The Peace Route

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Ma­lik Muham­mad Ashraf

The Modi gov­ern­ment has com­pleted one year of gov­er­nance since its cor­po­rate-sec­tor-backed sur­prise vic­tory in the 2014 gen­eral elec­tions. Although one year is not a long enough pe­riod to judge the per­for­mance of a gov­ern­ment as it is im­pos­si­ble for any gov­ern­ment to bring dis­cernible changes in the econ­omy and sys­tem of gov­er­nance within such a short span, yet it is per­haps ap­pro­pri­ate to con­duct a crit­i­cal eval­u­a­tion of the trend set­ting poli­cies and their likely im­pact on the over­all im­pact on the econ­omy and the lives of the masses.

There is an in­dis­putable con­sen­sus that the In­dian econ­omy has shown signs of re­vival. The GDP growth rate re­port­edly stands at 5.7% as com­pared to 4.6 last year. Some of­fi­cial sources though put the fig­ure at 6.9 %, a claim con­tested by many econ­o­mists and busi­ness en­ti­ties. If the of­fi­cial sources are to be be­lieved, then it makes In­dia one of the fastest grow­ing economies in the world. The In­dex of In­dus­trial pro­duc­tion has shown an up­ward trend and in­fla­tion stands at 5.7%, the low­est in the last nine years. Ac­cord­ing to an UNCTAD re­port, For­eign Di­rect In­vest­ment (FDI) in In­dia dur­ing the last year reached $35 bil­lion, reg­is­ter­ing an in­crease of 26% over the pre­vi­ous year, which in the other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries of Asia re­mained in the vicin­ity of 15%, in­di­cat­ing grow­ing con­fi­dence of in­vestors in the re­silience of the In­dia econ­omy. The buoy­ant and up­beat mood of the gov­ern­ment also stems from the fact that In­dia has been able to seek com­mit­ments of $30 bil­lion and $20 bil­lion in­vest­ment by Ja­pan and China, re­spec­tively, in the in­fra­struc­ture projects in In­dia which, if ma­te­ri­al­ized as en­vis­aged, would give a big boost to the In­dian econ­omy.

Nonethe­less, some de­trac-tors of the gov­ern­ment be­lieve that the good per­for­mance of the econ­omy was mainly at­trib­ut­able to a steep fall in the global oil prices which helped the In­dian econ­omy to a great ex­tent in terms of a dras­ti­cally re­duced oil im­port bill and other con­tribut­ing fac­tors rather than any sub­stan­tial struc­tural re­forms in the eco-nomy. They also con­cede the claims about a turn­around in the econ­omy, though grudg­ingly. The In­dian gov­ern­ment takes the trend as its big vic­tory in the eco­nomic arena.

There is a, how­ever, a per­me­at­ing feel­ing among In­dia-watch­ers that Modi’s hon­ey­moon seems al-most over af­ter the crush­ing de­feat in­flicted by the Aam Aadmi Party on the BJP in the Delhi elec­tions and now there is more pre-ssure on the Modi gov­ern­ment to de­liver. The eco­nomic agenda

unf-urled in the bud­get by the In­dian Fi­nance Min­is­ter re­veals that the Modi gov­ern­ment would be fo­cus­ing more on in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing, safe­guards for the ru­ral poor and tax cuts for cor­po­ra­tions. The big mis­take be­ing made is that the gov­ern­ment is not both­ered about the ris­ing fis­cal deficit which in the ul­ti­mate anal­y­sis could prove a bane for real eco­nomic progress in In­dia. A cut in cor­po­rate taxes is also viewed as a pro-cap­i­tal­ist ini­tia­tive. The Modi gov­ern­ment is also strug­gling to get the con­tro­ver­sial Land Ac­qui­si­tion Bill passed by the par­lia­ment and also striv­ing to negate the no­tion that the leg­is­la­tion was anti- farmer in its im­pli­ca­tions.

Another very de­bil­i­tat­ing fac­tor for Naren­dra Modi is go­ing to be his fail­ure to shun com­mu­nal pol­i­tics and the im­pres­sion that his gov­ern­ment was ba­si­cally pro­mot­ing In­dia as a Hindu state. As a con­se­quence of some re­cent anti-Mus­lim and anti- Chris­tian in­ci­dents, both the com­mu­ni­ties feel iso­lated and ex­com­mu­ni­cated from the main­stream of In­dian pol­i­tics. Modi must move to cast off his com­mu­nal garb and act as bene­fac­tor of all the com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing in In­dia. He needs and will have to pro­mote an am­bi­ence of amity be­tween them if he re­ally wants In­dia to make progress in a peace­ful at­mos­phere.

In the arena of for­eign re­la­tions, the Modi gov­ern­ment has sealed an agree­ment with the US on trans­fer of civil nu­clear tech­nol­ogy and sup­port for its bid for per­ma­nent mem­ber­ship of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil when Pres­i­dent Obama vis­ited In­dia on its last Re­pub­lic Day. The Chi­nese Pres­i­dent vis­ited In­dia in Septem­ber 2014 and re­cently Modi has vis­ited his coun­try. China has com­mit­ted to make an in­vest­ment of $20 bil­lion in In­dia and both coun­tries are will­ing to work to­gether in the eco­nomic arena by not al­low­ing old dis­putes to ham­per their way. The set­tle­ment of the bound­ary dis­pute with Bangladesh is also an en­cour­ag­ing move. These are all pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments from the In­dian per­spec­tive.

How­ever, there are cer­tain ar­eas where the poli­cies of the Modi gov­ern­ment on the in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal front are fraught with dan­ger. The likely moves on the part of the BJP gov­ern­ment to re­peal Ar­ti­cle 370 of the In­dian con­sti­tu­tion which grants spe­cial sta­tus to Kash­mir and its re­cent steps to change the de­mo­graphic con­tours of Jammu and Kash­mir are akin to Is­raeli ef­forts to change the de­mo­graphic fea­tures of the Pales­tinian state by build­ing more and more Jewish set­tle­ments. These step are nei­ther ac­cept­able to the peo­ple of Kash­mir (as in­di­cated by re­cent protests in Kash­mir) nor Pak­istan and would con­tinue to mar peace within In­dia and in the re­gion. These moves are against the spirit of the times and might ul­ti­mately scut­tle the ef­forts of the In­dian gov­ern­ment to change the fate of the teem­ing mil­lions of In­dia who are con­signed to be­low-sub­sis­tence level ex­is­tence.

Im­prove­ment of re­la­tions with Pak­istan and the res­o­lu­tion of the dis­putes be­tween the two coun­tries is the key to re­gional peace, se­cu­rity and shared re­gional eco­nomic pros­per­ity that is wait­ing to be ex­ploited through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of trans-re­gional projects like CASA-1000 and TAPI. In­dia also needs co­op­er­a­tion from Pak­istan in im­ple­ment­ing its pro­posed pro­ject of a gas pipeline from Iran through the sea, as af­ter the ex­ten­sion in the mar­itime area of Pak­istan by the UN, the pro­posed pipeline now falls within the wa­ters un­der Pak­istani con­trol.

Both the coun­tries need to take steps to­wards re­duc­ing ten­sions. But as they say it takes two to tango. The Modi gov­ern­ment has been tak­ing steps that are tan­ta­mount to cre­at­ing more ten­sions in the re­gion with all the ac­com­pa­ny­ing neg­a­tive fall­out. Im­me­di­ately af­ter re­turn of Nawaz Sharif from New Delhi af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in Modi’s inau­gu­ral cer­e­mony, rais­ing hopes for a break­through, the In­dian se­cu­rity forces reignited hos­til­i­ties along the LOC and then uni­lat­er­ally sus­pended the sched­uled sec­re­tary-level talks be­tween the two coun­tries. The In­di­ans have been lob­by­ing in­tensely against the fi­nanc­ing of the Basha-Di­amer Dam by the ADB, main­tain­ing that the dam was be­ing con­structed in dis­puted ter­ri­tory. The In­dian media and gov­ern­ment have also tried to un­der­mine the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) on the same lines and re­port­edly Modi, dur­ing his talks with the Chi­nese lead­ers, raised the is­sue with them. The al­leged in­volve­ment of RAW in pro­mot­ing in­sur­gency in Balochis­tan and acts of ter­ror­ism through­out Pak­istan are also ir­ri­tants to the al­ready strained re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. In­dia must re­al­ize that a war-like state, no mat­ter how strong it is, is des­tined to dis­in­te­grate. The way to progress only leads through peace.

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