25.06.2020 Author: Vladimir Terehov

India Faces the Fait Accompli of Escalating Domestic and Foreign Challenges


For India, which has until recently shown one of the highest rates of economic growth, one of the key internal problems continues to be a lack of clarity on the potential for implementing the far-reaching program, announced by Prime Minster Narendra Modi on May 12, to qualitatively modernize its national economy – one which has, in terms of its overall size, already reached fifth place worldwide. We should pay attention to the fact that the program was announced when India started to emerge from an extremely harsh state of emergency due to the SARS COV-2 pandemic, and one that disrupted all transportation services for both domestic and foreign travel.

Right before Narendra Modi gave his speech, meaning when a one-and-a-month long state of emergency was drawing to a close, the picture that had unfolded contained two important components. First, the prospect of a total economic collapse had come into focus quite clearly, and second, the epidemic in the country by the beginning of May was incomparably lower than what could be observed in the United States, Europe, and in Latin America now.

Apparently, all that provided justification for Modi to make the landmark announcement that it was impossible to “keep living at the bidding of the coronavirus”, and to take a set of measures to revive and further develop the economy. Nonetheless, the “shadow” cast by the coronavirus over plans laid down by all of humanity now is obviously not going to disappear anywhere. Even on June 6, India itself used a certain kind of “mathematical modeling” to forecast the end of the epidemic by “the middle of September”. However, a week after that another study done said that the peak in how fast the number of infected is growing would only be reached “in the middle of November”. The overall number could double over a single month-long period (from June 15 to July 15), and approach the 800,000 mark. And then, nothing can be said about when the epidemic will be over.

It remains unclear how the “shadow” mentioned would impact the plans put forth by Narendra Modi’s government.

Another challenge that was discussed earlier, (an “external-internal” one) has to do with how quickly locusts are spreading. A year ago, an explosive growth in their populations was observed on the Arabian Peninsula. After crossing the Arabian Sea, swarms of these insects covered fertile areas throughout Pakistan, and in the beginning of the 2020’s they started to infiltrate into Indian territory.

From all appearances, the country’s government does not yet have a complete picture about the disaster, which is “unprecedented in the past 26 years” or an emergency response strategy for it. Meanwhile, the geographic range of the locusts is already approaching the country’s central regions, and voices are now sounding out that the problems linked to this occurrence are no less worthy of attention than the SARS COV-2 epidemic. Leadership in afflicted states are beginning to take their own measures to destroy the insects and compensate farmers for the damages that they have incurred.

The Indian press states that back in the end of May the Indian Ministry of Internal Affairs put forth a proposal to its counterparts in Pakistan about combining their forces to combat this shared catastrophe. We need to note that despite the extremely tense political backdrop present in their bilateral relations, these two countries in a state of confrontation have managed to accomplish this kind of cooperation before. For example, one year ago they resolved the issue of allowing Indian Sikhs access to a temple complex that they consider sacred in Kartapur located in the vicinity of the border on the Pakistan side.

However, this kind of cooperation does not help reverse the fundamental existence of the negative “backdrop” stated above to the slightest extent. The latter lets its presence be felt in a virtually continuous mode, and chiefly around the quasi border that is the “Line of Control” delineated back in the 1940s by both countries’ armed forces through the former Kingdom of Kashmir

Both sides periodically raise various aspects of this conflict for debate at different international platforms. For example, in the middle of June an Indian representative from the UN Human Rights Council spoke out, declaring that Pakistan is an “epicenter of terrorism”. At the same time, all this implies different types of incidents involving armed conflict in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir; these break out on a weekly basis (at least) and, in the Indian side’s opinion, are “sponsored by” Pakistan.

Over the past few months, a boil has been coming to a head in Indian-Nepalese relations, which have, it must be said, always been characterized as “complicated”. This refers to the period of debate and, ultimately, the Nepalese National Assembly passing the bill for a package of amendments in the section of its national Constitution that defines the country’s geographical map.

According to that document, Nepalese territory covers three areas that are currently part of the Indian state of Uttarakhand, which quite expectedly caused a negative reaction in Delhi. Attempts by the Nepalese government to send its Indian counterparts certain mollifying explanations were met with a response, and according to that “Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli bear responsibility” for the situation that arose. Consequently, he is the one who should take the steps to create a “positive and productive atmosphere” for their bilateral relations.

It should be noted that Nepal, just like all of the countries that surround India, is an object in the struggle for influence between China and India, and it, for its part, is turning into an important element in the entire (and extremely full of contradictions) system that governs the relations between the two Asian giants. And this system periodically exhibits serious “breakdowns”.

This kind of “breakdown” has been observed since the beginning of May in the mountainous area of Ladakh, where the border runs that separates India and the People’s Republic of China. The last time the author focused on the situation that has unfolded here, there was a certain optimism expressed in terms of evaluating the potential for it to be resolved. The justification for this was that border guards in India and China refrained from using firearms during that incident, and that talks had begun between military delegations at very high levels. There were several rounds of these talks held, and the results of those were described by both sides in a guardedly positive manner.

This made the clash that occurred in Ladakh during the night of May 16 seem all the more disappointing – and this one involved the use of firearms. According to the latest information, the lamentable results are a death toll on both sides estimated at dozens of people. If this information is accurate, then these kinds of losses were not borne by either side even during the 70-day conflict on the Ladakh Plateau that occurred almost three years ago.

Alas, but this is the mournful note that must end this latest report focused on the situation in the South Asia region. Hopefully, there will still be a reason to provide coverage that has more positive overtones.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.