Modi’s India and the Rules-Based Order in the Indo-Pacific

TIME: 17th January 2017, 17:00 – 18:00

VENUE: Committee Room 10, House of Commons, Palace of Westminster
London, SW1A 0AA

Acting Director, Griffith Asia Institute

Stephen Pound MP: Thank you very much indeed for coming along for what is almost certain to be one of the most interesting in a series of very, very interesting Henry Jackson lectures. I first met Narendra Modi back in 1999 (I think it was) when he became Chief Minister of Gujarat and my first memory at the time was he said: “Could we meet at six o’clock?” And I naturally acquiesced, knowing how calm and quiet it is in the evening, and he said: “No six o’clock in the morning” because he got up at five, wrote poetry, did yoga and the chap who ran his household was a young Sikh man at the time and he told me this was absolutely normal. I said the fact that Ahmedabad is fairly close to Gandhinagar may possibly have influenced [0:44] but whether that was conscious or not, I don’t know.

All I knew was that I was in the presence of a pretty extraordinary person but one I never ever thought would become prime minister of all of India because at that particular time and we all know what happened in the next few years after he became chief minister. I thought he probably had too much baggage and we’re now in this situation where we are looking at a man who is facing two crucial regional elections in the next month and that will certainly test the monetisation policy for I think a second time. I think Atal Bihari Vajpayee actually withdrew the five hundred rupee notes a while ago.

But certainly we are in the presence of a prime minister of India who is certainly not in the normal mould even in this context of the BJP. And yet here we’re talking about the Rules-Based Order in the Indo-Pacific because quite clearly India is a massive major player in the region. And for many years we’ve concentrated, certainly in this parliament, we’ve tended to look at the issues of Jammu and Kashmir on the border and the Pakistan-India issue. But with China certainly moving into Sri Lanka and certainly into the ocean, there are huge geo-political issues that are becoming more and more apparent and which have great significance for all of us.

I have yet to hear president-elect Trump’s view about India. I tremble to think what it might be but I have no doubt that a four A.M text will tell us what he thinks about India. God almighty, he’s probably going to order a curry or something. I don’t know what he’s going to do but you cannot ignore India. That’s the main thing and even president-elect Trump at some stage will discover where it is.

So we’re very pleased to invite Professor Ian Hall who’s the Acting Director of the Griffith Asia Institute who will actually cast some light on the foreign policy, that likely evolution, and particularly take stock of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy agenda since his election win. I’ve got a brief, sixteen-page biography here… (looks down at the sheets)… Good Lord did you do all that? I won’t embarrass you by listing all the academic qualifications but I mean it’s pretty impressive. Research interests include the history of international thought and Indian foreign policy and, as most of us know, has published a number of books and articles on the areas. He’s currently working on the ARC-funded Discovery Project on the evolution of Indian thinking by international relations since 1964…about forty volumes I would imagine. He currently sits on the editorial board at Asia Politics and Policy (which we all subscribe to) the Australian Journal of International Affairs and International Relations. He currently teaches courses on India’s rise and on terrorism. We are very, very fortunate to have you with us today to speak about Narendra Modi and India’s foreign policy and may I hand over to you, sir.

Professor Hall: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you for that wonderful introduction. Thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for inviting me along today. It’s a real pleasure to be here and thanks to all of you for coming along. When Narendra Modi’s BJP-led coalition was elected just two and a half years ago in May 2014, most analysts had little strong sense of his approach to foreign policy. A number thought that Modi was too naïve and inexperienced in international relations and too preoccupied with domestic social and economic issues to do much in foreign policy, at least in the first year or so. Some also thought that his background as a nationalist firebrand and controversial Chief Minister would lend his capacity to act, especially in certain parts of the world in what Indians call West Asia and in the Muslim world in particular.

Now in retrospect the pundits were proved wrong. Modi was extremely energetic in his foreign policy, especially in contrast to his predecessor Manmohan Singh, in the first eighteen months or so of his prime ministership. In particular Modi, to use a phrase that my friend Kandi Bajpar uses, ‘gathered about’ the world. He made a number of foreign visits. In fact he gathered about with some alacrity; he visited thirty seven states up to and including his extraordinary Christmas day visit to Nawaz Sharif on the way back from Central Asia. He hung out with tech CEO’s for example. He even went and riffed on stage with Hugh Jackman at an aid event and then ended with this rather strange sign-off of ‘may the force be with you’. I don’t know whether he thought that Hugh Jackman was in Star Wars but there was some mix up going on there.

Ando so during this period, Modi declared his intentions to set a new agenda not just for India but in crucial areas of global governance. He declared that he wanted to be something like a ‘Viswaguru’ or a ‘World Guru’, borrowing the term from the late 19th century Bengali monk Swami Vivekananda whom Modi claims as an intellectual inspiration and has visited Vivekananda’s mission just outside Calcutta on a number of occasions. Modi’s smart and very influential foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also began to talk about India not as a balancing power as perhaps some Western states (particularly the United States) have conceived it but instead as a leading power that was going to start to set agendas in its national policy. Now together Modi’s ‘gathering about’ and these kinds of statements generated the impression, no doubt intended, that India’s going to take a much more positive role in global governance than it has done in the past. Where it established a reputation for very skilful advocacy of certain causes (some not so popular and some very popular) notably decolonisation then reforming the global economy and it established a reputation for equally skilful obstruction of other agendas, notably the nuclear non-proliferation agenda, trade liberalisation, extension of international criminal justice, and the regulation of humanitarian intervention. I’ll talk about those a little bit more.

Against that background, India morphing into a ‘Viswaguru’ or a leading power might be welcome to states like UK or Australia given the challenges that are now facing international relations, especially the so-called ‘rules-based’ international order, globally and specifically in the Indo-Pacific. So just to be clear I need to say something about the nature of that order. It’s commonly held to have six or so elements. First and perhaps most important is the security order. It was created in the mid to late 1940s to try and limit the incidents and impact of inter-state conflict. Centred on the UN system, it has rules set out in the charter, Geneva conventions and so on. Then there’s a non-proliferation order. It’s been constructed since the sixties, and especially in the early seventies, to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce their testing. There’s obviously a trade order that’s based upon principles of reciprocity and non-discrimination, expanded gradually to include a growing number of states especially at the end of the Cold War.

There’s a financial order that aims at monetary stability. There’s a maritime order that’s premised on freedom of navigation that’s built on centuries of practice from customary international law and has been increasingly formalised. There’s a human rights order that has grown up, originally in respect to fundamental liberties, the democratic process and so on; submerged in the rhetoric of western governments, especially since the mid-seventies and a newfound willingness after the Cold War to hold accountable leaders who abuse civilians. Lastly we’re seeing the emergence of a new order that’s centred around the environment and climate change. It’s emerging in a set of agreements with nascent regimes. Now as I’ve already highlighted, India’s had a troubled relationship and a problematic relationship with many elements of this rules-based order in the past. So it’s worth us taking stock now to see where India might head and what ‘Viswaguru’ India might do.

When it comes to the security of the UN-based order, India is arguably most satisfied this aspect and most supportive of this aspect. But we’ve got to enter into a few caveats here too. India regularly affirms its commitments to state sovereignty, non-intervention, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. But India in effect, and in practice, has interfered quite a bit in its neighbours’ affairs, working of course to split what became Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 (and for good reason I think but nevertheless we need to point it out), involving itself in the internal politics in a number of regional states including Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and so on. And moreover India politically remains deeply scarred by the UN’s treatment of the Kashmir question of the late 1940s and afterwards and continues to feel betrayed to a degree by that institution and by the leading powers (especially Britain but others too) despite the fact that India itself took the territorial dispute to the United Nations and perceived it as a clear case of aggression on the part of Pakistan.

Partly for this reason and partly concerned with more equitable treatment for emerging powers in the developing world, India continues to see reform of the UN system (and continues to seek a permanent seat on the UN Security Council in particular) with full powers of veto, to secure itself against unwelcome multilateral or unilateral interference in its internal affairs. Modi as yet has not modified that aspiration though arguably India’s diplomats have become a little less vocal on this particular topic of UN reform. Modi had instructed diplomats, as far as I understand it, after he took over that economic developments and economic issues should be top priority in Indian diplomacy. Modi’s speeches do not feature UN reform quite as frequently as his predecessors’. In some India then takes a conservative and cautious approach to this element of the rules-based order. When it comes to the non-proliferation order, of course, India’s relationship is more straightforward or in the case of some states, or in the view of some states, more problematic. It simply rejects the non-proliferation treaty, signed in 1968 and extended indefinitely in 1995, and also the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Formally, India rejects the NPT because it sees it as discriminatory and unequal. You can get into the grounds of that if you want but that’s India’s formal position. Informally of course it rejects the NPT because it’s one of the few major states not to have a deterrent or, and this is very crucial, not to be covered by so-called extended nuclear deterrents as Australia, Japan and Germany all are, to take just three examples. And it is a state of course that faces significant conventional threats and nuclear threats from China and Pakistan across disputed borders. For thirty years or so, from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s, these rejections of India’s nuclear weapons program make India an outlier in these elements of the rules-based order. In effect the US-India deal, agreed just over a decade ago, simply recognised the prescient impossibility of India agreeing to the NPT or indeed the CTBT, which it will not sign and ratify, though it has declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. That deal (the US-deal) effectively created an exception to the NPT rule for where India was concerned. It also illustrated a very important aspect of India’s foreign policy behaviour, its desire to ensure esteem and treatment especially with the United States but with other major powers and also to ensure recognition for its exceptional interests.

This desires evidence in a number of different deals but especially in the recently included deal to make India a so-called major defence partner of the United States, a special designation that the United States has been willing to extend to India above and beyond other kinds of defence relationships that it has. Modi’s government has shown no sign of changing its position on nuclear proliferation and indeed has pushed harder for greater acceptance of India’s exceptional status, asking for membership of a nuclear suppliers group for example and of course being blocked by China. Here then India remains only partially reconciled to an element of the rules-based order that is conditional on recognition of its exceptional status.

When it comes to trade and finance of course, India has been revisionist, obstructive or truculent. As Amrita Narlikar notes in her recent piece in a special issue of International Affairs: in contrast to China, India is far less integrated with the global economy than it could be, making it less of a stake holder in some aspects than a semi-engaged spectator. Despite India’s partial opening to the global economy and partial deregulation of the early 1990s, it has continued to obstruct process in global trading issues in the Uruguay Round and the Doha Round, seeking to protect its agricultural sector which employs little more than half the work force which generates only 20% of India’s GDP.

In the financial sector too India remains quite reluctant to adhere to common norms. Its currency is only partially converted and foreign investments, especially in key sectors of the economy like retail and others, are relatively restricted. India under Modi still fears volatility in its currency and the possibility of Capital Float as the ongoing demonetisation episode demonstrates. There are notices in Indian airports, warning people of severe penalties for removing 500 and 1000 rupee notes from the country even though these notes are no longer legal currency. It gives you a sense of the extent of the sensitivity.

Things are a little bit different I think. India remains an outlier in those orders but when it comes to maritime, generally speaking India has upheld the maritime element of the rules-based order and has even moved to strengthen them. Modi’s government has signed a number of joint declarations with both the US and Japan, confirming India’s commitment to the rules-based order with particular reference to freedom of navigation and implicit reference to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Both declarations are intended as interventions in the ongoing crisis of Chinese militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea as well as Japanese concerns about the East China Sea.

Why has Modi’s government involved itself in this way and signed up to these explicit commitments to the rules-based order? Partly it’s just simple economic interest. Just over half of India’s trade now travels through the South China Sea en route to or from East Asia, Australia, New Zealand or the Americas. But partly also, signing up to this element of the rules-based order reinforces one of the most important ongoing shifts in India’s regional trajectory in the past decade and a half: its reengagement (economic, political and military) with South East Asia. Reengagement was designed to save on trade investment flows and to encourage more investment flows out of South East Asia into India, but also to try and manage China’s rise by building strategic partnerships with a number of South East Asian states and with Australia and Japan that potentially allow to put pressure on Beijing.

There’s a huge difference between India’s naval behaviour for example now than it was in 2000. 2000 is the first time that an Indian naval ship entered the South China Sea. These have been accelerating over the last few years and there’s increasing engagement of Indian naval assets into the South China Sea. This one strategic purpose then, the national interest underlying affirmation of the principle, should remind us that for all the discussion about world-based orders and freedom of navigation, Indian strategists are interested in seeking control and have been talking openly not just about the potential value of shutting down trade, potentially through the Malacca Strait (positioning forces in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for example), but also potentially (if it has to) disrupting trade across the Indian Ocean, across the major seals of communication that run over the Persian Gulf and into East Asia. Indian strategists have been talking for some time about the need to develop assets to do this, potentially to put pressure again on Beijing. So in this position on the maritime order it is superficially quite straight forward but actually quite complicated. If we look at this disjuncture between signing up to particular principles and substantial agreements but developing military assets in particular and positioning them in ways that might potentially disrupt trade in the Indian Ocean.

When it comes to human rights and climate and those issues here, we need to remember that India was in the 1990s one of the most vociferous critics of the extension of the human rights order and especially the advent of humanitarian intervention engaged in non-Western states. In 2005 at the very last minute India tried to derail an agreement at the World Summit upon the principle of the responsibility to protect and it remains not fully reconciled to that principle and how it has been interpreted, especially by Western states. Although its representatives were also closely involved in drafting the Rome Statute, India opposed the creation of the International Criminal Court along the lines that it envisaged in the statute in 1998. Of course, here there are internal concerns that India has that are driving some of its foreign policy behaviour. It remains highly sensitive to criticisms of its human rights record, its security forces in various internal conflicts or indeed the everyday conduct of the police or other government agencies.

And it remains acutely conscious of the ways in which doctrines like R2P might be used in the future to permit multilateral great power intervention in its own internal affairs, in Kashmir of course but also in the north east and in other parts of the country. So remembering this experience in Kashmir in the 40s and early 50s, India remains very sensitive about anything that might open a door to potential intervention in its internal affairs. Its position on the new level of human rights order, constructed by the West in the 70s onwards and deepened in the 90s, is therefore generally critical if not hostile, notwithstanding an element of flip-flopping during its time in the Security Council in 2011/2012. Modi today has shown no signs of modifying his indisposition on this area except to promise to do a little more on non-violent democracy promotion. It doesn’t favour regime change but is happy to try to deepen democratic institutions in other states, especially and notably in Afghanistan where India is building a new parliament. On the other side of the equation India has tried to shut down some internal critics of human rights abuses, citing international funding or making sure there is no unwarranted interference in India’s internal affairs.

Now finally on climate change India has modified its position somewhat, as Amrita Narlikar again has noted, trying to reconcile the environmentalist and developmentalist agendas that are sometimes in conflict. As Gujarat Chief Minister and then as Prime Minister Modi has championed practical schemes; things like solar power and water conservation schemes for example as well as less practical remedies perhaps (if we’re going to be critical) such as the acceptance of vegetarianism in the West, to cut down on meat production which is obviously water intensive and carbon emitting. He has also embraced and tried to propound India’s series about how best to live in the natural world. India then has shown some signs of acting less like a veto-wielder and more like an agenda-setter but is tending to frame these things in terms of deeper, Hindu nationalist inceptions and agendas.

So what can we say then about India and the crumbling regional order and perhaps as a whole? Now clearly with the advent of Trump, with ongoing Russian adventurism, with China seemingly salami-slicing its way to effective control over navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and so on, the liberal rules-based order is under some strain. For some this makes India perceived as a so-called spring-state that can either align itself and its interests with Russia and China, and remember that India is a candidate member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (a regional security organisation run by the Russians and Chinese) or it could swing in the other direction. So it could back the liberal order or it could move towards the old-fashioned great-power politics, the sphere of influence politics that I think are favoured by Russia and China. It is obviously an important player, given its growing economic weight, its military capabilities, its record of developing world leadership and its capacity to build coalitions in the developing world, and of course it has a very high quality, although extremely small, diplomatic service that gets things done.

So does the future of the rules-based order then lie with India and with Modi and so on, in partnership with other regional powers including Australia, Japan and Singapore, and engage extra-regional states like France or like the UK? I think it could perhaps but India’s going to need to be engaged very carefully if it’s going to play that kind of role and be persuaded to play that kind of role. So let me make some suggestions which I can make from my comfortable position in an ivory tower. It’s not actually ivory, it’s very concrete.

First, other major powers are going to have to accept I think, and continue to accept, India’s desire for what some call ‘exceptionalism’. It’s an ugly neologism I recognise but it’s quite helpful. India likes exemptions from rules. It’s common in Indian society as a whole to see exemptions for rules for very important persons created. Anybody who’s been to an Indian airport again will know that on the wall in immigration there’s a list of all the list of different categories of very important persons and the certain sorts of security clearances that they have to undergo depending on which category they belong to. I’ve always belonged to the ‘not important person’ category.

So we’re just going to have to accept this ‘exemptionism’ underpinned by the strong sense of exceptionalism and the belief that India needs to be treated as a growing power like others. India’s elite knows this and it’s partly driven by that exceptionalism but it’s also being driven by the sense that other great powers have been given exceptional deals in the past. India’s elite knows in particular that the US has been exempt from some aspects of the liberal order and has been able to bend the rules or have particular privileges. It’s been given voting rights in economic institutions beyond its actual weight for example or its contribution, and India wants similar kinds of exemptions for what its elite thinks is India’s proper status.

Obviously conceding exemptions to India almost certainly cannot involve a permanent veto-wielding place on the UN Security Council. It’s highly unlikely that China amongst many others would back that idea. But it may involve cutting more generous deals for India in other areas as the Americans have recognised in the US-India nuclear deal back in 2005 and it may be the case that deals need to be cut in global trade (acknowledging sensitivity around agriculture for example) for the sake of concluding the Doha Round and furthering multinational trade talks which have been stalled now for more than a decade. It may be necessary to make exemptions and exceptions to draw India into some kind of post-TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement). India sits outside presently but could be drawn in. A post-Trump trade deal that takes the Americans out, they were never involved at the beginning of TPP, it may be worth taking them out at the end in order to conclude an agreement and to see trade and services prosper.

Second, given India’s well known reluctance to act as a supplier of global public goods, it may pay dividends to support it more strongly in areas where it does show some signs of wanting to supply them such as maritime security in the Indian Ocean or even in the South China Sea in coalition with others or in climate change intervention.

As has noted, India and Modi have shown some signs that it can move beyond reluctance and obstruction when its concerns about climate change mitigation strategies were acknowledged and adapted to bring India into the tent. And it was able to bring to the table its own strategy for a national climate change strategy that was framed in ways that were more acceptable to important domestic political constituencies.

Thirdly, and I think this is important, India has to be engaged in a serious conversation about human rights and about human rights protections. And when I say ‘serious’ I don’t mean a hectoring lecture. I unfortunately have been present at meetings in New Delhi where European Union and members of the European Union representatives have adopted this hectoring lecturing manner. Rather than pushing back and arguing, Indian delegates (in the room with me at least) mostly spent their time surfing the internet on their iPhones rather than listening.

So what I mean in an open ended way is that this engagement has to take place which acknowledges India’s concerns especially around the international involvement in its own internal conflicts with local NGOs and other players and around its criticisms, some quite valid if contestable, and some perhaps not wholly accurate about the destabilising effects of humanitarian interventions and regime changes on societies and regions across the world. In these ways then I suggest, and there may be others too, India might be persuaded to hedge less and evolve itself more fully in upholding this increasingly fragile rules-based order which we need to uphold in order to ensure the security and stability and ongoing prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the international order more broadly. Thank you.

Stephen Pound MP: Thank you very, very much indeed. Not just a tour d’horizon bur a tour de force as well. Thank you so much. Anybody right in the far distant background. Please there are plenty of seats here. This is not like a religious service where there’s going to be a collection. So honestly please if you’d like to come forward no one will think the lesser of you. We are very fortunate in that we’ve got about 25 minutes of questioning. Now you’ve covered so much ground there Professor Hall that I’m sure there’s absolutely no shortage. But to start us off would you care to take the first question?

John Hemmings: I would, thank you very much Mr. Pound. Taking the host’s prerogative, thank you so much Professor Hall for your amazing, very wide discussion. I just wonder if I might just take the slightly geopolitical direction. A few years ago there was a kind of Non-Alignment 2.0 report that came out which seemed to indicate that India preferred to still hedge its bets but we’ve seen a lot of military relationships developing with Vietnam, with the United States, and even with Japan (my area of focus). Perhaps it’s a bit unfair given the fluidity under Trump but would you perhaps like to predict whether India will at some point begin to develop formal military relationships or alliances.

Professor Hall: Thank you, that’s a really interesting question. I think it is actually still a live question. Really for two reasons. Notwithstanding root fencing and setting to one side Trump’s own particular approach or evolving approach to foreign policy. There are perhaps two positive signs for India if you want to look on the bright side. One of them is that India benefits or has generally benefitted more from republican administrations than from democratic administrations over the last 25 years or so. In particular the George W. Bush administration was the most positive in the way it approached India and the most open-handed as well I think in the way it approached India. In fact in many ways the United States under Bush decided they were going to come play midwife to India’s rise in lots of ways and handed things to the Indians, sometimes I think a bit more than they wanted and a bit more than they were going to ask for.

So in particular the nuclear deal is incredibly important in bringing India back in from the cold after the 1998 nuclear tests but remember too that there were symbolic acts, Condoleezza Rice going to the region, going to New Delhi first, very unusual for American diplomats to do that. There were presidential visits and then there was the Defence Framework Agreement that was signed in 2005 and all the issues around defence technology sharing and so on that went on as part of that Defence Framework Agreement. Now that was a 10-year deal. Towards the end of the Manmohan Singh government there was a little bit of talk about not renewing that deal. And if there’s one big thing that Modi’s government did when it came into office that signalled that it really was committed to that relationship with the United States, it was renewing that deal in 2015. Quite apart from the symbolic politics of having Barack Obama at the Republic Day celebrations (symbolic politics are important of course) but renewing that Defence Framework Agreement and then after that, although there was some foot-dragging, also signing some logistics agreements and potentially intelligence sharing agreements as well. The relationship on that side is deepening.

So positive sides and negative sides. I think there’s two things: one is if Trump appoints the ambassador that there’s been some rumours about, Ashley Tellis, Ashley Tellis was the architect in many ways of the US-India nuclear agreement. He was one of the most important reasons why the relationship deepened in that period, persuading both sides in fact to come to the table. If he’s appointed US ambassador then I think the relationship is potentially going to go quite well. On the other side though if Trump starts to tinker with the immigration regime, Indian sensitivities around immigration into the United States (especially the availability of working visas into the United States) and the way in which the media tends to play on these issues on Indians abroad and the safety of Indians abroad. If there’s tinkering with that or problems with that then I think we could see relationship kind of cooling a little bit. And you know we saw when Prime Minister Theresa May went to India there were also conservations there about immigration and the sensitivity about immigration questions was very apparent there as well.

Stephen Pound MP: Thank you. (Points to a gentleman in the audience) Sir?

First Questioner: [31:24-31:38] I think the relationship as far as India is concerned will depend on Trump’s administrations, policies and actions to a great extent. India, if it considers its policies, in a year will be able to consider new policies but if Mr. Trump just goes on social internet…I mean you know how things change from day to day. I think if Mrs. Clinton works with the president my personal view is that India will have closer defence and security arrangements with the US, Japan and Australia but it can still happen especially with the US and China. This is quite likely. It will be interesting any way.

And just one quick comment before I go is that I think Mr. Modi has been unfairly criticised regarding what happened in Gujarat because it started when the Muslims attached to a train and about 50 passengers were burned alive. And you know India is a vast country and it’s not like suddenly you tell people “Don’t riot anymore”. By the time you take action it will take a long time anyway and in any case the Indian judiciary is independent.

One last point on the Indian economy. Because of the currency reforms and because of this fiscal year the rate of growth of the Indian economy will go down from over 7% to 6.5% but India is the fastest growing economy and if you see from July 2017 onwards India is expected to go over 8% per annum for many years to come. So I hope our Prime Minister gets a good deal and opposes a give-and-take.

Stephen Pound MP: (Points to another person in the audience) Do you want to take your comment as well sir?

Second Questioner: Two quick questions. Do you expect Iranian natural gas to flow through Pakistan and India any time soon? And are the Indians talking to their neighbours about water resources?

Professor Hall: Well those are good questions. I’m not an expert on the gas side of things but I think it’s probably unlikely that we would see a pipeline being constructed. The idea of it flowing through Pakistan raises all kinds of strategic questions around that and all sorts of security problems and so on. I suspect that’s pretty unlikely. I mean the great disappointment I think in a way about Modi coming in as a new Prime Minister was that he hasn’t managed to. And despite the fact that he invited Sharif to his inauguration and despite the fact that he dropped in on Sharif on Christmas Day, there’s just been no breakthrough really on the Pakistan side. So I think it’s probably unlikely.

The question about water…sorry just one thing. I think one of the more worrying aspects of the conversation post a couple of the terrorist attacks that we saw in India over the last two years or so has been some discussion about trying to disrupt water flows and so on into Pakistan and controlling them and using water to pressure Pakistanis and so on. That’s a very dangerous game to play not least because other states in the region (notably the Chinese) could also play that game with India if it wishes too. So I think I’ be very careful. So I think I’ll probably just end there. I’m not sure I could go on too much from the water question.

Stephen Pound MP: (To another audience member) Sir?

Third Questioner: My name is John Dobson. May I ask two questions? Very short ones? The first one is internal. Do you think Modi will be damaged, maybe fatally damaged, by this demonetisation thing that he has been going through? I mean I lived in Russia when Yeltsin tried the same in 1993. He very nearly lost the 1996 election, not wholly but partly as a result of that. People are very offended by the trauma that they have gone through. The other one is external. My own observation is that Modi is cosying up quite strongly to Russia. Putin had quite a good visit there in 2014 and as you know they’re buying 6 Akula submarines. Not sure why but maybe you could tell me why they’re buying them. Submarines are not an overt form of maritime power. So why are they buying 6 Akula submarines?

Stephen Pound MP: They’re very cheap.

Professor Hall: They’re cheaper than the alternative. I think the Japanese would probably be in a position to export their submarines if they were willing to offer the best versions of them to others. They could potentially get in there but they would likely…

John Dobson: But this is a Russian attack submarine.

Professor Hall: Exactly. The question about Modi’s popularity: the extraordinary thing is that Modi’s popularity remains extremely high domestically. We’re looking at approval ratings of possibly 80%. 80% of people feel positively towards Modi. I think The Economist noted the other day, it’s dropped by 7% but that’s it. The thing about demonetisation I think is that although it’s caused enormous disruption domestically (I was there actually when it happened) in terms of just every day activity and business and so on, with retailers in Delhi reporting overnight 50% drops in their business and so on.

The other side of this is that it was meant to be sold as an anti-corruption measure. And here Modi is still succeeding in rising above his political adversaries in portraying himself as being a clean leader of a relatively clean government. And corruption figures so highly in Indian popular concerns that his ability to continue to pose as an anti-corruption campaigner I think has been really important. There was some discussion (some quite amusing discussion I thought) about… this happened just before elections and of course elections in states that have a reputation for extreme corruption…there was some discussion about the way in which demonetisation might actually hamstring the BJP as well as the liberal opposition but that clearly was a cost that they thought was worth bearing to do that. So I don’t think demonetisation’s going to harm us. I find it extraordinary as an outsider to watch all of that happen but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Stephen Pound MP: I think the extraordinary thing about Modi, well there are many extraordinary things, this time last year I was in Delhi and I know that everybody in this room can recite the first paragraph of the Indian Constitution of Dr. Ambedkar off by heart. But there was a move this time last year to change it from those marvellous first lines “India is a socialist and secular state dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to “India is a Hindu state” and many of us who feared the worst of the RSS influence on BJP assumed that the Hindutva (‘saffronisation’ as we used to call it) agenda would predominate. In many ways Narendra Modi has been pragmatic in that way and in fact this time last year Lok Sabha was occupied by furious protestors I recall who… unfortunately there were 3 different competing groups of protestors (there was a thing about women’s safety on the streets as well…) but at the end of it he didn’t press that line.

So I think that we are seeing a pragmatic Prime Minister, more than many of us, and I’ll be honest I count myself amongst those. But the thing most of all that fascinated me about your presentation was the change, the recalibration of Indo-Chinese relations because India, when I first visited India I was in uniform and we were only allowed to sail up the Hoogly River as far as a place called Diamond Point because India had a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. And so when we got to this lovely place called Diamond Point, like all good sailors we expected a damn-good run ashore into Calcutta. There’s very good libraries in Calcutta that we’d heard about and we were very keen to visit the Victoria Station but there was the hammer and sickle and we couldn’t move. But India did quite well out of that relationship. China has actually been more aggressive towards India particularly over the J and K (Jammu and Kashmir) issue in the north and China is undoubtedly acting as an imperial force. Ask anybody in the Philippines, Japan or South Korea. Anybody will say the same thing. And obviously President Trump’s comment to President Tsai Ing Wen has rather shaken up the kaleidoscope a little bit. The old One China Policy may be out of the limit. So how do you see the future not just of Modi and China but India and China? Are you optimistic?

Professor Hall: No. It’s very difficult to be optimistic on this issue. Let’s go back again. So Modi in his first year he sees Xi Jinping. He goes to Xian, not just to Beijing. Then Xi Jinping comes to Gujarat as well and there’s this attempt to build this personal relationship. There’s this extraordinary photograph of them on a swing together. A very uncomfortable photograph. But then that personal chemistry just doesn’t seem to translate into much more than that. And I think the Indians are profoundly concerned about what the Chinese are doing not just on their own border but also in South East Asia. A Chinese-dominated South China Sea, a Chinese Lake there, is not in India’s interests and Indian diplomacy reflects that in its strategy, (its military strategy is starting to affect that too).

And going back to your question about the submarines. What are the submarines for? Partly to train on nuclear powered submarines because they want nuclear powered missile submarines and not just the attack submarines. But also they are there to disrupt those sea-land communications in the East Indian Ocean and potentially to roll them into the South China Sea or into the Pacific if necessary and that’s about China and to a lesser extent about Pakistan.

John Dobson: But they’ve only got six. Not many. Three at sea at any one time.

Stephen Pound MP: It’s two at sea isn’t it?

John Dobson: Two or three.

Professor Hall: If they’re all surfaceable but the numbers game… I mean they’ve got Scorpion Submarines as well so there are some other classes and so on. So they have a fair… compared to say Australia which has six and wants eight or twelve depending on who you talk to. It’s still relatively… not insignificant and of course they have other assets too. Big surface ships and so on.

Stephen Pound MP: People don’t realise how good the Indian navy actually is. The Indian navy is first class and don’t forget in the present Yemen conflict, India is the only country that is actually coming and actually taking people off there. It’s got a very good, competent, capable navy, I can assure you. (Points to a lady in the audience) Madam you had a question?

Fourth Questioner: Yes I understand that relations between India and Israel are very good. Can you shed any light on why India has not supported Israel in the UN?

Stephen Pound MP: It has and it hasn’t.

Professor Hall: Yes that’s right. It has and it hasn’t. It’s still treading quite a thin line. I think some of us think (a good friend of mine Nicolas Blarel has written a very good book about this) think that Modi would have gone further and there are some Hindu nationalists that would like India to go further with its relationship with Israel because they see some parallels between the kind of Hindu nationalist concepts and some more nationalist or Zionist concepts in Israel as well. However the relationship is relatively narrow. It’s about particular pieces of defence technology that Israel is willing to sell to India or is willing to collaborate with India. And it’s about other things like water technologies and agricultural technologies and so on. So it’s relatively narrow in that way.

And then India has also traditionally had very good relationships with a number of Arab states and I think within the ministry of external affairs, when I ask the diplomats, there’s still a kind of residual preference for the relationships with the Arab states over Israel. And so what we haven’t seen yet is a prime ministerial visit to Israel which we thought was going to happen in the first year (I didn’t but others did). But it hasn’t happened yet and there’s no date on the horizon either. So I think what we’re seeing here is still a kind of balancing act on the part of the Indians where they see that their relationships with West Asia need to be, basically, interest-based. And there are many things that they’re getting from Arab states too. Particularly a lot of investment into India is coming now through the Middle East and through the UAE and potentially Saudi Arabia and so on and they don’t want to disrupt those relationships unnecessarily when. So why go to Tel Aviv? I think that’s the crux.

Stephen Pound MP: There’s a lot of technological interchange I mean, particularly on water preservation and irrigation techniques. Certainly there’s a huge amount of exchange of that and also at an academic level but I don’t think it’s going to be at a strategic level. I think that would not be popular in country. Somebody had a question. Sorry could I have you sir and then Madam? Do you want to take the two together? Do you mind? One after the other? But not simultaneously obviously.

Fifth Questioner: Just picking up on the Hindu point. I’m just wondering about Hindu-Muslim relations. If you say that Modi’s pragmatic, wouldn’t you expect him to try and calm things?

Stephen Pound MP: Perhaps we’ll come to that in a second. You had a question.

Sixth Questioner: (Largely inaudible put pertains to India’s trade deals).

Stephen Pound MP: I think we’ve got two good meaty questions there.

Professor Hall: On the first question. I think Modi has tried to position himself as being a much more inclusive leader but especially in emphasising that economic development will benefit everybody. And so if you look at the BJP manifesto in 2014, if you look at the statements that he makes, they tended to say that you know a rising tide lifts all boats and it would also help the Muslim community as well. There’s a theory as well though that where we see some of the more extreme sometimes violent acts by some of the fringe elements of the Hindu nationalist movement. There’s an argument sometimes put out there that there was a deal done when Modi wanted to become Prime Minister that he could run this pragmatic line and he could run a liberalisation line (which is not entirely popular within the Hindu nationalist movement) and they’d let off the leash some of these more unpleasant elements. That’s a theory. I’m just saying. Modi certainly has not been as publicly critical of some of the things that have happened or things that have been done by these groups as perhaps we would want him to be. So maybe that confirms it. I don’t know.

RCEP and TPP and so on. The Indians are watching TPP extremely carefully and they watch what TPP is all about very carefully and they watch the Americans wanted when they came into the process because they came a bit later. They weren’t there at the beginning. India’s a part of RCEP I suspect because of the nature of RCEP. I’m not a political columnist but RCEP is a different kind of deal to TPP. RCEP is a tidying up process, a series of bilateral deals that have been done or fully lateral deals that have been done across the region whereas TPP went a lot further than that: recognition of qualifications, not allowing architects to practice in different places, allowing businesses to operate without creating subsidiaries in other countries and allowing to operate across borders in South East Asia and so on. And then there’s all the services stuff which was incredibly important which is not really covered so I understand it. So they’re different deals and I think India probably, because of the lack of depth (the kind of broad but not deep agreement), they’re probably happier with that than they were with TPP. But they’ll be watching all of this with great interest.

Stephen Pound MP: When Narendra Modi was elected he said that he wanted his legacy to be an improvement in the rural economy. He knew that Congress lost because they didn’t extend the urban advantages into the rural regions. Do you think his legacy will be that or do you think he hasn’t quite reached that yet because rural electrification is still nowhere near although you have now got computers in the villages. You can now get a driving license in any village anywhere. You don’t have to actually go to the main city. But the rural economy of India is still very, very weak. Do you think he can achieve it? I mean I appreciate this is not the subject of your talk but we’d love to know what you think. What will his legacy be?

Professor Hall: Its’ hard to say at this point given that it takes such a long time to produce reform in those kinds of areas. There’s no doubt that those things- rolling out bank accounts for everybody, rolling out the national ID systems that allow people to access basic services from government and so on and to get around fraud and corruption from local officials (which was holding back rural areas where many people were illiterate) – all of these things kinds of acts I think slowly but surely will start to have an impact. But what’s the biggest social change in India? It’s urbanisation. It’s people leaving the villages, leaving the countryside and moving into the cities which is happening at an absolutely extraordinary rate. And I’m not completely convinced when you talk to people…you know I talk to Punjabis living in Ottowa and Brisbane and the first thing they want to talk about is the fertilising crisis in the Punjab and the success of farmers over the last season and the success of the monsoon and so on. And then when you talk to people to India as well there doesn’t seem yet to be that big leap that we perhaps would have liked to have seen.

Stephen Pound MP: Right well… (Sees audience member with hand raised)…oh sir I do beg your pardon. Yours’ is going to be the last and probably the best question isn’t it?

Seventh Questioner: What are your thoughts on the revival of the Australia-Japan-USA-India Quadrilateral?

Professor Hall: A paper’s just come out for a think tank in Delhi talking about the revival of the quadrilateral concept which was spoken about a little while ago in Australia, Japan, US and India. I think the time has passed for that and any way there was a lot of enthusiasm in Japan for that to happen and in the US but there was a lot of reticence in Canberra and New Delhi about that. So I think what we’re likely to see now is just a series of deepening bilateral strategic partnerships and then what we call ‘minilateral’ cooperation on particular issues around maritime security for example in the Indian Ocean which kind of avoid the impression of creating some kind of anti-Chinese alliance which is unhelpful and unnecessary. So I think what we’ll see, rather than a formal quadrilateral, we’ll just see deepening bilateral ties and perhaps some ‘minilateral’ cooperation on particular issue areas

Stephen Pound MP: Right, thank you. Any moment now there’ll be the sound of a bell which usually means one of us has escaped but it actually means there’s going to be a vote. So I’m going to have to nip off in a moment. Can I thank you very, very much and above all professor thank you so much for that. Is it possible to actually get a copy of your presentation? Will it be available?

Violet Hudson (HJS Events Coordinator): We’ll have an Events Summary online.

Stephen Pound MP: That’s all a man could ask for because that was extraordinarily comprehensive. That really was over the horizon. Really excellent. Thank you for some first class questions and thank you to the Henry Jackson Society yet again for actually bringing us this marvellous education.


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