Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - 09 - KARAN THAPAR Karan Thapar is the au­thor of The Devil’s Advocate: The Un­told Story The views ex­pressed are per­sonal Ian Brem­mer is the pres­i­dent of Eura­sia Group and au­thor of Us vs. Them: The Fail­ure of Glob­al­ism The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

It was past five in the evening on Di­wali when my land­line started ring­ing. Though bright out­side you could sense dusk was not far away. This is the twi­light time when, in pre­vi­ous years, fam­i­lies would pre­pare for the fire­works they’d planned. I an­swered the phone to find an ag­i­tated Per­tie on the other side.

“Do you re­alise the Supreme Court has played a trick on us?”, he be­gan. This took me aback. Un­sure of what to say, I mum­bled: “What on earth do you mean?” “Well look at it this way. The Supreme Court has said only green crack­ers can be used but the truth is green crack­ers aren’t made any­where in In­dia and, there­fore, you can’t buy them. So, in ef­fect, with­out ac­tu­ally say­ing so, the Supreme Court has banned crack­ers al­to­gether. How many peo­ple re­alise that?”

The penny dropped and I sud­denly re­alised why Per­tie was so worked up. “What are you up­set about? The fact crack­ers have been al­to­gether banned or the way that’s been done?”

“You’re miss­ing the point” Per­tie shot back. “Did the Supreme Court know green crack­ers aren’t made in In­dia and, there­fore, can­not be used on Di­wali? In which case why didn’t it sim­ply ban crack­ers al­to­gether rather than re­sort to this ruse? Or did it pass its or­der in the be­lief green crack­ers were avail­able?”

“Are you sug­gest­ing the Supreme Court could have passed an or­der with­out fully know­ing the facts of the mat­ter?” “What else could it be? When you say only green crack­ers can be used but we then dis­cover there are no green crack­ers to be had for love or money doesn’t it fol­low this was ei­ther a back­door way of ban­ning crack­ers al­to­gether or an ig­no­rant or­der?

“Hmmm”. That was the best I could come up with. “But this only ap­plies to Delhi and not the rest of the coun­try. The Supreme Court amended its orig­i­nal or­der to per­mit or­di­nary crack­ers else­where.”

“And isn’t that odd too? If crack­ers cause an un­ac­cept­able level of pol­lu­tion that will be the case whether they’re let off in Delhi or Chennai. Or does it mean the Supreme Court cares more about pol­lu­tion in Delhi than else­where?”

Once again, Per­tie had a point. He had ob­vi­ously thought about this and this pressure and crit­i­cism with sig­na­ture de­fi­ance, and his drive to demon­strate con­tin­u­ing po­lit­i­cal viril­ity may lead him to search for for­eign (as well as do­mes­tic pol­icy) vil­lains. The like­li­est can­di­dates for this role are Iran, Mex­ico, and China, but he’ll re­main com­bat­ive even with tra­di­tional US al­lies in Europe and else­where.

Iran has proven a pop­u­lar tar­get for Trump’s ag­gres­sive ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy. Trump’s de­sire to dis­tin­guish him­self from Obama, who counted the nu­clear deal with Iran among his achieve­ments, will be a re­cur­ring theme as the 2020 elec­tion ap­proaches.

Mex­ico is an­other coun­try that Trump ap­pears ever ready to crit­i­cise. Re­place­ment of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) with the new USMCA deal with Canada and Mex­ico re­moves one ob­vi­ous point of con­tention. But the pres­i­dent’s con­fi­dence that il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion pro­vides a re­li­able boost with his sup­port base will keep the govern­ment of in­com­ing pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador on edge. the con­tra­dic­tions he now spot­ted seemed un­de­ni­able. How­ever, he wasn’t fin­ished.

“There’s some­thing else. Nearly 80% of this coun­try is Hindu and Di­wali is their favourite fes­ti­val. For hun­dreds of mil­lions, let­ting off crack­ers is the tra­di­tional way of cel­e­brat­ing. Was it fair to ban them in one fell swoop, as the Court ini­tially did?”

“If crack­ers are a se­ri­ous health hazard then surely there’s no al­ter­na­tive?” I thought that was fairly ob­vi­ous.

“Well, glut­tony isn’t good for you but no one bans overeat­ing at Christ­mas! The Supreme Court needed to strike a bal­ance. In­stead it’s gone to one ex­treme. If it was se­ri­ous only green crack­ers can be used, why was this or­der not passed ten months ago, so there was time for man­u­fac­tur­ers to make such crack­ers? Why pass it just two weeks be­fore Di­wali? If to­day mil­lions feel hurt I can cer­tainly un­der­stand their re­ac­tion.”

By now it was dark and in ear­lier years the sound of ex­plod­ing crack­ers would have been au­di­ble. This year there was ini­tial si­lence. Later there were ar­eas where the Supreme Court or­der was vi­o­lated, but noth­ing like the past. As a re­sult Di­wali was cleaner and health­ier, but was it as much fun?


North Korea is more likely to es­cape Trump’s pressure. The pres­i­dent may is­sue warn­ings to force Kim Jong-un to of­fer con­ces­sions that ad­vance ne­go­ti­a­tions over de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion, but just as Trump be­lieves Obama owns the US re­la­tion­ship with Iran, he knows that he owns the North Korea ef­fort.

Fi­nally, there are many rea­sons why the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade dis­pute with China will likely con­tinue well into next year, what­ever ten­ta­tive agree­ments Trump and China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping an­nounce in the mean­time. Trump’s de­sire to per­suade vot­ers in po­lit­i­cally cru­cial man­u­fac­tur­ing states that he can force ma­jor trade con­ces­sions from China will be an im­por­tant one.

China may well de­cide to wait Trump out. Kim Jong-un has al­ready pro­vided other gov­ern­ments the best model for how to de­flect Trump’s pressure over the next two years: By smil­ing, of­fer­ing agree­ments in prin­ci­ple, stalling ne­go­ti­a­tions with the US, and try­ing to wait un­til Trump is de­feated in 2020. But Trump’s po­lit­i­cal talents should not be underestimated, and many presidents have re­cov­ered from midterm defeats to win re-elec­tions.

It’s a risky move. But for any govern­ment in Trump’s tar­get sites, there may not be a more ef­fec­tive de­fen­sive strat­egy.


A man wears an anti­pol­lu­tion mask on Di­wali, November 7

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