Tag Archives: India

The India-China, Himalayan Puzzle

It was straight from an Orientalist romantic thriller set in the Himalayas: soldiers fighting each other with stones and iron bars in the dead of night on a mountain ridge over 4,000 meters high, some plunging to their deaths into a nearly frozen river and dying of hypothermia.

In November 1996, China and India had agreed not to use guns along their 3,800 km-long border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which sports an occasional tendency to derail into a Line Out of Control.

Yet this was not just another Himalayan scuffle. Of course there were echoes of the 1962 Sino-Indian war – which started pretty much the same way, leading Beijing to defeat New Delhi on the battlefield. But now the strategic chessboard is way more complex, part of the evolving 21st Century New Great Game.

The situation had to be defused. Top military commanders from China and India finally met face to face this past weekend. And on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Zhao Lijian confirmed they “agreed to take necessary measures to promote a cooling of the situation.”

The Indian Army concurred: “There was mutual consensus to disengage (…) from all frictions areas in Eastern Ladakh.”

A day later, the breakthrough was confirmed at a videoconference meeting of the three foreign ministers of Russia, India and China, also known as the RICs: Sergey Lavrov, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar    and Wang Yi. President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping Xi will meet in person on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Saudi Arabia next November.

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Posted by on June 29, 2020 in Asia


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China Is Losing India

At a seaside summit in southern India in October 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to take relations between their two countries to “greater heights” in the next year. The Asian neighbors—which together contain over a third of the world’s population—promised to work more closely in 2020, the 70th anniversary of formal ties between the two nations. Officials outlined 70 joint activities, ranging from trade and military delegations to academic studies of ancient civilizational links, all intended to strengthen Sino-Indian cooperation.

But instead of deeper ties, 2020 has highlighted the growing rivalry between China and India. Since early May, Chinese and Indian troops have been facing off at multiple points on the remote, rugged, and often disputed border between the two nations. The situation escalated on June 15 when Chinese and Indian soldiers clashed in the Galwan Valley. At least 20 Indian soldiers died in the skirmish, along with an unknown number of Chinese troops (China has yet to disclose any casualty figures). According to the Indian government, China precipitated the fighting by seeking to change the status quo on the boundary, advancing into or hindering Indian patrols in territory that both countries claim. Chinese officials, meanwhile, blamed India for instigating the violent face-off.

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Posted by on June 29, 2020 in Asia


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Modi’s Fiscal Follies

Students in introductory macroeconomics courses typically used to learn about the paradox of thrift. This theory, popularized by John Maynard Keynes, states that if households decide to save more and consume less during a slowdown or recession (because of uncertainty about future income), then the resulting reduction in aggregate demand will aggravate the economic decline. 

Given this counterproductive behavior by both households and private firms, the correct policy response in a slump is to increase government spending. Unfortunately, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is doing the opposite during the current pandemic-induced downturn – with potentially disastrous consequences.

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Posted by on June 15, 2020 in Asia



After the lockdown, we need a reckoning

What do I most look forward to as we emerge from the lockdown? Most urgently, a carefully drawn up ledger of accountability.

On March 24, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the most punitive and least-planned lockdown in the world, giving 1.38bn people just four hours’ notice. After 55 days of lockdown, even according to untrustworthy official data the graph of Covid-19 positive cases in India had risen from 545 to over 100,000. Media reports quote members of the prime minister’s Covid-19 task force saying that the lockdown failed because of the manner in which it was implemented.

Fortunately, a great number of patients are asymptomatic, and when compared to the US and Europe, relatively few have needed intensive care. After all the military metaphors, the fearmongering, hatemongering and stigmatisation around the disease, we have now been informed that as the lockdown is eased, we will have to learn to live with the virus.

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Posted by on June 9, 2020 in Asia



Authoritarian governments are using coronavirus as an excuse to crush freedom of speech

Stop those non-humans who are writing and provoking our people,” says Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in an Instagram video. The non-humans he objects to are journalists who criticise the Chechen authorities for mishandling their response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

Given Kadyrov has faced allegations of torturing and disappearing critics (which the leader denies), he leaves nobody in any doubt about how unwelcome journalistic questions should be dealt with.

The cause of his rage was an article in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta by investigative journalist Elena Milashina, who cited Kadyrov as saying that people who spread the coronavirus are “worse than terrorists” and “should be killed”. As a result of these threats, Milashina wrote that people in Chechnya with Covid-19 were hiding their symptoms because they were too frightened to seek medical help.

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Posted by on May 25, 2020 in Uncategorized


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India Is No Longer India

“You realize,” a friend wrote to me from Kolkata earlier this year, “that, without the exalted secular ‘idea’ of India … the whole place falls apart.”

India had been on the boil for weeks. On December 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government had passed its Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which gave immigrants from three neighboring countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) a path to citizenship on one condition: that they were not Muslim. For the first time in India’s long history of secularism, a religious test had been enacted. If some commentators described the CAA as “India’s first Nuremberg Law,” it was because the law did not stand alone. It worked in tandem, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah menacingly implied—in remarks he has recently tried to walk back—with a slew of other new laws that cast the citizenship of many of India’s own people into doubt. Shah, who has referred to Muslim immigrants as “termites,” spoke of a process by which the government would survey India’s large agrarian population, a significant portion of which is undocumented, and designate the status of millions as “doubtful.” The CAA would then kick into action, providing non-Muslims with relief and leaving Indian Muslims in a position where they could face disenfranchisement, statelessness, or internment. India’s Muslim population of almost 200 million, which had been provoked by Modi’s government for six years, finally erupted in protest. They were joined by many non-Muslims, who were appalled by so brazen an attack on the Indian ethos. The constitutional expert Madhav Khosla recently described the effect of the new laws as a swift movement toward “an arrangement where citizenship is centered on the idea of blood and soil, rather than on the idea of birth.” In short, an arrangement in which being Indian meant accepting Hindu dominance and actively eschewing Indian Muslims.

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Posted by on April 14, 2020 in Asia, Reportages



The Jungle Prince of Delhi

On a spring afternoon in 2016, when I was working in India, I received a telephone message from a recluse who lived in a forest in the middle of Delhi.

The message was passed on by our office manager through Gchat, and it thrilled me so much that I preserved it.

Office manager: Ellen have you been trying to get in touch with the royal family of Oudh?

Ellen: this has to be the best telephone message ever

Office manager: It was quite strange! The secretary left precise instructions for when you should call her — tomorrow between 11 am and 12 noon

Ellen: oh my god

I knew about the royal family of Oudh, of course. They were one of the city’s great mysteries. Their story was passed between tea sellers and rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers in Old Delhi: In a forest, they said, in a palace cut off from the city that surrounds it, lived a prince, a princess and a queen, said to be the last of a storied Shiite Muslim royal line.

There were different versions, depending on whom you spoke to. Some people said the Oudh family had been there since the British had annexed their kingdom, in 1856, and that the forest had grown up around the palace, engulfing it. Some said they were a family of jinns, the supernatural beings of Arabian folklore.

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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in Asia, Reportages



Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’

Who can use the term “gone viral” now without shuddering a little? Who can look at anything any more — a door handle, a cardboard carton, a bag of vegetables — without imagining it swarming with those unseeable, undead, unliving blobs dotted with suction pads waiting to fasten themselves on to our lungs?

Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear? Who can think of ordinary pleasure and not assess its risk? Who among us is not a quack epidemiologist, virologist, statistician and prophet? Which scientist or doctor is not secretly praying for a miracle? Which priest is not — secretly, at least — submitting to science?

And even while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?

The number of cases worldwide this week crept over a million. More than 50,000 people have died already. Projections suggest that number will swell to hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. The virus has moved freely along the pathways of trade and international capital, and the terrible illness it has brought in its wake has locked humans down in their countries, their cities and their homes.

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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in Asia


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Prayers at fire-bombed mosques as India’s riot toll grows

Muslims in a northeastern neighborhood of India’s capital returned for weekly prayers at fire-bombed mosques on Friday, two days after a 72-hour clash between Hindus and Muslims that left at least 40 dead and hundreds injured.

Five days after the riots started, authorities have not said what sparked the worst communal violence in New Delhi in decades. Hospitals were still trying to identify the dead as the toll continued to rise, and residents of the areas affected by the riots were still seeking loved ones.

“If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray. It’s our religious right and nobody can stop us from practicing our religion,” said Mohammad Sulaiman, who was among about 180 men who prayed on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the unrest.

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Posted by on March 11, 2020 in Asia



How Hindu supremacists are tearing India apart

Soon after the violence began, on 5 January, Aamir was standing outside a residence hall in Jawaharlal Nehru University in south Delhi. Aamir, a PhD student, is Muslim, and he asked to be identified only by his first name. He had come to return a book to a classmate when he saw 50 or 60 people approaching the building. They carried metal rods, cricket bats and rocks. One swung a sledgehammer. They were yelling slogans: “Shoot the traitors to the nation!” was a common one. Later, Aamir learned that they had spent the previous half-hour assaulting a gathering of teachers and students down the road. Their faces were masked, but some were still recognisable as members of a Hindu nationalist student group that has become increasingly powerful over the past few years.

The group, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), is the youth wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Founded 94 years ago by men who were besotted with Mussolini’s fascists, the RSS is the holding company of Hindu supremacism: of Hindutva, as it’s called. Given its role and its size, it is difficult to find an analogue for the RSS anywhere in the world. In nearly every faith, the source of conservative theology is its hierarchical, centrally organised clergy; that theology is recast into a project of religious statecraft elsewhere, by other parties. Hinduism, though, has no principal church, no single pontiff, nobody to ordain or rule. The RSS has appointed itself as both the arbiter of theological meaning and the architect of a Hindu nation-state. It has at least 4 million volunteers, who swear oaths of allegiance and take part in quasi-military drills.

The word often used to describe the RSS is “paramilitary”. In its near-century of existence, it has been accused of plotting assassinations, stoking riots against minorities and acts of terrorism. (Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead in 1948 by an RSS man, although the RSS claims he had left the organisation by then.) The RSS doesn’t, by itself, engage in electoral politics. But among its affiliated groups is the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the party that has governed India for the past six years, and that has, under the prime minister Narendra Modi, been remaking India into an authoritarian, Hindu nationalist state.

It was nearly 7pm when Aamir saw the approaching mob. At that time in mid-winter, the campus of JNU, perhaps India’s most influential state-run university, is unnervingly dark. It spreads over more than 400 hectares of wooded land, sealed off by a wall from the rest of south Delhi. Residence halls sit in groves of acacia and borage. To get anywhere from the gate requires a bicycle, an auto rickshaw or a long walk. The university’s 8,000 students appear to occupy a remote world unto themselves. Since its founding in 1969, though, JNU has functioned as a microcosm of national politics. The ideologies of its students and faculty – exhibited in its hyperactive student politics – have traditionally been liberal, leftist and secular. Through its academics, JNU frequently moulded government policy; its graduates went into the media, major non-profits, the law or leftist parties. Over the years, JNU has stood for much of what the conservative, ethnocentric BJP has resented about the country it governs today. The university has been like a stone in the boot of the BJP, hobbling the party with every step.

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Posted by on March 11, 2020 in Asia