Thursday, January 12, 2017
Confronting a phase of political anitya
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This year, the international scene will witness, if not global ‘impermanence’, at least a sea of changes. World leaders, be it Chinese, Russian, French or American, will have to learn to live with anitya (impermanence)
More than 2,500 years ago, Lord Buddha spoke of ‘impermanence’ or anitya in Sanskrit. For the sage, conditioned existence is without exception “transient, evanescent, inconstant”; all temporal things, whether material or mental, are objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction, taught the Buddha.
This is true for politics too, though in this sphere, things seem to move faster than in other realms. Take for example, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For several years, he was the devil personified; he was a ‘criminal’; no name was bad enough to define the Gujarat Chief Minister; it went so far that foreign embassies in India forbade their diplomats to undertake projects in Gujarat or even visit the State.
Calculated in political eons, this was long ago. Today, foreign heads of state or Government are rushing to Indian to do business with Vibrant Gujarat. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Global Summit saw the participation of President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, Prime Minister of Portugal António Costa, Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Poland Piotr Glinski, France Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Japan’s Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko and delegations from other nations.
Not so long ago, I remember speaking to the Ambassador of one of the countries mentioned above (not France), who swore that his country would never set foot in Modi’s state. But past is past.
It must, however, have been pleasing, not to say a sweet revenge, for the Indian Prime Minister to ‘receive’ so many dignitaries. Take the example of France; Ayrault, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development came with a 147-member French delegation to attend the summit.
A French communiqué said, “Reflecting its prominent position among leading foreign investors in India, France, a partner country of the summit, is committed to partnering with the Indian Government and the Government of Gujarat.”
Even a Nobel Laureate, Serge Haroche, expert in atomic physics, quantum optics, and laser spectroscopy, participated in the Nobel Laureates Conclave. How this will make Gujarat vibrate is not clear, but it is more symbolic of the new world’s state of mind vis-à-vis India and Modi in particular.
The central focus of the summit being ‘Sustainable Economic and Social Development’, the French delegation was said to have expertise in energy, power, urban development, water and waste management, aviation and logistics, agrifood industry, multimodal transport, IT, you name them.
I, however, wonder: Do the delegates really understand Modi’s ‘Make in India’ vision? It is a billion rupee question. And the foreign delegates should remember that Gujaratis are among the best businesspersons in the world, can they be a match? Do the delegates to the summit realise that ‘Make in India’ means a new type of partnership and that will have to ‘share’ the best technologies they have?
Launched in 2003, the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit aims at attracting investment in the State, but foreign delegates should not forget that Modi’s India is not the same country as in the 1980s or 1990s.
The Indian Space Research Organisation will soon launch PSLV C 37, (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) which should lift three big and 100 small satellites in a single mission off from Sriharikota. A world record. Could you have imagined this 20 years ago?
The summit was not ‘business’ only, it was also the occasion for high politics. With the world scene in global flux, particularly after the arrival of a new US President, Modi made sure to use the forum to discuss politics, especially when he met Rogozin, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister (himself accompanied by a large business delegation).
Talks between the two were crucial as it was the first high-level encounter between India and Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India last October. It was also an occasion for Delhi to get clarifications from Moscow whose position on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (cutting across the Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) has been ambiguous, with Beijing and Islamabad trying to lure the Russians into the mega scheme.
In a first stage, Russia said that it was interested in participating in activities of the port of Gwadar, but later the information was denied. Indrani Bagchi wrote in The Times of India, “If Russia enhances its relations with Pakistan, particularly in the defence sector, India would take a very different set of measures, which could even include reducing its buy of Russian weaponry. Indian officials say they understand Russia is looking for new markets for its weapons but selling to Pakistan must not be among them...”
The other issue is the uncertainty about Donald Trump’s stand on US-Russia relations. The President-elect is bound to have more ‘normal’ relations with Putin than his predecessor who was obsessed about real or imaginary interference from Moscow on American soil, forgetting that in the past, the Chinese have harmed the US interests many times more than the Russians (in hacking for example). What will Trump tweet next on Russia?
It would certainly be a good thing for India (and for America) to balance Moscow’s dependence on Beijing, in the Middle East crisis and elsewhere. Though French Foreign Minister met Modi during the Global Summit, the attention-grabbing news concerning the French diplomacy in the changed times, came from another side of the globe. Three French MPs, one of them associated with François Fillon, who in a few months has good chances to be the next French President, met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Though Fillon’s campaign manager denied sending Thierry Mariani, one of the MPs, it is clear that this heralds radical changes in the months to come. Mariani said that al-Assad told him that he was willing to negotiate with rebel groups fighting against his Government, with the exception of thejihadi organisations.
According to Mariani, al-Assad was “optimistic and ready for reconciliation with them on the condition that they lay down their arms”. Furter, he was ready to negotiate ‘on everything’ during the forthcoming talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, brokered by Russia and Turkey.
Apart from the MPs, a group of French journalists from France Info, La Chaîne parlementaire and RTL television interviewed the Syrian President: “We don’t consider it [re-taking Aleppo from the rebels] as a victory. The victory will be when you get rid of all the terrorists,” said al-Assad.
Asked about heavy bombing raids that ravaged the city and claimed large numbers of civilian lives, Assad told the French journalists: “But you have to liberate, and this is the price sometimes.”
In 2017, the international scene will indeed witness, if not global ‘impermanence’, at least a sea of changes, and not just in the field of business. World leaders, whether they are Chinese, Russian, French or American will have to learn to live with anitya.