wisdom in sending out a message of cordiality after the Modi-Xi informal summit in a resort town in China. The short point is that no-one need frown up Modi’s seemingly frequent foreign visits. These are an integral part of his job as India’s CEO. Having said that, Modi ought to be credited for elucidating brilliantly India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific in his address as the keynote speaker at last week’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Incidentally, that the world has come to accept Indo-Pacific as against the earlier Asia-Pacific, which the Chinese would have liked to persist with, is a comment on the growing importance of India for the region.
Speaking in the backdrop of credible reports about China’s aggressive designs in the region, and its maritime excesses what with it illegally building military outposts in disputed islands in the South China Sea, Modi spoke of cooperation among all the nations in the region to usher in a rule-based order. Without naming China, the PM left no one in doubt who he was referring to when he said the Indo-Pacific should not be perceived as a ‘club of limited members’, all countries in the region ought to help create a stable environment for trade and commerce. In particular, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had a major role to play to ensure that the region was peaceful to facilitate trouble-free cooperation in the wider region. In this context, he mentioned that rivalry between nations would hold back the dream of an Asian century whereas cooperation, particularly between India and China, would prove conducive.
The growing apprehensions of the relatively small nations on account of the hegemonic designs of China were not directly mentioned but it was clear from Modi’s address that he had it in his mind when he called for a rule-based order without resort to force and intimidation. The fact that China’s neighbours were apprehensive about its intentions and its occupation of the disputed islands in the South China Sea made the address further meaningful and timely. The Belt and Road initiative in which smaller nations per force felt obliged to join too was a cause of concern since it impinges on national sovereignties and in some cases pushed them into a debt trap (as in the case of Pakistan). A rule-based order alone would ensure protection of national sovereignties, equal access to all nations, freedom of navigation to all. The prime minister did not have to be more explicit to convey to the Chinese that their expansionist forays in the region will be met with resistance from small and bigger nations alike and that it should desist and return to the path of cooperation and consultation for creating conditions for open and free trade and mutual growth and prosperity. Modi’s words must have found many takers in the distinguished audience in Singapore last Friday.
Air India: Failure was inevitable
The belated and half-baked attempt to disinvest in Air India has suffered a miserable failure. Not a single party showed interest in buying the old and aging white elephant. With the tender terms tweaked in such a manner that whatever little interest there might have been in acquiring control of the public carrier, it was made further difficult for prospective parties. Babudom won over common sense, nay, market sense. Too many missteps flopped the bid. To begin with, the Modi Government showed little despatch in doing this early on its term. Taking up the inevitable in the last year meant that the disinvestment exercise would eventually have extended into the term of the next government.
Two, every attempt was made to make the sale of a truncated Air India unattractive for potential bidders. Anyone acquiring the fleet without the allied services and even the real estate would have been constantly in conflict with the Aviation Ministry. Instead of making the sale attractive by off-loading the real estate associated with the national carrier, it was kept out of the bidding process. This reflected a lack of conviction in the very idea of disinvestment of the once great airline. Modi has surprised many by not continuing the good work done on disinvestment by the Vajpayee Government. Whether or not he is against disinvestment by conviction or it was a more defensive posture, the fact is that he persisted with the policy of the previous governments to allow Air India to burn a huge hole in the public purse. Successive finance ministers have had to underwrite Air India losses almost every other year.
This ought to have a salutary influence on the policy-makers. At a time when there was no private airline to service domestic and international travel, it made immense sense for the Government to own and run its own airline. However, since the opening of the aviation sector to the domestic players following economic liberalisation, there remained little or no rationale to persist with a losing state enterprise. Indeed, in 2003, the Naresh Chandra committee had called for deregulation and privatisation in the aviation sector. Whereas a number of domestic private airlines flourished, particularly when the global petroleum prices slumped to $30-35 a barrel, Air India continued to bleed. Again, that was no surprise. For, whereas nearly three hundred employees accounted for one aircraft in the case of the public carrier, the average workforce per aircraft for the private domestic carriers was nearly half. Besides , the usual compulsions of being State-owned inflicted additional costs through abuse and misuse by the VIPs, bureaucrats and other connected people. Air India progressively lost share of the aviation market, now standing at a mere 13 per cent. No doubt, the long stint of Praful Patel as Aviation Minister saw him deliberately damage Air India to favour a couple of private airlines which have now stolen a huge march on it.
What is the way out of the costly mess? Taking the insolvency route is an option. But the better one is to show boldness and try and re-write the norms and conditions for disinvestment in order to make it worthwhile for prospective suitors to show interest. Governments should not be running airlines. As they should not be running hotels. The report that the Government was considering to privatise the management of the iconic Ashok Hotel in the capital again reflects a half-hearted attempt to come to terms with the reality of the marketplace. The ITDC properties ought to be put on the block since these have outlived whatever utility they might have had at one time. Nehru sanctioned a five-star hotel in the early fifties following realisation that independent India does not have a half-decent place to put up various foreign dignitaries who came to New Delhi.
Since then the Indian economy has opened up. In fact, the national capital region boasts of far more five-star rooms than the actual demand. The point is the Government should not shy from disinvesting in sectors which have become a recurring burden on taxpayers. It should use the proceeds from disinvestment in far more constructive ways. As for Air India, from the snail’s pace at which the bids were invited, it is more than likely that the whole process would be put on the back burner in the life of the current government. It is unfortunate that Modi failed to save the economy from this white elephant which costs taxpayers a few thousand crores every year. Now that the crude prices are moving up, Air India losses can only shoot up further.
Netherlands PM Mark Rutte arrives in India for two-day official visit
New Delhi: Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Netherlands Mark Rutte has arrived in India for a two-day official visit. Rutte is scheduled to meet a Business Delegation at Hotel Taj Diplomatic and then participate in the Clean Ganga Event at Hotel ITC Maurya.
Prime Minister Narendra Nodi will meet with Mark Rutte at Hyderabad House at about 12:00 pm. Rutte will also attend a CEO roundtable conference at the Hyderabad House. He will then sign press statements at the venue at about 02:30 pm. Mark Rutte, will next address a public event organised by Carnegie India at Hotel Taj Diplomatic and also participate in Clean Air India, a startup event.
Lastly, he will participate in an agro event, before proceeding to Bengaluru. Rutte is scheduled to meet Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala. He is also scheduled to visit Shell Technology Centre and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bengaluru. Around 10 in the night on May 25, he will leave for Nethe
Clashes in Gujarat town over Dalit man adding ‘Sinh’ to name
Ahmedabad: Angered by a Dalit man’s decision to add the suffix ‘Sinh’ to his name, a group of Rajputs clashed with Dalits in Dholka town here last evening, the police said. Two FIRs had been lodged, with both sides blaming the other for the violence, the police added.
Maulik Jadhav had recently announced on Facebook that he had added ‘Sinh’ to his name and he would now be known as Mauliksinh Jadav. Jadav alleged in his complaint to the police that a Rajput man, whom he identified as Sahdevsinh Vaghela, along with five others, thrashed him and ransacked his house yesterday for adding ‘Sinh’ to his name, police inspector L B Tavdi said.
Jadav told reporters he took this decision to protest an attack on a Dalit man in Banaskantha district after he too had added the suffix ‘Sinh’ to his name. “This angered the Rajput members, who had been threatening me for some time on the issue,” Jadav added. The police said a counter complaint was lodged by a member of the Rajput community.
Dhirajba Mahipatsinh Vaghela alleged a mob of Dalits ransacked his house and looted valuables last night, Tavdi said. Sahdevsinh Vaghela and others have been booked under various sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. No arrests have been made in the two cases yet. ‘Sinh’ is a suffix usually used by men of the Rajput community.
Karnataka poll may be a trailer for 2019
In spite of pulling out all the stops in its bid to score a decisive victory over the Congress, last Tuesday turned out to be a day of hits and misses for the BJP. Just as the party was celebrating its surge in the Karnataka assembly election – when it seemed all lost for the Congress and JD(S) – its numbers fell below the half-way mark and didn’t recover in later part of the day. Though it emerged as the single largest party finally, a comprehensive victory eluded the BJP. Short of a majority, the BJP relied on a ‘helpful’ governor to form a government. Had it accepted defeat with grace by not staking its claim for government formation, the BJP would have scored a moral high. Instead, in a desperate pursuit of power, it made a spectacle of its defeat and wasted a ‘moral victory’.
The BJP was eight seats short of majority. It did not have the people’s mandate, nor the numbers to prove its majority, unless it tried to attempt a repeat of ‘Operation Lotus’ of 2008 when it had turned its minority into majority by ‘buying’ out opposition MLAs. In staking its claim to form a government, the BJP brazenly displayed its hunger for power once again after similar successful attempts last year in Goa and Manipur where post-poll coalitions organised by the BJP were sworn in by the respective governors, though the Congress was the single largest party in both the hung assemblies. The Congress’ decision to mount a legal challenge to the governor’s decision was the crucial turning point because it led to the Supreme Court (SC) giving just two days to the BJP to prove its majority. Once trust vote was ordered on Saturday, it became quite clear that the BJP was staring at defeat. Before going for the trust vote, chief minister Yeddyurappa resigned.
While the BJP’s ‘moral victory’ ended in an embarrassment for the party, the Congress turned its defeat into a ‘moral victory’. Though the Congress suffered a 44-seat loss in the bitterly fought election, it increased its vote share by more than a percentage point over 2013 when it had won the majority. That’s an achievement for the Congress, despite losing more than one third of its seats in a state where incumbents have not been re-elected to power over the last three decades. In comparison, though the BJP won 26 seats more than the Congress, its vote share at 36.2 per cent was nearly two percent points lower than 38 per cent of the Congress. However, as compared to 2013, BJP has managed to increase its vote share by 4.8 per cent, a decent gain for the party.
The increase in vote share of the Congress and BJP is largely because of the decrease in vote share of the JD(S) from 20.2 per cent to 18.4 per cent as well as that of the smaller parties and independents. Thus, the vote shares of the two parties tell a different story than the number of seats the two parties have won, though more than the vote share, seats won by major parties matter more in determining the political outcome of an election. The message from the fractured verdict in Karnataka is pretty simple: nobody won; the people of Karnataka did not give majority to any party to form government. Therefore, the vote was neither for a BJP government, nor a Congress government but a post-poll coalition government.
When a party is eight seats short of majority, by no stretch of imagination can it be called as ‘an unparalleled and unprecedented’ win for the BJP, as Prime Minister Modi claimed, because it had won 110 seats in 2008. Moreover, the Congress actually improved its vote share by 1.4 per cent, despite losing 44 seats. Individually, the Congress and JD(S) don’t have the numbers to stake claim for government formation, but collectively as a post-poll alliance they have 117 seats to stake claim for government formation. The governor ignored this simple arithmetic for political and ideological reasons. It did not stand the test of judicial scrutiny and BJP paid a price for its inability to do simple numerical calculation.
While the BJP has been compelled to accept its defeat, the fact remains that its seat tally is nowhere the kind of resounding victory that the party was looking for to reopen its account in southern India. Neither is it a comprehensive defeat for the Congress that will send the party into morass. So, what’s the wider implication of the Karnataka election? The split verdict implies that may be 2019 is a fairly open contest that will be as difficult for the BJP as it will be for the Congress and other opposition parties. The fact that the Congress was absolutely quick in forming a post-poll alliance with the JD(S) and even offering the CM’s post to the party with half its numbers shows that the Congress is ready to do business with ‘compatible’ parties to stop BJP’s juggernaut.
As the focus will now shift to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections where it will be one-on-one Congress versus BJP fight, the outcome of these elections will have a bearing on pre-poll alliances in the opposition camp for 2019 Lok Sabha poll. Whether the Congress will play a dominant role in the coalition or become a junior partner in it will depend on how the Congress versus BJP fight pans out in the run up to 2019. The larger message from Karnataka is: the opposition has no option but to unite.
The prime minister virtually put in all his might into Karnataka election with 21 rallies in about a week and campaigned with the same intensity as he did in Gujarat and UP earlier. But BJP ended with only 104 seats against 135 assembly leads in 2014 Lok Sabha poll. The decrease in vote share from 43 per cent to 36 per cent is an indication of Modi’s receding popularity. This will impact BJP’s vote share as well as its overall parliamentary seats. The broader takeaway from Karnataka is that the diminution of Congress may be more or less over and its vote share will increase in most of the western and northern states. It may even gain in the south as well. Therefore, Karnataka election may turn out to be a teaser of the political soap opera leading up to the 2019 election.
A L I Chougule is an independent senior journalist. — By A L I Chougule
Karnataka Elections 2018: Unholy alliance needs a dip in holy Ganges
Winning the trust vote naturally involved dodgy moves. Yet, as Indira Gandhi often demonstrated, the electorate always nurtures a grudging respect for those who can beat the odds, ethics being no bar in war. If the battle, for the BJP, was all about defeating the Congress — and, by implication, the Old Establishment that is putting up a spirited resistance to Modi’s dominance of Indian politics — the challenge was always worth accepting.
Last Saturday, in a terrible anti-climax, the BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa opted out of the floor test and in effect handed over the mantle of chief ministership to the leader of the third party in the Karnataka Assembly. Yeddyurappa may well live to fight another day but, for the moment, H D Kumaraswamy is the new Chief Minister of Karnataka, courtesy the Congress. In normal circumstances, this post-election battle of numbers would have been viewed as yet another disagreeable muddle, the likes of which India has experienced on innumerable occasions. It would have been interesting but hardly worth the carpet bombing coverage the country has witnessed on the news channels.
The difference was on two counts. First, the Karnataka battle was transformed into a facet of national politics. There was a positioning game underway for the 2019 general election. The BJP was intent on demonstrating that its march through the whole of India is unstoppable. Having established a firm foothold in Assam and the rest of North-east India, an area where the saffron flag was a novelty in the past, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah army was now intent on establishing its hold in southern India, Karnataka being the gateway.
The Opposition, on the other hand, was anxious on two counts. First, the post-election combination of the third party and the second party is a possible template for what they hope will happen after 2019 — a grand combination of all anti-BJP forces, united by a common concern for secularism. Secondly, for the beleaguered Congress, the loss of Karnataka was too major a blow to countenance. Rather than risk being reduced to what Modi mocked as Punjab-Puducherry-Parivar and being resource-starved for 2019, the Congress would rather get a toehold at any cost, even if it involved participating in — what may turn out to be — an ATM government.
Now that the BJP failed to muster the numbers, there are bound to be questions raised. Should the party have staked a claim to form the government, knowing fully well that the other side had more MLAs? Should it not have taken the high moral ground and opted to sit in opposition, knowing fully well that the inverted pyramid model of government formation tends to be woefully short-lived? On the other hand, why concede the battle to the enemy without at least a fight?
These questions are not unique. In 1996, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as leader of the single largest party, was invited by the President to form a government. He accepted, despite knowing that he lacked the numbers. For a few days the BJP tried — rather amateurishly, I may add — to persuade other non-Congress parties to support Vajpayee. When it was clear it was a hopeless project, the party extracted full mileage through a dramatic resignation speech of Vajpayee, a speech that elevated his stature and was a factor in the BJP coming to power in 1998.
It is doubtful that Yeddyurappa’s speech had the same effect as Vajpayee’s oratory. He will no doubt be seen as a martyr by his core Lingayat controversy. But overall, the projection will be that Modi and Shah were thwarted by a determined ‘secular’ opposition. The BJP’s defeat will become an occasion for ‘secular’ triumphalism, just as his victory would have generated the same elation among the Modi supporters.
How last Saturday’s outcome of the confidence vote will influence political thinking in Karnataka in the next year will depend on two factors. First, how the new government will be able to cope with a fragile majority will set the tone. Secondly, much will depend on whether the BJP’s argument that it sought to abide by the spirit of the Assembly election mandate is more persuasive than the claim that the BJP has to be stopped from winning another state at all cost.
From the BJP’s perspective which option — being in government or opposition —was preferable? There are no clear cut answers. Winning the trust vote naturally involved dodgy moves. Yet, as Indira Gandhi often demonstrated, the electorate always nurtures a grudging respect for those who can beat the odds, ethics being no bar in war. If the battle, for the BJP, was all about defeating the Congress — and, by implication, the Old Establishment that is putting up a spirited resistance to Modi’s dominance of Indian politics — the challenge was always worth accepting. The real issue is how the BJP can put the Congress in the doghouse. That is where political communication becomes all-important. In the event the JD(S)-led government is established clumsily, the BJP will have to go to town with the message that the Congress is brazen, shameless and insatiably power hungry; that it has learnt absolutely nothing from the electoral drubbing it received; and that it is shameless enough to re-appoint former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah as Legislature Party leader. Just as much as the BJP needs to show how the spirit of the mandate for change was violated, it will have to direct its artillery fire against the Congress. The importance of the Congress lies not merely in its brand name but the fact that the party is still the rallying point for a very powerful section of the Old Establishment that wants Modi out as soon as possible. Weaken the Congress and the rest is a relative pushover.
There is little opprobrium likely to be attached to Kumaraswamy for settling for the best bargain. The JD(S) set about to win the day despite coming third and it has done so. There is little point targeting him, just as there was little point assaulting Madhu Koda, the one-man brigade who ended up as Chief Minister. The guilty party, as always, was the Congress. The Karnataka experience shows that nothing has changed. Power is the glue that keeps the Congress alive. Take it away and, hopefully, the Ganga and Cauvery will be cleaned.
Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist and Member of Parliament, being a presidential nominee to the Rajya Sabha.
UP: Woman arrested for trying to frame man in false gang-rape case
Muzaffarnagar: A 26-year-old woman and two of her accomplices were arrested here for falsely implicating a man in a gang rape case, a police official said today.
The woman had lodged a complaint on May 7 at the Chapar police station against one Ravinder Kumar, they said. During an investigation, it was found that the woman had received Rs 40,000 for lodging the complaint, Superintendent of Police, City, Ombir Singh said.
She along with two others were arrested yesterday for lodging the fake gang-rape case, he said, adding that one of the accused was at large. The woman had claimed that Kumar along with his friends had raped her on the pretext of giving her a job, the officer said.
Trump makes other politicians look good
If you haven’t yet softened somewhat on Indian politicians after seeing the daily antics of the miserable fool that the US President Donald Trump is, please do. For, we haven’t had such a moron as our leader in a long time. Thanks to the orange-haired buffoon who has come to tenant the White House at least for four years, our Lalu Yadavs and Rahul Gandhis look like geniuses. We do not think any other politician here in Indian or in any other democracy who self-incriminates himself habitually as easily as does Trump.
And don’t think any other head of government has shuffled his cabinet so many times in such a short period as has Trump. And do not think any other US President had packed his cabinet so brazenly with his cronies and courtiers as has Trump. His last Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was caught live on microphone calling his boss a ‘fu….g moron.’ After his summary dismissal while he was sitting on a toilet seat, he confirmed that indeed that is what he thought of him and that is how he had described him. A number of ranking Republican writers and columnists are so disgusted with the daily tomfoolery of the President that they have disassociated themselves from the party.
The latest storm that has hit the Trump presidency — and there have been countless since the day he was elected — concerned the porn star, Stormy Daniels. After denying for months that he had anything to do with the payment of $ 1,30,000 as hush money to ensure her silence ahead of the 2016 poll, Trump finally let it be known that indeed his lawyer had made the payment on his behalf. He was earlier quoted denying most vehemently a one-night stand within days of his third wife, Mellania, giving birth to their son. After raids on the offices and homes of his lawyer by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in which they seized computers and files, Trump had his latest lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, a former mayor of New York, disclose on his favourite television channel that Trump had reimbursed the lawyer the $ 1,30,000 paid to silence the porn star. There are other women lurking in the wings, revealing their flings with The Donald.
One of them has sued him for defamation in a New York court for denying the affair when she claims to have the evidence to prove the President wrong. But his personal peccadilloes pale into insignificance before the rank amateur way with which he conducts the affairs of the most powerful country in the world. He might appeal to his base going after China for its $375 billion surplus in trade with the US, or might endear himself to the working class trying to levy additional duties on the import of steel and aluminum but his wholly immature way of conducting business and his tendency to boast and take credit for things he might not be remotely connected with, give no reason to ordinary Americans to be proud of their President or of their fellow countrymen who put someone as unsavoury as a bumptious real estate wheeler-dealer into the White House.
A democratic system may not be perfect but the election of Trump to the most powerful post on the planet must be a continuing cause of concern. Maybe the American and other democracies need filters to vet the raw will of the people as expressed through the ballot box.
Towards a global fundamental rebalancing act
The first direct train from China to England reached London recently. It traveled 12,000 kilometers carrying a cargo of garments and other manufactured goods. This is the trailer of the times to come. China is aggressively pushing the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) to establish state of art road and rail transport facilities from China to Europe and Africa. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor from China to Pakistan through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is part of this larger initiative.
The BRI will pass through 65 countries. Chinese State-owned Banks are borrowing money from global investors and using this borrowed money to give loans to the participating countries pass. These countries are, in turn, giving contracts to Chinese companies to construct the BRI. Thus, global money, which is often controlled by the United States, is financing the BRI. European partners of the BRI have complained that their companies are being deprived of their fair share of the construction works.
However, China’s approach is similar to that followed by many western donors. The US Government, for example, may give aid for installing computers in Indian schools. The computers are then purchased from American manufacturers. In this way, aid money was often recycled to the donors’ economy. China has adopted the same strategy. It is giving loan to the BRI countries only to have the money recycled to its own companies.
The BRI will make it cheaper to transport goods from China to Europe. That will reduce the cost of Chinese goods in comparison to those supplied by American Multi-National Corporations (MNCs). Truly, this will promote global trade and improve welfare of the European people. However, in the process, Europe will slip out of the dominance of American MNCs. Say, an American MNC is presently manufacturing an electrical equipment in France.
At present, the Chinese equipment of the same quality is more expensive. The BRI will reduce the cost of reaching the Chinese equipment to France. The French user will then buy from China rather than America. It is for this reason that the United States is opposing the BRI.
No wonder, some commentators have said that the BRI will be the next version of the WTO. The China-dominated umbrella system managing the BRI will have greater clout than the WTO in determining the trade between Europe, Africa and Asia. The BRI, therefore, hides a contest between China and the United States for global economic supremacy. BRI will strengthen China’s position in the global economy and correspondingly loosen the grip of the United States.
India has aligned itself with the United States in opposing the BRI. The issue raised by India is that the Pakistan stretch of the BRI passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). India’s demand is justified. But, let us say, the Pakistan part of the BRI is abandoned under India’s pressure. Will it really improve India’s global economic position? The main objective of the BRI is to establish Chinese supremacy in the European markets. That BRI will not be affected by killing the PoK stretch.
Moreover, it is highly unlikely that India will be able to actually stall the Pakistan stretch of the BRI. China is not seeking funds from multilateral agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or an arm of the United Nations where the United States could have stalled the project.
China is borrowing from private global investors and is entering into bilateral agreements with the 65 participating countries. The United States and India are bystanders in the game. They have very little leeway in stalling the project. They can pass resolutions in the United Nations condemning the violation of India’s sovereignty and the environmental impacts of the BRI but that is all that they can do. No more.
Now the question is whether China’s supremacy in the European markets is good or bad for us? We must view the question in the backdrop of the larger global economy. The developed countries which include the United States, Europe and Japan, have about 25 percent of the world population but enjoy 75 percent of the world income. The developing countries which include China and India, have about 75 percent of the world population but enjoy only 25 percent of the world income. Therefore, strengthening of China versus the United States is fundamentally a global rebalancing act. It will strengthen the developing countries against the developed countries.
India has a choice to make. It can either align with the United States and strengthen and perpetuate the United States’ disproportionate share of the world income. Alternatively, it can work out some arrangement with China and seek rebalancing of the global economy in favour of the developing countries. I think the latter is the way to go.
There are three steps that India must consider. The BRI will reduce the cost of manufactured goods. The global income, however, is being increasingly spent in the purchase of services such as computer games and space travel. India’s strength lies in this services sector.
India can beat China by launching a Global Services Pathway which increases the reach of Indian services into the global markets. For example, India can make a new internet pathways. It can develop an International Tourism Protection Force to increase the flow of tourists to India. The gains to China from the BRI will pale into insignificance in the face of India’s clout in the supply of services.
The second step could be that India can demand the China pressurises Pakistan to provide India with a corridor from Kashmir to Afghanistan through the PoK as a condition for extending her support to the BRI on international platforms. That will open a land route for India’s exports to China just as it will open for China’s exports. Indian manufacturing companies will be able to reduce the cost of their goods in Europe. In fact, India could join the BRI through Tibet and steer away from the contentious issue of PoK.
The third step is to intervene in the New Development Bank. India and China are the major partners here. India’s representative K V Kamath is the head of the Bank. Reportedly, the New Development Bank is providing loans for the BRI. The least India can do is not to be a partner and indirectly support the BRI.
Bharat Jhunjhunwala is a former professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru.