No shine on development agenda
A few weeks before the brutal cross-border terrorist attack on Uri, Prime Minister Modi had sensibly warned that India's defence spending might have to be raised, keeping in view the need to safeguard national security in a growingly hostile neighbourhood.
India's concerns, he also said later, are to protect its territorial integrity and at no time had she coveted any foreign lands. The build-up of the nation's capacity to defend itself in the case of an external threat is unquestionable. Defence and Development have once again become twin challenges as in the past.
The Modi Government having exited from the era of planning is struggling to put through major tax reforms on a federal basis to raise the levels of spending on both defence and development. Not all states are toeing the line, as in GST.
The NDA Government is also faced with an urgency of producing tangible outcomes in growth and jobs, after almost a barren record over three years. Another compelling factor is the forthcoming state elections, especially the largest UP early in 2017. The Union Budget for 2017/18, advanced for February 1, could tend to be populist while still made to look reformist and fiscally prudent.
But politically more compelling for the Modi Government was to make up for the loss of face over the mid-September Uri terror attack killing 18 army men, which triggered countrywide outrage, and the Prime Minister declared it would not go unpunished. This action followed soon, Indian commandos attacking terrorist launch pads across LoC on Pak-occupied Kashmir.
Mr. Modi and his Ministers have now tried to make maximum political capital of the retaliatory "surgical strikes", and BJP men have fostered an air of triumphalism, more demonstratively in UP for voters, with huge posters and heroics of BJP leaders. The Congress and other parties rallied behind the action but condemned its being politicised.
They pointed out that such cross-border attacks on terror infrastructure had been regularly conducted in the past but not publicised as what was now being announced as " surgical strikes", with its variables kept under wraps. Nevertheless, India in recent weeks gained wider international recognition of its right to respond to brutality from across the border.
The Modi Government's efforts in globally branding Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism had also been rewarded to some extent. Indeed the Uri incident has given a new turn to Modi Government's hitherto wayward policy approach toward Pakistan, and "strategic restraint" could no longer be an option in the face of terrorism across the border.
India's cancellation of the Prime Minister’s visit to the planned SAARC Summit in Islamabad was also endorsed by other SAARC members including Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. Nepal which currently holds the Chair till Pakistan takes over, also agreed that the Islamabad Summit cannot be held this year. Afghanistan was also supportive of India's stand.
As 2017 is gearing to open up, India faces greater challenges in stimulating growth and investments at home while Prime Minister Modi would be called upon to navigate through geo-politically treacherous waters. The harsh realities to be faced are not merely with the ever-hostile Pakistan emitting belligerent noises but, even more, with our large neighbour across the Himalayas aggressively posturing for supremacy all over the Asia-Pacific region.
China with its massive infrastructure development initiatives like the One Belt One Road (OBOR) to link up the entire Asian continent, which would also cut across many SAARC nations, and its close ties with Pakistan and other moves in Indian Ocean zone are designed to contain India's rise as a competing Asian power on global stage.
There are signs of a revival of cold war rivalries between the United States and Russia under President Putin. Tensions have aggravated between these two nuclear super-powers with the latest Russian intervention in Syria in support of the Assad regime and the massive bombings and destruction of rebel-held Aleppo with its world heritage structures.
On the other, China's President Xi Jinping is totally opposed to President Obama's "pivot" to Asia. Over recent months, there has been an evolving Sino-Russian axis, which can only amount to a challenge to the sole superpower, USA, in Asia and Europe. Both Presidents, Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin, have scores to settle with the USA in trying to pave the way for a multi-polar world, perhaps each aiming to create its sphere of influence.
The BRICS Summit (Oct 15-16) and the Goa Declaration have shown the limitations of India's outreach to the great powers like China and Russia on the dangers posed to it by cross-border terrorism. The Goa Declaration was half-hearted in taking note of the Indian concerns about terror threats across the border from militants based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Having made Pakistan its all-weather ally, China has committed to its infrastructure development with a loan of over 40 billion dollars under its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. China has already helped to strengthen Pakistan's nuclear capabilities.
Increasingly China also is trying to ensure that any concession to India on its part is applicable equally to Pakistan. It is particularly the case of India's membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) so far blocked by China.
Ahead of the Eighth BRICS Summit in Goa (Oct 15-16), China took steps to ensure that the Summit focused only on the global economy and the role of BRICS as a group to promote global growth and that no contentious issues were raised.
Though India has been in the forefront of advocacy of reshaping international economic order and further reform of financial institutions, China and Russia seemed to have made common cause in blocking references to cross-border terrorism in the Goa Declaration. Whether there were any takeaways for India in this Summit would be known at the next meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group when its membership would come up for decision. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)