EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Has India’ International Standing Hit a Roadblock?
DATE: 6pm-7pm, 27th February 2020
VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank Westminster, SW1P 4QP United Kingdom
SPEAKERS: Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Pratik Dattani, Dr Shruti Kapila, Dr Paul Scott
EVENT CHAIR: Matthew Henderson
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Welcome everybody. As you will see one member of our panel is yet to join us but she has flown in and is apparently on her way. So I hope very much she will com along soon. But I’ll act as if she’s here. Welcome, on behalf of the Henry Jackson Society, my name is Matthew Henderson and I am the head of the Asia Studies centre here. We are delighted to welcome our joint organisers RidgeIndiam(CHECK), for the second time, I think, working with us, and as I was saying to Pratik just now, we very much look forward to this becoming a regular fixture for our two organisations. Now today this theme, as people would have seen, is an extremely thought provoking question: has India’s international standing hit a roadblock? Particularly interesting to explore this is the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s spectacularly active and very lively visit.
Out panel members, who I’m sure are known to many of you, are: Pratik Dattani, advisory board member of Bridge India, economic commenter and consultant on public policy; Dr Shruti Kapila, Cambridge based university lecturer and scholar in modern Indian political thought; Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow for south Asia at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), established expert in South Asian foreign and security policy; and finally my colleague Dr Paul Scott here at HJS, research fellow at our centre for the response to radicalisation and terrorism, scholar and commentator on terrorism and security.
As I say, tonight is a fascinating subject, and we have (we hope) four panellists to put us under a bit of time pressure. So I think that the panellist should aim to present their key judgements in about ten minutes each, one after another, which would leave us around fifteen to twenty minutes for questions and answers. HJS will record and transcribe this whole event, and the material will appear on our website so please don’t feel that you have to take notes. In regards to the questions and answers, I would be grateful if possible if people could direct questions at an individual speaker, if it’s that sort of question, it helps us to spread the burden, please identify yourselves and your affiliation, please keep questions as clear and concise as possible given the time pressure we have, and comments short.
Thank you again. Now I will hand over to our first speakers, who today will be Rahul.
RAHUL ROY-CHAUDHURY: Thank you very much, Matthew. Can you all hear me? Okay, I’ll speak a bit louder. Well, thank you, the exam question for this evening is: Has India’s international standing hit a roadblock? My short answer to this is no – India’s international profile has not hit a roadblock, but it has hit a bump, a big bmp. And it needs to get on – back on the road with some key policy changes that need to take place in the next few weeks and months. And I say this for three reasons: firstly, and I will elaborate on all three reasons as we go along, but firstly that India’s engagement with foreign governments continues to remain strong despite recent complex and new challenges; secondly, foreign business interest and investment in India continues at pace although, again, there have been some criticisms on this issue; and finally, the widespread criticism of India in the international media has not yet impacted on key decisions on these issues by either foreign governments or business policy or business interest. So let me examine these three reasons for my response to this question. And end with three conclusions.
So why do I say that India’s engagement with foreign governments continues to remain strong despite some hiccups. Well, we know the hiccups. There’s been a major diplomatic campaign against India over India’s decision to fully integrate Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union, the Kashmir dispute has been raised twice in the UN security council the last two weeks after some 50 years, both the US and the UN have offered to mediate over Kashmir including when President Trump mentioned this, hinted at this, when he was in Delhi earlier this week. And I can go on that two or three other reasons why there are these hiccups in this relationship in terms of India’s profile. And of course India’s foreign and security leadership has spent a lot of time in the last two weeks trying to counter the negative perspectives towards India. But at the same time I think it’s important to understand that India’s engagement with a number of key foreign governments remains strong. I think that with the exception of Pakistan, China, Turkey and Malaysia, the reactions by other key countries have not been either critical, or if critical have been quite muted.
But at the same time we have strong relations between India and the US, for example, we saw this publicly on display earlier this week in Delhi, even President Trump was there, [inaudible] were very strong, the substance maybe less so, but I think it was very clear for India that this engagement with the US provides clearly large international profile. For the US it was clear that the relationship with India is important to counter China, but also there could be a potential domestic factor in US politics. If you look at the Gulf countries we see that the individual relations that key Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE have with India bilaterally they have not changed, there’s not public criticism, investment from these countries continues. The Countries of South East Asia again have not focused on either the Kashmir issue no on the citizenship amendment, or anything other that’s happening in India domestically. That’s to say that all these issues are either domestic issues for India or bilateral issues to be decided between India and Pakistan, and urging a dialogue between the two. So that’s why my view is that the engagement with key foreign governments continues.
Secondly, foreign business in India continues to remain strong. There have been some hiccups, as the Davos conference in January, George Soros was critical of India’s policy on Kashmir. Microsoft India’s CEO was critical of the citizenship amendment act and it did not help that there was a very public spat between the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, and India’s commerce minister. But at the same time India continues to be open for business, it had the largest amount of foreign investment that came into it last year, and it has risen, slowly though, in terms of ease of doing business index.
The third area is the international media. Tremendous criticism of India in the international media especially from liberal western democracies, but the key question for me is whether the criticism has actually impacted any of these two above factors: the relationship India has with key foreign governments and the business investments and business sentiment in India. And my sense is that at the moment the answer to both the above question is no. So yes, usually critical media, but the impact on concrete terms in terms of government relations and business is not there.
Let me end by making three points. Firstly, I think it’s important to understand that despite India continuing to have support of key governments in a difficult period for it, it is a support that India cannot take for granted. It has to be very careful that this support continues because casualties on the ground whether in Kashmir or elsewhere are minimal, but if the number of casualties increase for example over the next few months as summer comes in, then this could be time for some of the governments that are supporting India to change their policies. Also Delhi should be very clear that there is already private concern expressed by some of the same governments that are supporting India publicly, but privately they are concerned about what is happening, and again this needs to be factored into India’s decision making. Second point is that unless the Indian economy improves, India is not going to get on the [inaudible], their prolife is not going to raise. Remember the Indian economy is going at about 4%. This is a huge difference compared to the 8.5% a few years ago, which gave India the tag of being a rising great power. And the economy is something that has in the last few years particularly, lagged behind expectations, and unless there is improvements and the government makes key policy decisions, there is no way that India is going to be a 5 trillion-dollar economy in the next few years. So, what I’m saying is the issues in economy are fundamental to India’s profile. Finally, and I’ll end with this, that in the next 24 months the Indian government will be hosting a large number of multilateral conferences, meetings, heads of government, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the India-Africa summit, etc. If it wants its profile to continue to be as high as it has been, until recently, it needs to focus of deliverables. See how India can use its influence within the global community for the better good of the global community. Thank you.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Splendid, thank you very much indeed sir. Now, Shruti, we had actually originally thought that you might likely to speak now, I hesitate to rush you after
SHRUTI KAPILA: No, I’m okay…Okay, sorry I was late. Sorry I missed your initial remarks so if I overlap please forgive me. So the very fact that we are talking about what India’s image is today means that a lot of its image is under threat. This was not a debatable point a few years ago, even actually under [inaudible]. It’s really since 2019 that, [inaudible]. This isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of difficulty in the first term, but the first term internationally, in terms of international reputation, was very different, because Modi himself, personally rehabilitated his name. Let’s put this in context, this was a man who had not been allowed entry into the US and so on. So the first five years under [inaudible] with the Modi mandate and Modi’s India was quite different from what has happened in the last 6 months. And I hear the economy has been touched upon already, but that was something that was underlying the end of the first regime itself around 2013/2014 when questions kept being asked what the status of India’s real GDP was, birth rates, as well as unemployment figures. So there was a question about credibility of economic data itself which became controversial.
So that of course is sort of resolved both by the government and international multilaterals, and all indicators are pretty bad. In terms of unemployment, it is the worst rate in India is 45 years. So it’s not simply about liberalisation, [inaudible] and post-liberalisation phase. Having said that there’s also a very distinctive foreign policy initiative that have been taken, I mean I don’t want to say if they are positive or negative, but India has remade its external relations under Modi but more effectively under S Jaishankar, the current external affairs minister. And [inaudible] refer to the previous speaker, but I think that the sea change in India’s relationship to its neighbourhood, in a more kind of aggressive stance, which has come perhaps [inaudible] quite apart from the fact that it is very openly pro-American and whether those two things will have any cost on India’s second-tier partnerships – which is to say Iran, Russia – what sort of price are the pro-Israel, pro-American turn in the neighbourhood is going to extract… and Iran is important not only because of the Shabbat port but also the fact that it is where India gets a large number of crude oil and has historically done so. So foreign relations – open ended question.
The third question really again on foreign policy and international outlook, is that one of the reasons India has always been so celebrated internationally is the fact that it is a liberal democracy and it is a democracy which has strong constitutional depth but also independence of institutions such as the judiciary, the press, the works. And this has meant that India has become the default ally of the Anglo-American sphere against China. So one of the strongest points about being India is that it’s not China. And I’m glossing things. And I think that might push a number of foreign players now because once you start mimicking or have policies that approximate some of those regimes… India will have to find a way to say why it’s doing so internationally. Though, having said that, at the moment there has been no governmental criticism, there has been no criticism that has come officially from any government or multilateral body. All the criticism and dissent… most is in the opinion pages. And what these also enable, the current regime is enabled by a kind of consensus of a sort of kind of remaking of liberal democracy, whether it is under Trump in America, or… But I think that as things get deeper this will become problematic, for instance, not Trump himself, but republicans take the question of religious freedom incredibly seriously, it’s not simply about minorities or majorities or the question of even Hindus or Muslims, but one of the strong tenant of republican thinking is that. And what will happen to that in the coming months and years… its open ended.
So I do think the economy which has been critical now for more than two or three years, but secondly its image vis-à-vis domestic policies, whether they are to do with the citizenship amendment act – primarily that, I think – Kashmir is its own thing, and requires a separate debate, but the citizenship amendment bill. And thirdly the fact that India is seeing violent street protests, really after three decades, this has not happened… you know, this is a late Mrs Ghandi era, which saw a large scale of repeated violence, I’m not just talking about the anti-Sikh riots, but smaller scale but pretty regular rioting that used to take place in that decade. So what happens now, what happens with the Delhi situation is managed, and where other protests movements are dealt with, or the question with citizenship amendment, plus how concerns raised by people on freedoms of all sorts, that will determine in a way India’s international standing as much as its economy.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Thank you, Shruti…Now we are going to pass the microphone to Dr Scott.
PAUL SCOTT: Thank you very much. My approach to this question is perhaps slightly different from the other panellists, I’m going to look at the question of India’s international standing really as viewed by the UK and the fact that the UK keeps, if you like, a sort of special eye on the question of Kashmir. Now, following the 2019 terrorist attack in Pulwama by the army of Mohammed group which killed 40 Indian soldiers and the subsequent outbreak of fighting between India and Pakistan, the UK government reiterated what is its long term standing positons –that, as Theresa May stressed at the time – Britain will not be a mediator or an umpire between these two nations, it is going to be up to India and Pakistan to find a lasting solution. And the statement at the house of commons on the 7th of march 2019 by Mark Field, who was our then minister for Asia and the Pacific, was really a classic of this type, reiterated this position about not being umpire and there were then words of encouragement for the two nations to reach out to one another, there was a recognition of the feelings of diaspora communities before Field reported on the need to tackle terrorism in the region.
Now one of the reasons, I think, that Britain keeps a close eye on events in Kashmir is that the UK is well aware that there are those who, if you like, would internationalise the dispute – to take it outside of the region. And the potential also exists for some here in the UK, to be dragged into any conflict that follows, or perhaps more accurately, to drag themselves into that conflict. Here, the issue is perhaps as less about India’s international standing but how others react to what India is doing, or is accused of doing. Now, the earliest case that I’m aware of, of Indo-Pakistani relations leading to violence in this country goes as far back as the 20th of February 1973, which I expect very few people, if any in this room, are old enough to recall. But there was an attack on the Indian high Commission in London that day by three Pakistanis based here, who sought to take staff hostage by using knives, acid, a sword, and what were later discovered to be imitation firearms. Two were shot dead at the scene by the police, a third who survived was just fifteen years of age. Now I did my PhD on what I refer to as British jihadism, the involvement of a small but not insignificant number of British Sunni Muslims and the type of violence we have come to associate with groups like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and most recently, Islamic State. Part of the process of radicalisation which some British Muslims went through in the early 1990s involved a focus on Kashmir, and the belief that rhetorical, financial and even physical support for armed jihadist actors in Indian Kashmir was justified. And I think this coincided with what I argue was a regrettable failure of leadership within the emerging representative organisations within Islam here in the West. So to give two brief examples, the deputy director of the European council for fatwa and research announced that in the event of a war between India and Pakistan, it was the religious duty of all Muslims to support Pakistan, even those living here in the UK. The Muslim council of Britons determined opposition the terrorism act 2000, centred on what it saw as the improper criminalisation of jihad in Kashmir.
Now among the organisations prescribed in Britain by the terrorism act 2000 was Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). But the then general secretary of the Muslim council for Britain Yousaff Bhailok said, and I quote, “the Home Secretary has failed to distinguish between legitimate resistance movements who fight against the illegal occupation of their own land and organisations like the IRA which have targeted mainland Britain.” Now, already at that stage we’d seen the death of a young British Muslim from Birmingham Bilal Mohammed who died carrying out a suicide attack in 2000 on an Indian army base in retaliation to Kashmir. Surely the type of actions that government should, indeed, be criminalising. Indeed in allowing speaking tours of Hafiz Saeed of the LET in 1995 and a couple of years earlier allowing Masood Azhar to travel around the UK speaking. The British government, if anything, was over-tolerant. Only in 2002 did our then Home Secretary Jack Straw publicly declare that in the view of the British Government there was a relationship between Pakistani intelligence and the jihadist groups in Kashmir. If we move forward to the 7/7 bombings whilst the Muslim council of Britain was declaring shock at what had happened, others were pointing out that one of the 7/7 bombers, Shehzad Tanweer had attended training camps in Pakistan, run by the LET, and by Harkat-al-Mujahideen, two groups prominent in the Kashmiri theatre. Now that interplay between British jihadists and the Kashmir question and, indeed, Pakistan more generally, continues. In 2008, Gordon Brown alleged that three quarters of the terror plots in Britain originated in the territory of one of our allies – Pakistan. Last year’s London Bridge attacker, Usman Khan, was originally convicted of, among other terrorist offences, plotting to establish a jihadist training facility on land owned by his family in Pakistani Kashmir. It was to there that the Khan family returned his body for burial late last year.
Part of the fallout of Pulwama, I argue, was the lobbying of the Indian government and others to place for example Masood Azhar on the UN’s list of international terrorists, could no longer be ignored. Those who opposed such a move, were boxed in. Hafiz Seed was earlier this month jailed in Pakistan for 11 months for terrorist financing, so the intergovernmental financial action taskforce is I think making its presence felt. However, we do need to be wary that we don’t overly focus on these high profile individuals and ignore their organisations and their followers. The protest in the UK which followed the Indian governments controversial repeal of Article 370 in Kashmir were loud, on at least one occasion they boiled over to a certain extent outside the Indian high commission. However, they do not thus far appear to mark or characterise a generational shift in the attitudes of young British Muslims. It’s perhaps worth noting here that, for example, for student activists on campus the issue today is less Kashmir and India, but instead Palestine and Israel. For the hardcode in recent years, the focus has been more Syria and Iraq, and different times Afghanistan or even Somalia. I don’t think the British government will want to publicly pick through the potential rights and wrongs of India’s policy, such as the revoking of article 370. I suspect it will take a similar approach to the protests over the citizenship amendment act, and watching events very closely. Because we do know that there are those who wish to bring conflicts from the Indian subcontinent, and that those people should be opposed.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Paul, thank you very much indeed. Finally, Pratik.
PRATIK DATTANI: Thank you very much. I wasn’t to focus on three things One is the good will that India’s prime minters have built up over the last five years and how that being spent now. The second is with all the media attention India’s had over the last few months, what has the Indian governments responses been and whether that response is commensurate. And third, is where India belongs in a much more multipolar world today compared to 10 or 15 years ago.
The first point is since Modi came into power in May 2014 he spent a lot of time building a huge amount of goodwill internationally, whether that is packed out stadiums at Wembley, Madison Square Garden, Melbourne and elsewhere, even a couple of months ago packing out Euston stadium with American Indians with song and dance etc. This has been one of the defining features of India’s foreign policy in the first term of Modi being in power. And that’s enabled India to have a lot more chips that it’s now cashing in. So since this last election there have been three or four big social changes that have happened, CAA being the last of them. And I don’t think these would have been possible to do in succession without the mutual international response had they happened in 2014/2015. Its only really possible now because India’s got that goodwill. And as Rahul mentioned earlier, that because the Indian economy had been doing so well for the first few years of Modi’s first term, there was goodwill there. However, in terms of the Indian government’s response, India has spent a lot of time until the mid-1990s or early-2000s, trying to make itself non hyphenated with Pakistan. That was something that every Indian diplomat when they went abroad and attended panels and events, they did not want to talk on India-Pakistan. India was seen as separate, because we saw ourselves as a faster growing economy and a more liberal open society. However, since the Balakot attacks, since Balakot, Pulwama, and now whatever has happened in the last few months, that hyphenation has come back. Now, I am not close enough to the corridors of power in Delhi to say whether this was deliberate or not, but it’s certainly something that India’s spent a lot of political capital trying to run away from, and now it’s kind of come back.
India’s foreign policy has also been about non-alignment historically – so Russia has been a friend, America has been a friend, under George Bush India signed a historical nuclear agreement at the same time as buying a lot of arms from Russia and elsewhere. But that non-alignment, as Shruti said earlier, seems to have changed. India has picked winners internationally that it wants to be aligned with, whether that’s the US, Israel or others. The UK probably hasn’t made it to that list, because if you look at the number of foreign trips Modi made in the first three or four years, UK was probably the tenth of eleventh country that Modi visited. He visited Spain more often, France more often, and Scandinavian countries more often. So that non-alignment has changed. And, this could be a good thing, this could be a bad thing from India’s perspective, but certainly there’s been a change.
But in terms of an answer to our question today, whether that means India’s foreign policy has hit a roadblock, certainly these two facts – the hyphenation and the non-alignment has changed how individuals in government have responded to some of the international criticism. So there has been international media condemnation, from newspapers that the government in India doesn’t really like very much – that’s the Post, or the New York Times, the Guardian or others – I think that in some instances, like when Jeff Bezos came to India, announced he was going to spend 1 billion dollars extra, and immediately the commerce minister said well, of course he would, because he hasn’t been paying his taxes, or he said something very flipped. Now most likely Jeff Bezos came into India to do this kind of song and dance because it was a way of him endearing himself to the government ahead of big privacy changes that are coming in, which will involve warehousing data in India rather than abroad, and everyone in government would know that but the appropriate response in diplomatic circles is not to start criticising him for doing that, but just to be polite, and say thank you very much for it, even if the 1 billion dollars has been announced many times before and it may not actually materialise. So that is the standard diplomatic response and that didn’t happen. And that was an avoidable set of headlines that Piyush Goyal really didn’t need to get into. Similarly, with the foreign secretary Jaishankar, his comments to Lindsay Graham just last week or couple of weeks ago. Where Lindsay Graham, at an international conference, had said the two democracies need to work together to find a solution and Jaishankar said ‘don’t worry, one democracy will.’ Now, Samir Saran, who is president of the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi, he was in the audience, from one of the world’s most respected think tanks. And he said a couple of days later to some of the international condemnation from the Post and NYT and Guardian and others that this was just an off-the-cuff funny comment, it was not supposed to be, to end up in page one in terms of all the headlines. But, Jaishankar could have avoided that. Similarly, when the Malaysian Prime Minister has criticised the CAA or the Iranian government has criticised the CAA, just ignore it and move on if you are confident with the policy that you have introduced. You don’t need to pay attention to others that say things like this, just stick with the plan and execute it. For the first time since May 2014, the thing that Modi and the BJP have done really well is have a phenomenal focus and discipline with which it introduces new policies, markets them and then makes sure that they go the whole hog to implementation. But now, that focus and that discipline seems to be shifting and these two or three examples I gave were good examples of that. In a sense you could say it doesn’t matter if people in Delhi are shooting from the hip for a small period of time but surely from what I’ve seen in terms of actual actionable things on the international stage that India has (inaudible), Davos happened at the end of January and several people that I know that went to Davos, who were Indian, came back to me and said that India’s presence there was absolutely pathetic. At least one state that was represented there, they had just signed off the Davos budget a few weeks before. Now, this is something you are supposed to do one year before. Now, in that particular state, the government changed in the intervening time so it wasn’t possible but you can’t plan to spend so much money in Davos with a few weeks to go. That particular stand, and two people completely unconnected said this to me, on day two of Davos that stand opened at 0930 in the morning. It’s supposed to open at six or six-thirty when everyone opens. These kind of things happen because the sign-offs didn’t happen in Delhi properly. Everyone in Delhi was focused very much on post-CAA response and so now that the fact that policy was pushed through that the government believes in, parliament ratified and the vast majority of India has also supported, rather than be confident and push it through, it’s been kind of derailed and I think there, India can do much better and focus its energies much more on what Modi was elected to do which was minimum government, maximum governance. Right now it seems to be the other way round and I hope very much that this is a short term blip rather than a roadblock that India will suffer for the next four and a half years of this government.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Thank you very much indeed. Well, we have heard some very brilliant and intriguing evocations of complex situations. As chair I’m going to invoke my prerogative of asking the first question if I may and move this back slightly more into grand strategic space. Shuti, you used the interesting phrase ‘default setting’ in terms of a spearhead of alignment, maybe in a balancing China way. I noticed that there were some possible change in the US view of where the Western limits of the Indo-Pacific are and India’s existing view took place and that perhaps aligns more closely, and we may be looking at a move away from the traditional strategic autonomy vision to a greater degree of instrumental connection with structures like the Quad. What do you think we are going to see in the coming years in terms of a more proactive alignment on India’s part with some of America’s objectives that are appearing to develop in the Pacific in terms of geo-strategy?
SHRUTI KAPILA: I think Rahul would be much better placed to actually spell out the details of that but I think in terms of a very grand picture, whether it is domestic policy which is related to grand strategy, there are going to be costs. That’s something I’m a bit worried about that there is been a lot of energy that has been given in remaking India’s foreign relations, its grand strategy to use your word, but I don’t get the sense that the costs that are going to be extracted when making those moves have been adequately addressed. So I’ve mentioned Iran but also what’s going to happen to Afghanistan, you know the fact that America is moving out and its very interesting that the Taliban and Americans are going to be talking to each other, via Pakistan, at the very moment when Trump was entering in there. So in a way the China question is going to be related to the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, but also to the Quad you mention. But China cannot really be unrelated to Afghanistan and Pakistan at all, there’s a trade element, a Pacific element. But this is why I think all of these things are connected because in some ways India’s foreign policy, sort of soft power capital, lies in the fact that it has been a vibrant democracy. And it’s not simply about managing newspaper headlines, which is what Pratik thought is happening with CAA, this is a deep protest, this has been a policy which is not going to be easy to implement. It’s not because they are failing to govern well, this is a deeply divisive policy. It has been immediately divisive because 10 state’s provincial governments have said that they are not going to go along with it. Well that’s unprecedented in India. You had GST, the nationalised taxation system, which is resisted by provincial governments but then they all came on board. And today, just as we have come in here, we have the first government who is an ally of the BJP, has passed a law in its assembly that it will not play ball. I think the government is going to be quite distracted by all this. I don’t know how much its even thinking about, you will have to say something more about China, South Pacific, how you see it, but I cannot see the China story without the Afghanistan-Pakistan story and the Iran story and I cannot see India managing the Anglo-American sphere with its credentials becoming illiberal.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Thank you very much. Rahul, would you care to address these very interesting thoughts?
RAHUL ROY-CHAUDHURY: Thank you. You know, what we are seeing the last week in the joint statement between India and the US, was an attempt to have a strategic convergence between both countries on the Indo-Pacific and recently, a few weeks ago, the US has enlarged its own geographical definition of the Indo-Pacific in line with India and Japan. The key I think will be what happens to the relationship between the core group of countries, India, US, Australia, Japan. For very many years India was keen to build on the quad, other countries were not then India was keen to build on the quad and other countries were but what we have seen in the last two years or so is that the concept of the quad has become more centralised among these countries. There has been for the first time, a meeting of the foreign secretaries of the core group of countries but the key will be whether the quad group of countries come together in terms of for a security relationship rather than political or economic damage which is talked about. And the reason for this is China clearly. The US is very keen, and what it defines by strategic convergence between the two countries is, if India takes a view which is closer to the US’ view of China then the difference is for India that China is its immediate neighbour, it has a long disputed land boundary. It also does not have the wherewithal or the capability. If you look at the military or defence budget of India. Sixty percent of India’s defence budget is taken up by salaries and pensions to its personnel. So, in a way India has to be cautious and nuances towards how it will actually work with the US and what it sees, or particularly the US sees, as strategic convergences. My point here is that we will get a better idea when we know what happens to the quad relationship and how quickly that could move along.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Splendid. Now I would like to throw questions open to the room please.
AUDIENCE MEMBER, DEPUTY OF DEFENCE, CHINESE EMBASSY: So we have already talked about the US-Indian relationship and recently there are some critics about the recent visit of President Trump, (inaudible). There is a saying that the three pillars between India and the United States, namely the shared value of democracy, strong economic trade ties between the two countries, and the counter-China strategy. So these three pillars are damaged in a way by the two leaders, Modi and Trump. So I could list a lot of details to talk about at the same time. So my question, I think ragul will be better placed to answer this one, is how do you comment on this argument that those three pillars are being damaged by those two leaders and which way, from an Indian perspective, is the best to tackle this problem?
RAHUL ROY-CHAUDHURY: Thank you. In a way I think ‘damage’ may be an exaggeration. There are challenges, I agree, to the liberal democracy, the trade and the counter-China spec, but the key I think from an Indian point of view would be really in terms of its own national interest; how it perceives China, how it sees that relationship, how it perceives possible a more assertive posture that China has over the years in relation to the line of actual control. I think that will be key. You know very well that China is India’s largest trading partner and that relationship continues. Another issue will be on the 5G issue that India has to take a decision on, and I think there was a discussion between Modi ad Trump on this very issue. We don’t know what the details were but clearly we know what the US position on 5G is. So to answer the question it will really depend on how India looks at this relationship. It knows that China is a more powerful neighbour that it has had tensions and a conflict with; but at the same time it will be cautious in terms of being led by the US into a more provocative stance towards China. I think that is something that on the inside there will be caution because when push comes to shove, the US is not going to be there, India is going to have to deal with it. Strategically, they could create a convergence but practically there will be far greater nuance on the India side. So that is why my point is on the quad, because if the quad is operationalised in a sense then that is a clear indication that India is willing and able to move more towards the US perception of China than its traditional perception.
SHRUTI KAPILA: Can I just add very quickly. I don’t have very much to add to what he said. I think the personal factor matters so much in high politics of this variety and I think here we must not underestimate the expertise of Jaishankar. He is the India’s first minister because he has worked with the US and China and so in a way what we are seeing is that we don’t actually have a good view yet. It will develop and some glimmer of that conversation and think tank conversations and the like, which is not what you hear in the newspapers, so there is that disjoint too that we have in policies circles in Delhi around it. I would say that they are not damaged but what has been noted is that particularly President Trump is unpredictable. It is the unpredictable nature of what might happen that is at stake. On the Indian side there is a fair amount of consistency, as Rahul pointed out, as to what is its national interest. That is going to determine the final points of it. So we will see. But on another level I feel that it’s a weird thing, a more academic point, that how much in a way Prime Minister Modi seems to be mimicking a large number of policies of Xi Jinping, so there’s convergence there that no one talks about which is actually in terms of the style of policy and policy management.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Questions inaudible.
SHRUTI KAPILA: You know Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times is writing a comparative book on four figures who are making the new world order and he thinks that the starting point of this new world order if Xi Jinping. It’s not Modi. Though we think of Modi and Trump as the two kind of people who have started a new kind of game in democracy but his argument is actually, the Chinese leadership style, that I do a little bit of detail on it, is quite different from other Deng and other eras, or post-Deng even. So anyway, we’ll see. There are convergences of all sorts.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Thank you. Fascinating theme that could occupy us for many hours. Now, can we have another question please.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: The question, more to Rahul, is the government in India listening? India’s stature grew because young population, high purchasing power capacity, the economy was flourishing, hence the world wanted to talk to it. It couldn’t ignore it. Its ease of business with India, not at all. Three months back I was speaking to a room of senior factory guys in (inaudible) and one common phrase was ‘it’s still bloody hard to do business with India’ and flippant remarks from Jeff Bezos or Jaishankar doesn’t add any positive story from an economy standpoint. And if the economy doesn’t take off, the entire sheen of Modi’s modern (inaudible) is bust, totally. So the question is, is the government listening or understanding that there is a major problem it has on its hands? If not, then what’s the next four years going to be?
RAHUL ROY-CHAUDHURY: Thank you. I think the contradiction here, within the BJP, is that on one hand it wants to be open for business, it wants foreign investment, it wants foreign investors. On the other hand, its support base has traditionally gone against these natural inclinations of the party and that’s a contradiction. And we’ve seen this spelt out in so many ways over the last four years and that’s a contradiction that continues, which is why in my presentation I suggested that if Delhi is serious about becoming a five trillion-dollar economy, from all indications today it is not going to reach that target. It needs deep changes in its economic policies and the last budget was not very exciting in that sense. Now is the government listening to these issues that have been raised by people, not only outside the government but also people within the government in that sense? And my sense is that at some stage, hopefully soon, it will have no choice but to listen. The economy, 4 percent, 4.5 percent, is a huge shock to the system and this can’t go on. What we are seeing today is really the focus on domestic political developments, whether it’s Kashmir NRC or what’s happening in Delhi, has actually shifted the attention away from the economy. So in a way it has brought the government more space but what it needs to really focus on this also to ensure that the profile they had comes back to speed.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: But the issue remains from an FTI perspective, the reason why nobody is criticising the government in India is they are scared of how the government would react to these uprisings. Vodafone went down, the way their entire geo has occupied the Indian landscape, punishing a lot of other players in the market, industry is watching and seeing these things and that is an understated thing. Nobody talks about it but it is a big concern. One of the culprits in the energy sector came up to me and said we should invest more in India. Goodness gracious, there is no transparency and long term thinking in policy making. How am I going to make my penny, make my investment today? I don’t want to go back in six months’ time to my board and say I need more money because it’s not going the way it’s going.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Thank you. Time is running on. Pratik, would you like to comment?
PRATIK DATTANI: In terms of long-term economic thinking, one thing that concerns me about the current CAA and our current sea of protests and the policy is that in the next thirty years, a quarter of Bangladesh will be under water because of climate change. Twenty, thirty, forty million Bangladeshis will have no home. They either go to Myanmar or they come to India. If you start a conversation today to say that they are not welcome, and right now you maybe only have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands then what do you do when thirty million want to come? I understand political timeframes don’t extend to thirty or forty years but that is a massive public policy failure in the making.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Now Sir, you had a question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can I ask a question about (inaudible). I was at a workshop where (inaudible) gave a speech. He was not in power, it was two years ago. And he made two points. He said, he considered openly that India’s infrastructure and development and the economy is nowhere near or even match-able to what China has achieved. He was very clear about that and his thoughts were on economic development and economic cooperation and completely focusing on economic foreign policy. And the second thing he was very open about was, he was critical of Western governments for their support of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union. He said that it was a disaster. They actually contributed towards creating this monster of Islamic terrorism. While now he is in power has he really changed? Because we don’t see any focus on economic statecraft. The government is running from one crisis into another and this is rather visible on the foreign policy front. And also we don’t see an Indian foreign policy approach in the developments in Afghanistan. All the chips are with President Ghani and we all know that once the Americans are gone he can’t stand there for two hours in Kabul. So has Mr Jaishankar really changed since he has come to power?
SHRUTI KAPILA: Thank you for raising that because I did raise that issue about the Taliban talks that going on in which India has moderated and yet India is going to have to pay the price for it at some point. So I don’t know what has happened. One of the other things is that we don’t get that much information these days, don’t get much news news. You get a lot of opinion out of India. So I share what you are saying, that it’s not clear, since the campaign, the entire focus, unfortunately however you want to put it, is back to that hyphenated problem with Pakistan. And personally to me it certainly feels very overblown. But, having said that, it was mentioned in the presentation on Kashmir, what is really striking because I grew up in India is that really it takes 9/11 for the world to understand what this kind of Islamic terrorism was. Because prior to that ten years nobody listened to India when all of it was going on, in terms of hijackings and so on. This is not a partisan issue of Modi or non-Modi, this has been an issue for all Indian governments for twenty odd years. This is why I think it’s really strange to see Pakistan so integrated in political and foreign policy discourse in India when the questions are really about China, Afghanistan, the Pacific, Quad, you know.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do you think with the current India government, do you think that was a bad strategy from the very start after 9/11 on betting on the wrong parties within Afghanistan?
SHRUTI KAPILA: I don’t know about that but I think the fact that it is not on the talking table is worrisome. That’s the only worry I have.
RAHUL ROY-CHAUDHURY: Just briefly to make two points. One, I think in Afghanistan, India’s policy has traditionally been, and continues to be, that it will engage with the government in power in Kabul and whether it is President Hamid Karzai, President Ashraf Ghani, that is the stated policy and that is in reality what takes place. Secondly on the talks. These talks are between the US government and the Taliban. There is no third party involved. India has not role in these talks nor does it expect to have. It has also taken a position that is likely to be problematic of not talking or engaging with the Taliban; other countries have been doing this in the last few years. India’s representation at the signing ceremony, we believe, this weekend will be the Indian ambassador to Doha, to Qatar, who will be the official representation. So there will be a diplomatic presence. There is no role for India at the moment at all. I think India can and should play, if it is able to, an important supportive role for Afghanistan’s democratic stability in the reconciliation process. That is going to be a long drawn out affair and that is where India, who has developed through its state infrastructure programmes in Afghanistan the last decade or so, should be willing to help Afghanistan, the government and the people with this.
MATTHEW HENDERSON: Splendid. Well with great regret I must draw our proceedings tonight to a close. I think our theme has served us very well. We’ve had some excellent questions, for which of course, many thanks, and of course a special thanks to all our panellists.