January 2017


Perspectives: The Month Through India’s Eyes

Following two months in which demonetisation captured nearly all of the domestic media headlines in India, attention of note during January shifted to three key events, two international and one domestic.  On the international side, Chinese president Xi Jinping’s robust defense of globalization at his keynote speech in Davos received considerable attention and sparked a wide range of reactions, as did the inauguration of President Donald Trump and the flurry of executive orders in his first week in power, in particular the controversial ban on visas for certain Muslim-majority nations.  Domestically, the spontaneous protests against the government’s ban of jallikattu, a traditional ceremony in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, as well as the government’s botched handling of the situation, gave rise to a variety of commentary in the Indian press.

Xi Jinping’s Davos Speech

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s address at the World Economic Forum in Davos this past month received significant media attention globally, and India was no exception.  With globalisation having suffered a series of setbacks in 2016 with the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump, Xi’s focus on and support of further global integration came as a surprise to most observers.  The Hindu  view the address in a highly positive manner and called Xi the ‘new spokesman for globalisation’: “President Xi Jinping’s message to the World Economic Forum in Davos was timely and perhaps visionary as well, in this time of extraordinary global uncertainty… His address at the opening plenary before captains of business and industry could not have been a more robust and reassuring defence of the current world economic order, perceived to be at its most fragile in the post-War era with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President.”  The paper concluded that Xi’s speech might well presage an era of more constructive global engagement by China, albeit not perhaps entirely by choice: “For long Beijing has been accused of not taking on the burdens of a leadership role commensurate with its economic and strategic power. The changing world order may have left it with no option but to step up to the podium. It also turns the mirror on Beijing, demanding of it a lot more action to back its own words.’

Live Mint, on the other hand acknowledged the positive response Xi’s speech received but cautioned against expectations that China would step into an effective global leadership role any time soon: “…the US may well turn inward and abandon its global economic leadership role, leaving a vacuum that Xi’s China is looking to fill. It makes for an optimistic narrative. But if China is to become a free trade champion—and that is indeed to be wished for—it must deal with several challenges.” The article goes on to list a series of issues, from the ‘trifecta of state subsidies, zombie companies and oversupply’, RMB liberalisation, and protectionism, that unless addressed comprehensively, would effectively block China’s effective leadership with regards to free trade and globalisation.  The article identifies the government’s desire for control as the common theme underlying these challenges and one that China’s leaders would ultimately need to wrestle with: “There, then, is that pesky question again that China was supposed to have put to rest with its rise as a global economic power: can globalization and free trade go hand in hand with authoritarianism and rigid political control? The answer these days is perhaps not quite as clear as Beijing had declared it in better times. Xi’s Davos pitch may have worked a treat. But now comes the hard part.”

Finally, the Indian Express examined Xi’s claims on China’s globalisation through a critical lens and asked whether the world, and India, in particular, would be better off under a Chinese led world order: As China steps into the vacuum, India will have to confront a different problem. India has long been ambivalent about US-led globalisation. It has supported Beijing’s efforts to construct non-Western institutions in the name of Asian solidarity and global multipolarity. Yet, in the last few years, Delhi has found itself at the receiving end of China’s new clout in the multilateral arena, including at the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to name a few. Given that experience, might Delhi want to jump from the frying pan of Western economic primacy to the fire of China-led globalisation?” The author pointed to China’s somewhat mixed foreign policy reputation in Asia in particular as a bellwether for its leadership potential:  While many in Europe and America might raise a toast for Xi, not all Asians would be impressed with the Chinese rhetoric. Beijing’s Asian neighbours have watched in consternation China’s contemptuous rejection of an international tribunal’s award on the South China Sea dispute last year…A China that is yet to pacify its own neighbourhood will find it hard to shape global governance.”  The article ends on a positive yet cautious note, acknowledging China’s potential while recognising the mindset shift a productive leadership role would require: “As one of the world’s oldest civilisations whose comprehensive national power has rapidly risen, China has the right to play a leading role in shaping the global order. Beijing’s current unilateralism, however, is likely to limit China’s global possibilities.”

Reactions to President Trump’s Ban on Visas from Muslim Countries

President Trump inauguration and the series of executive orders he has subsequently issued on a range of issues from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, to the proposed border “wall” with Mexico have attracted intensive attention from the international media (including in India).  However, the reaction to the controversial blanket ban of visas for citizens of certain Muslim majority nations, and of refugees from Syria has received a sizeable share of attention for the fundamental challenge it places towards the values around the freedom of movement of people.  The Times of India, the country’s largest English language paper, called the ban “misplaced and counterproductive” noting that “The move is witnessing the US tech industry, Hollywood, academia and other constituencies come together against the ban. In a sense, the ban militates against what makes America great.”  It goes on to add that the ban is unlikely to achieve its stated objective of combating terrorism: “country-specific bans or refugee freezes don’t work to combat terror… if a particular country happens to have fallen prey to Islamist radicalism, a wholesale ban on that country’s nationals undermines America’s ability to cultivate people who could lead these countries towards moderation as well as gather intelligence on possible terror attacks. In multiple ways, the ban diminishes American soft power and strengthens extremists within targeted communities.”  Finally, the editorial touches on what the ban means for India: “India must prepare for a situation where there is a clampdown on US visas for Indian businesses, professionals and passport holders. In that case the principle should be, metaphorically speaking: if Indians aren’t permitted to enter Silicon Valley, we should bring Silicon Valley to India… If the government can spot opportunity in adversity, it should take advantage of any American ban to speed up the reform process and lure American companies to ‘Make in India’.”

The Indian Express echoed the Times in calling the ban counterproductive for the US: “President Trump has moved to protect the American people in his own way, which includes the temporary loss of liberty of the citizens of blacklisted nations when they reach US airports. If steps to protect American jobs and companies follow, their impact will be felt even more drastically across the world, as labour and capital quit American shores. The country’s institutions and civil society have proved to be resilient, but it remains to be seen if they can hold firm for the long term.”  Another op-ed in the Indian Express by the founder of one of India’s largest staffing agencies went on to explore the potential repercussions for India and its technology sector: “India’s software export industry is vulnerable to Trump’s “me, myself and I” economic thought world. Will he extend the country ban? Will he shut off onsite visas? Will he impose a tariff on offshore delivery? Will he enforce a local sourcing requirement? Will his “buy American” fatwa be enforced in people or dollars? Will this fatwa distinguish between American-owned offshore centres and service providers? Most importantly, will he risk America’s technology monopoly — an important source of their soft power and military prowess — by diminishing Silicon Valley’s ability to confiscate the best people in the world?” He goes on to say that this move could potentially be a harbinger of a time when America is no longer an attractive destination for Indian to emigrate to: “America’s genius has been stealing the best people in the world but my 12-year-old daughter came back from school saying that Trump winning was good for India because the smart Indians who left will have to come back and can then help build India. I think she is wrong, but after the visa order, I can’t be sure.”

Protests Against Ban on Jallikattu Turn Violent in Tamil Nadu

In India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, Jallikattu, a traditional bull taming ceremony that critics say poses a risk to public safety and represents animal cruelty, has been the subject of a legal tug of war regarding a ban for a number of years, with India’s Supreme Court upholding the ban as recently as the summer of 2016. In the past month, a series of apparently spontaneous protests against the ban rapidly grew out of control and turned violent, leading the central government to put in place an ordinance, a legal sleight of hand that many fear broke due process.  The Indian Express was among the leading papers to criticize the move for this reason and found the government’s actions worrying: The government had, in effect, prepared the ground for the protestors to break the law when it ignored the fact that the matter was sub judice and promulgated an ordinance to circumvent the existing ban on Jallikattu. The government’s bowing to popular will at the expense of the judicial process — an order is due from the Supreme Court on the matter — undermined the majesty of the law. Can it now blame the protestors for disrupting public order?”  However, the paper also had sharp words for the Supreme Court which had upheld the original ban, questioning whether imposing regulations would have been a better alternative than a full ban: “The events at Marina must also bring a moment of reflection for the judiciary. The Supreme Court, which observed that society must move from an anthropocentric worldview to a biocentric ethics when it ruled against the conduct of Jallikattu on the ground that it involved cruelty to animals, could ponder the question: Wouldn’t regulation offer a better prospect than an outright ban in enforcing its own guideline?”

The Times of India also blamed the government for the violence that erupted, pointing to the fact that the ordinance allowing the ceremony was actually put in place before the protests become violent: “The turn of events on Monday exposed poor leadership of both the government and the Jallikattu movement. Having promulgated an ordinance on Saturday to facilitate the traditional sport, the government failed to explain its implication. In fact, it kept details of the ordinance a secret, leaving protesters suspicious. Barely hours before the assembly was to introduce a bill to replace the Jallikattu ordinance, the police used force to evict the campaigners from Marina beach.” The article was quick to point to the unorganised and spontaneous nature of the protests, placing the onus on the government to provide the leadership and clarity for peaceful deescalation: “…Jallikattu fans had no idea how to end the show. A people’s movement often takes birth through a combination of factors and garners strength spontaneously. But when a leadership fails to emerge, the end game becomes tricky. Had the protesters been guided properly, they would have seized the golden moment on Saturday when the ordinance was promulgated and ended the struggle.”





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