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Contrasting Poll Results: GUJARAT HOLDS MODI MAGIC, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 13 December 2022 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 13 December 2022

Contrasting Poll Results

GUJARAT HOLDS MODI MAGIC

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The recent Assembly elections’ results are a bit puzzling. The BJP’s landslide victory in Gujarat but losing Himachal Pradesh to Congress and its power in Municipal Corporation of Delhi to AAP. However, there is certainty on one front-- the image of Prime Minister Modi, possibly more than that of BJP, stands tall. There can be no denying that his appeal remains unchallenged despite many shortcomings of the Central government, especially on the economic front.

The Congress, which largely focussed on bread-and-butter issues won in Himachal Pradesh, but it was decimated in Gujarat with its vote share dropping by about 14 percent. It was indeed surprising that neither the sufferings of the pandemic influenced the electorate nor even the promise of the Congress party offering a compensation of Rs 4 lakh per victim. And while people are unhappy with the general price rise, especially that of cooking gas cylinders and petrol, the Congress couldn’t encash on it. Its seats went down from 77 to 17 presently, and BJP grew stronger.

This time, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to be the biggest beneficiary. It opened its account in Modi’s State but only time will tell whether it can emerge as a force in Gujarat in the coming years. It did cut into the votes of the Congress, but that the grand old party would have such a disastrous result, despite its traditional vote base of tribals and Muslims in the districts of south and east Gujarat of the Narmada and Tapi river belt, is difficult to fathom.  

The seriousness of the campaign by Modi, who took time off to address no less than 31 rallies and undertook major road shows in Ahmedabad and Surat, while his Home Minister Amit Shah camped for days in the State is demonstration enough of how seriously the BJP took the polls, despite reports that its rule would continue. On the other hand, this seriousness was not quite manifest in the Congress, and it seems to have expected a poor show.

Questions are thus bound to arise about the efficacy of the standard of campaigning of the Congress, the appeal to the voters at the grass-root level, the methodology of exposing the communal tendencies of the BJP and its total failure to uplift the condition of the masses. There were lacunae in these areas, but it appears that social and economic issues and failures cannot possibly unseat a government by a half-educated electorate.

Additionally, organisational muscle, which includes financial resources, as also the leadership potential are important factors in winning elections. The obvious reason is that the electorate may be literate but not educated enough to weigh the pros and cons of the deteriorating economic and social situation in the country. Plus, the Congress did not have an able leader in the state and the organisational structure remained quite weak.

Delving into the problem, it needs to be stated that less educated people are swayed by the hype which Modi has been generating in terms of technology in education, industrial development and the constructions of flyovers and highways though these hardly benefit the masses. Heavy industries do not generate sufficient employment, while agriculture in Gujarat is not quite in healthy state.

Some analysts talk of the Gujarat model of development but our understanding of this is centred on growth, not real or inclusive development. That is the reason why the cities are prospering compared to the villages, the rich and the upper middle class becoming prosperous and the gap between the rich and the poor growing. However, it goes to the credit of Modi for ending the state’s water crisis in Saurashtra, which benefitted the common man. Also reports indicate that every Gujarat household now gets piped water. 

Fighting elections and choosing the right issues appears to be the forte of the BJP. And what helps is that it has all along been a centralised party with local leaders not given the same importance. Though it is a cadre-based party, decisions are taken at the Delhi headquarters by the core group, headed by Modi. This has been a long trend in Indian politics since the time of Indira Gandhi and the BJP has followed this scrupulously. But it doesn’t seem to work for the Congress anymore.  

However, Himachal Pradesh has exemplified the limits of Modi’s ability to single handedly win elections. It is true that the State only reinforced a trend of throwing out incumbents as has been the case in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand. Though Modi sought to woo the voters by showcasing himself rather than the local candidates, the anti-incumbency wave got precedence. But a big factor, which may have not got the attention it deserved was that as many as 21 BJP rebels contested the polls as Independents and spoilt the party’s chances of emerging victorious. Moreover,it’s being said that Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi presence this time, unlike in western UP, did make an impact among women voters and those from lower castes.

On AAP’s front, while it awaits bagging the status of a national party having opened its account in Gujarat, its historic win in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi polls, dislodging the BJP and with it the Modi’s popular image, is a reason to be elated. Undoubtedly, Arvind Kejriwal has turned out to be a leader who has the ability of understanding the needs and demands of the common man and delivering, which makes a vital difference to their lives. Given the fact that it is already ruling in Delhi, there are expectations that the ‘double-engine’ government will improve the life of citizens in the national capital, provided given a free hand.

Finally, the coming year is crucial for political parties as elections are due in three Hindi belt States along with Karnataka. Some analysts are talking of a combined opposition with Congress giving the leadership. But the problem is that the acceptability of Rahul Gandhi as the leader of a united front, if he so chooses, may be somewhat difficult at this point. The new Congress President Khargehas a responsibility to seriously try and forge unity and fight elections jointly. And while a section of analysts may dismiss the Bharat Jodo Yatra as inconsequential, it can’t be denied that it just might have the potential of resurrecting the Congress’ fortunes in the long run. The yatra has on the one hand spread the message of countering the politics of hate and division, and on the other, reached out to the masses. In the Gandhian spirit!

The focus of the ruling dispensation of playing with the religious sentiment of the masses has, no doubt, paid dividends for the BJP. Meanwhile, reports suggest that work around the grand Ram mandir in Ayodhya is progressing fast and should be ready before the big election of 2024, the timing of which should pay dividends. Moreover, Modi’s appeal or claim of providing a sense of security and stability to the voters appears to be going in favour of the BJP.

With caste-class and religion playing a big role in present-day elections, it’s about time the Congress weaves a new framework based on societal consolidation, economic recovery and spread the same among subaltern communities. It exuberates confidence that Rahul’s yatra,touching on the masses’ problems and calling for transformation of the socio-economic order, will yield dividends in the coming year. The Himachal result has given it this confidence. Whether it will percolate down to results is anybody’s guess, but a resurrection is a big challenge. A bigger one being of countering the Modi magic. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

German FM in India: EXPLORING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES, D.K.Giri, 10 December 2022 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 10 December 2022

German FM in India

 Exploring Economic Opportunities

D.K.Giri 

The Foreign Minister of Germany Annalena Baerbock was in India this week on a two-day visit. The purpose and the timing of the visit coincided with Germany finishing its term as the president of G-7 group this month as India takes over as the president of G-20 countries. Some observers suggest that it was a make-up visit after the youngish Foreign Minister of the Green Party of Germany had advocated international involvement in resolution of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan.

However, in the words of the foreign Minister, the focus of her visit consisted of three areas; economic cooperation, climate crisis mainly dealing with the energy question that enhances the use of renewables, and the security. Germany leading in the replacement of fossil fuel and nuclear energy will help India to make that change-over in the energy sector.  The ForeignMinister said, “We are not making empty promises when we say that we want to further strengthen our economic, climate and security-policy cooperation with India, beyond what we are already doing through our strategic partnership. This is why, while in New Delhi, I will also be signing a Mobility Partnership Agreement that will make it easier for our citizens to study, conduct research and work in each other’s’ countries”.

Be the motivation of the visit as it may, let us decipher from her statements, and interactions with her counterpart and other officials, Germany’s current strategy on India that may impact the growth of relations between two countries. For a start, it was assumed that the western counties including Germany were looking for a substitute country to China for their investment. Germany had specifically mentioned India as an obvious destination. This perceptionwas clearly dispelled by Baerbock. She said “no” in response to a specific query that Germany was treating India as a replacement for China.

Baerbock made a distinction between Germany’s policy on China and that with India. She said that they have a value partnership with India where as their relations with China are economic. Germany has been maintaining that China poses ‘systemic threat to the world”. Baerbock reiterated that position in New Delhi. Referring to Beijing as a “systemic rival", Baerbock made clear that Germany’s policy would be more muscular and competitive. She said, “China has changed very much over the last few years and the whole region can see this. Therefore, the exchange with actors from the region is very important to us, especially with India, which is a direct neighbour (of China),"  

Berlin, Baerbok added, would pursue an Indo-Pacific strategy that focused on deepening cooperation with partners like India and Japan while cutting dependence on China.“There is huge potential for cooperation with India not only on the economic side but also on the security situation.” The Minister emphasised that Germany was always willing and striving to reinforce a rule-based international order in the world including a in the India-pacific region.

Baerbock backed her assertion by invoking the sailing of Brandenburg-class of German navy to Mumbai. She said, “With the visit of the frigate Bayern to Mumbai at the beginning of the year, we have shown that we will underpin our (Indo-Pacific) guidelines with concrete action. In the future, we want to further intensify German-Indian cooperation in the field of security policy.” She also announced that Germany would also look to engage with Prime Minister Modi’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative.

The intentional politicalobservers wonder whether theForeign Minister’s statements on China and India-pacificThe German Foreign Minister’s comments sit somewhat awkwardly with the more conciliatory position towards China taken by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.GermanChancellor recently visited China to meet with President Xi Jinping after the latter was reflected by the Communist Party Congress. Scholz was accompanied by a high-powered group of businessmen from Germany’s largest corporations. China has been Germany’s largest economic partner since 2016, with the latter’s firms pouring around 10 billion euros in new investments into the Chinese market in 2022 alone.

Chancellor Scholz also controversially approved Chinese investments in Hamburg port, which is Germany’s largest port. The deal was pushed through by the Chancellor despite concerns from numerous ministries about the national security risks posed by the deal. 


The clear gap between Scholz’s actions and Baerbock’s statements seem to signal a divide over China in the coalition government that replaced Angela Merkel in December 2021. Scholzbelongs to centre-left Social Democratic Party while Baerbock belongs to the Alliance 90/The Green Party, another part on the left of the political spectrum.


Is there a divide really? On deeper examination, we may find that Germany policy could really be consistent. Germany is the strongest economy in the European Union. It has built its economic power systematically and assiduously. German foreign policy is a function of its economic strength.  Germany will even want to separate their economic interest from the security concerns. Whilst it may go with NATO for its security imperatives, it will deal with China for its economic needs. The Foreign Minster said it would be better if the political values and economic needs are co-terminus. If not, the economic interests will override the other priorities. That is the logic that drove the European Union Project with Germany on the driver’s seat along with a few co-pilots from time to time.


New Delhi has not yet grasped the urgency of building its economy. Given the size and potential of the market in India, the entire democratic world including Germany will like India to grow and be ready to absorb the investment. But the priorities of the leadership in Delhi do not seem to respond to this need. China will continue to draw the attention of big economies until they find viable alternativesmatching China’s size and structures it has build so far. New Delhi must be wary of this gap.


The other strategic difference New Delhi must be wary of is that for Europe, Russia is the elephant in the room, and they are deeply concerned about the ongoing war in Ukraine. Beijing is not their security concern as much as it is for India purely because of geo-political reasons. They are wary of India’s attitude towards Russia as New Delhi is about Europe’s towards China. New Delhi could use it as bargaining tool by being pro-active in the Ukrainian war in terms of bring about a case-fire if not complete cessation of the conflict.

 

Yet, the other strategic option is to explore a “third way’ between being Pro-USA or Pro-China. Germany may be exploring this as a pragmatic and progressive line of thinking based on the concept of strategic autonomy. New Delhi has a similar approach. There is then a clear convergence between Germany and India. Is it worth pursuing? At the same time, if Europe can impress upon Beijing to give up its expansionism, and India can persuade Russia to avoid military aggression, we could fast progress towards a rule-based world order!---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corruption In Public Life: RISING, NEEDS URGENT HALT, By Dr OisheeMukherjee, 9 December 2022 Print E-mail

Spotlight

New Delhi, 9 December 2022

Corruption In Public Life

RISING, NEEDS URGENT HALT

By Dr OisheeMukherjee

Corruption has for long been a subject of much debate and ways and means of its eradication have been outlined by various organisations and experts. But unfortunately, political corruption in India has shown an upwards trend with centralization of power at the helm. Thus, it can very well be said corruption in public life is a means of obtaining personal benefit through illicit means and the abuse of public office and property.

This is demonstrated by the increasing wealth of political personalities all over the country. A few days back the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) survey revealed that the average assets of the candidates for the first phase of Gujarat polls have gone up by 44 percent this time from Rs 2 crore in 2017 to Rs 2.9 crore this year. Party-wise, the average assets increased from Rs 10 crore to Rs 13.4 crore for the BJP, from Rs 8 crore for Congress to Rs 8.4 crore and from Rs 1 crore to Rs 2 crore for AAP. The repeat candidates have reported a significant rise in their assets. This clearly reveals that being in power helps in increasing wealth and it is very much the case of India.  

Another form of corruption has been the seizure of hundreds of crores of rupees in the homes of politicians in West Bengal, leading to possibly the biggest educational scam in recent years pertaining to the appointment of school teachers, non-teaching staff in schools etc. in the state. It needs to be pointed out here that all this has come to light only due to a meritorious and bold judge of the Calcutta High Court. The education system it seems has collapsed because the political class and even some professors and teachers are going all out to make that extra buck. It is also in this state that a top-level politician of the ruling party, engaged in cow smuggling to neighbouring Bangladesh and related illegal activities, was found to turn black money into white through forcibly grabbing the first prize lottery ticket from the genuine winner.

Thus, corruption in public life sadly has been very much manifest as politicians are indulging in unethical behaviour and there is abuse of public office and property. Similarly, private-sector corruption is all about making unjust profits by exploiting employees and consumers while skirting government regulations. It may not be wrong to say that corruption exists in every sector and at every level of government in the country. It has been manifest that the number of people in the public and private sectors employing corrupt methods and unfair methods has been on the rise and reports have confirmed it.

As per a research conducted by Transparency International way back in 2005, over 62 percent of Indians have paid a bribe to a public official at some time in their lives. Another report from 2008 found that about half of Indians had first-hand experience paying bribes or using contacts to get services from government agencies. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranked the country 78th out of 180 countries in 2018, indicating a steady decline in public perception of corruption.

India’s government, whichever it may be, and political parties are notorious in corruption scandals. The political class is entangled in corruption for a number of causes, which include the social fibre changing, a lack of good education, sincerity and work culture, lack of genuine involvement with the masses and little incentive to work honestly and diligently. In India, anyone can enter politics and form a political party, like perhaps other countries, and need not have educational qualifications as these are not part of the eligibility criteria. Ministers have been appointed who have never had school education and are not well-versed with the politics and the political system. Besides, there is a rise in number of people who are well-known political leaders who have been convicted of a crime. 

Only candidates who meet minimum educational requirements and have a clean criminal record should be allowed to run for public office. After winning the election, the candidates should go through some form of training to be able to handle numerous roles and responsibilities that are given to them. A well-educated and well-trained individual in all probability could lead the country more effectively than others. For everything, there must be a set policy, and ministers’ activities must be watched by the higher authorities and ensure they are going by the rule book.

Corruption is less frequent in a society where people are educated, and the awareness level is high. The vast majority of people still does not recognise the value of education, which contributes to an increase in corruption, which is also a result of unbridled greed and increased market competitiveness. People have become exceedingly selfish, jealous and arrogant in recent years, all as a result of induction of materialistic values in society.

Corruption has well-established causes. It is believed that identifying the root of an issue is half the battle won. Rather than debating the issue repeatedly, it is now time to seek for answers. The government and civil society must rid India of corruption. It is easier said than done. Apart from the thrust on education, there’s a need for reigniting value system, which has over decades got eroded. We as a people need to fight corruption and not fall a prey to unscrupulous tendencies, which are rampant in society.

People and those in power, who engage in corrupt practices such as receiving and offering bribes, using unlawful means to build their enterprises, acquiring black money, and other advantages that they do not have legal access to, must face harsh penalties. They must be made accountable. Sting operations have in the past been successful in exposing the corrupt– whether politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen or individuals in various industries, and should be encouraged. These operations will not only expose corrupt individuals, butshall deter others from engaging in such behaviour. Each of us must accept it as a personal obligation to follow the proper procedure for getting things done rather than paying bribes to get things done or avoid fines.

There hangs a big question mark whether corruption can be reduced. There is a need for certain measures that could be taken for which strong political will and determination is necessary to transform the country. Only raising education levels may not help, unless the judicial system is strengthened at all levels to take up cases of corrupt practices and those indulging in fast track mode. Dispensation of justice must be prompt as it will act as a deterrent. The Election Commission must have its machinery in place too and ensure that its officers are not pliable or coerced.

While our political leaders and governments talk of transparency and accountability, the ground reality is different. Corruption is eating into the system. For an emerging economy like India, it stands in the way of a balanced development and inclusive growth. For if becoming rich is the aim, it is the masses who suffer. ---INFA

Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

(The writer is a maxillofacial surgeon working as Associate Consultant in AMRI Hospitals, Kolkata)

 

Gujarat & Goal 2024: EMOTIONS TO SURPASS ECONOMY, By Shivaji Sarkar, 12 December 2022 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 12 December 2022

Gujarat & Goal 2024

EMOTIONS TO SURPASS ECONOMY

By Shivaji Sarkar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi magic spells witha record victory of 156 Gujarat seats for the BJP as he toils hard withUnion Home Minister Amit Shah. From now on it may be an intense Hindu makeover, surpassing the economy, to continue the spree till 2024 Lok Sabha election.

The party prefers to go beyond economics and politics. It is setting the agenda for an open debate before the poll process begins in February 2023. The BJP starts methodical work to pave the pitch for the national elections to be preceded by elections to nine State assemblies and four with the Lok Sabha.

The economic rhetoric of five trillion would remain there as it was also in Gujarat for a State GDP of one trillion, though it could not create the mood that the party may have liked. That led its leaders to walk the extra mile -- 50 km and 10 km patch for the astounding victory. The magic attraction of Modi finally did the trick as also party’s capability to muster over 16 lakh people at the polling stations in a jiffy in the second phase on December 5. The party’s financial and manpower strength virtually wiped out the opposition parties, particularly the Congress and the AAP.

An issueless poll makes the BJP’sjob tougher as the Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi MCD elections testify. The big election of 2024 once again may not be contested on an economic blueprint as it is not easy to make it a reality in an inflation and recession-hit world economy torn by wars, sanctions, low or little growth and millions jobless. India may be doing better with over 6 percent growth, but it may not be enough to lure voters or provide work to the needy.

The G20 presidentship would be utilised to penetrate 50 venues in States with 200 meets starting from Jammu &Kashmir. But recreating a Gujarat phenomenon across the country though not impossible,will have a cost on the party cadre and leaders. It did not work in Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. The BJP proceeds with a cafeteria approach of campaigning. It would be different in each of the nine States in 2023: in North East-- Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura; South -- Karnataka, Telangana; Centre -- Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and West – Rajasthan. Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim are likely to go to polls with the Lok Sabha elections in April 2024.

The controversies, BJP poll managers know, are vote catchers. It may again gamble on polarisation, population or the divide with unique packs in each State.It has almost now centred on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to create a waive across the country. The discussion on the issue of personal laws touches almost all Indians. That gives an opportunity to woo communities and widen the divide.

A small instance with larger import was witnessed in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, December 9, with introduction of a private member’s bill by BJP MP, Kirodi Lal Meena. He demanded a panel to prepare and implement the UCC. It divides the House. Expectedly the Congress, TMC, DMK, CPI-M, CPI, IUML, MDMK, Samajwadi Party and RJD lodged strong protests amid uproar. Chairman Jagdeep Dhankar called for division and the motion was cleared with 63 votes in favour and 23 against. The controversy officially begins.

Yes, notwithstanding controversies, the UCC has become the next major agenda and vote drawer. The adage that the BJP is always in campaign mode becomes a reality. It takes precedence over the Union Budget preparations, allocations or populist moves that a government puts on the agenda. Each State is likely to have different allocations for high sounding programmes for appeal to the local populace. Bullet train, Vande Bharat trains, small airports and similar feats would be on the popular agenda. The UCC would be garnished with the population control policy for sharpening the campaign.

If the BJP concentrates on scrapping the junking of ten-year-new cars, startedby UPA-Congress, in all the States, it would touch the heart of several crore people and families. It can be a game changer as Switzerland has taken the first step to do away with improper tech electricity guzzler electric vehicles (EV). Anger simmering against the forced junking of cars and tractors is increasingly being witnessed among kisans of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Punjab and several others.

It is being touted as a move of the automobile lobby to boost sales hit by low sales during Covid-19 and even before. The authorisation of major car makers to lift the ten-year cars is causing commotion and discontent even among the party workers. Prime Minister Modi might move differently than Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, a vocal supporter of car junking.

And there may or may not be freebies, the free food dole is likely to get an extension till the Lok Sabha polls along with many other programmes for the tribals, and disadvantaged groups. The programme is likely to be extended to May 2024, in phases.The minorities are to be given special favour in allotments of PM Avas Yojana houses, jobs in EWS quota, allocations to religious schools, madrasas and some other programmes. It is interesting to note that backward minority communities are gradually being attracted to the Hindu party. The subtle campaigning among minority groups of different religions by RSS leader Indresh Kumar has caught their fancy.

The minority denominated constituencies in the North East, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka would be approached by the party cadre for the next one year religiously to lure them to vote for the BJP. The party is in touch with different churches. Various programmes tailored for each of the States is aimed at swinging the mood for the saffron party. The approach, packaging and methods are special to each State concentrating on welfare and the popular imaging.

Additionally, local religious icons too would be projected in many ways. In Arunachal Pradesh, Donyi-Polo – Sun-Moon temple is getting keen attention. This following Modi opening the Donyi-Polo airport sometime back. Nagaland is varied and so are other States in the region and according to a RSS leader the sangh has been catering to NE tribals groups for past decades. 

The novel campaign plank has been designed to surpass the economic issues and capture the electorate’s imagination. The clear aim being to win the elections with a mix of emotions, connect and divide and to perpetuate its rule till 2047 or the centenary of Independence. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

ExternalisingIndia’s Image: USING CULTURAL DIPLOMACY, By Dr D.K. Giri, 2 December 2022 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 2 December 2022

ExternalisingIndia’s Image

USING CULTURAL DIPLOMACY

By Dr D.K. Giri

(Prof International Relations, JIMMC)

On my visit last week to Jakarta, Indonesia, I accompanied the international delegation to sight-seeing in the capital city of Jakarta. About 20 of us from 14 countries were taken to the old town where we were exposed to a puppet show. To my utter delight as well as surprise, the show was about the Indian epic Ramayana. In a Muslim-majority country in the capital city, not in Bali, where people of Indian origin populate, a Hindu epic embraced in cultural events like puppet show was indeed amazing. There are similar Indian spiritual-cultural influences in other South-East Asian countries, indeed in many other parts of the world where Indians have migrated to in the past and are a sizeable population now.

Another anecdote, I was told by a diplomat friend that an old lady in Tanzania walked some four kilometres to watch a video on an Indian feature film. Mumbai-produced feature films are quite popular across the world. On one of my visits to Kabul, I met youngsters who knew about Sanjay Dutt and Shahrukh Khan more than about anyoneelse in India. Both these experiences signify the soft power that India possesses, which emanate from India’s culture. Is India using this soft power effectively or engaging in cultural diplomacy?

To understand the significance and impact of cultural diplomacy, let us scan some of the formulations made by world leaders. Dr. Mari ElkaPangestu, World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, former Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy of Indonesia said, “I think Cultural Diplomacy plays a large role in overcoming challenges that arise in multilateral trade negotiations. ‘Soft power’ often does help during hard negotiations. When you are learning about each other, whether it’s through cooperation in culture, the arts, collaboration between films, or collaboration between music, that does so much for increasing the understanding between any two countries or group of countries, which I believe often paves the way for a better environment during the more economical/political negotiations”.

Obviously, the dividends from cultural diplomacy are many. Yet, foreign policies of many countries focus more on trade and security issues than the cultural aspects. The cultural affinity between two countries creates a climate of confidence, trust and understanding. Why is culture then underplayed in diplomatic negotiations! This is perhaps due to uncertainty on the part of leadership, which culture, or particular aspects of a culture should be projected.

Cultural diplomacy is a way of presenting a country to the world, using the cultural riches of that country. Following from the above premise, what are the cultural assets? Different countries in the world have specific cultural riches and, in some cases, similar ones, if they had a shared history. In the Indian case, it is the co-existence of several identities creating diversity and harnessing the power of that diversity.

The politics of identity, however, is a pejorative concept. Karl Marx had said that religion is the opiate of the people: religion constitutes the bulk of a culture. Ever since, identities based on religion, race, ethnicity are discarded in public discourse. Alarmingly, people have been divided into various segments based on religion, race, gender and nationality. The right-wing populists are exploiting these divisions to gain political support. Aggravated by pandemic, financial crises, and wars, insecurity among majority of population fuels nationalism and extremism.

Enzo Traverso, Italian scholar of European intellectual history described this trend as an attempt to destroy democracy. He suggested that the rise of the far-right also underscores the increasing importance of identity politics in the early 21st century. Meant as a form of collective action, identity politics seeks to articulate the needs and demands that arise from the shared experiences of certain social groups.

In the West, immigration has caused the consolidation of majoritarianism as a reaction to globalisation and to the multi-cultural world that it is creating. As the national economies integrate through trade and direct foreign investments, profound demographic changes are taking place as migrants move to the West to either study or work. This is causing considerable anxiety among the white majorities who are fearful that growing religious and ethnic diversity may overshadow their own established identity.

In Asia, where India has considerable cultural influence, diversity has long been a hallmark of their cultures. Asia has given birth to five major religions and has hundreds of ethnic groups scattered across 48 countries and 11 different time zones. Despite their obvious differences, most ethnic and religious groups have lived in harmony with one another, enriching the arts, traditions and culture of the region.

Sadly, in recent years, various conservative and populist parties have come to power by weaponising identity. In India, the concern exists in some quarters that the majority is threatening the country’s cultural and religious minorities and upending the multi-cultural structure of the society.

Malaysia has recently experienced polarisation. Parties such as UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) have used the identity card to fracture Malaysian voters along religious and racial divides. Malaysia had long-established policy of affirmative action to improve the material conditions of the country’s bhumiputra or ethnic Malays.

Indonesia has been experiencing ethnic and religious pluralism insulating identity-based conflicts and politics. The country, however, saw a steady rise in divisive rhetoric after 2016 when Islamist groups launched a massive campaign to remove Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who they accused of blasphemy for insulting the Quran.

Progressives across the world have stayed away from identity politics. That is precisely the issue and challenge that India can address. Also, this is where India can contribute to the world politics with its culture of pluralism and synthesis. Multiple identities are the essence of diversity, which in turn, sustains democracy. Identities need not conflict and can easily co-exist as they are always contextual. An individual can embody multiple identities on the basis of language, ethnicity, race, gender, region, profession, religion and in Indian case, caste.

There are two kinds of identities – ascribed, which people are born into, the other, acquired, which can change. However, identities can be transcended into newer and higher forms depending on the context. For instance, your language identity can operate in the same language group, but you need to shed it and acquire another language while communicating with a person outside your language group.

Indian culture, composed of religions and traditions, is inherently diverse containing multiple identities. It has survived for centuries using the practice of co-existence as well as synthesis. India can use the unique traits of harmony, pluralism and synthesis in its culture and harness it in cultural diplomacy. This will enhance India’s chance of emerging as a global power, a super power. Trade and securityissues are led by US and China at present. What is missing in the world, which is divided and polarised, is a new political culturediscussed here. Will India fill the void? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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