Sunday, July 08, 2018

Trade Relations Over the Edge as Beijing, US Sharpen Knives

On Monday, President Donald Trump ordered the US Trade Representative to identify “$200 billion worth of Chinese goods for additional tariffs at a rate of 10 per cent.” This comes in on top of the$50 billion worth of tariff increases that were announced on June 15. It’s not clear when these would kick in, though July 6 is one date being spoken about, which does leave time for some negotiations.

But the announcement seems to be inexorably driving US-China relations over the edge. Because the Chinese Ministry of Commerce declared that China would have no option by to take measures to strike back. They accused the US of blackmail and going against the agreement the two sides had reached through multiple rounds of consultations.
Observers have noted that China imports $130 billion of goods from the US and so doesn’t have the ability to match Trump’s total additional tariffs which have now reached $250 billion. But, China could target US companies doing business in China. Companies like General Motors, Apple, Walmart and others operating in China are doing well and keen to expand their businesses. Last week, for example, Google announced that it would invest $550 million in the Chinese e-commerce site Beijing had the option of using customs delays, tax audits, inspections, administrative penalties and production delays to cause huge problems for them. What the current cycle of punitive tariffs can do is to disrupt the global supply chains in ways that undermine the confidence of investors and businesses.
The Americans are betting that their booming economy will enable them to take on China. But China’s $13 trillion economy is no pushover. In any case, Beijing can whip up nationalism and being an authoritarian state, keep the country in line through a variety of measures.
Both the US and China use coercive economic tactics. But where the US uses formal processes, such as sanctions, trade controls and investment restrictions that are formally arrived at through legal processes, China tends to do it through applying domestic rules, phytosanitary regulations, and even informal boycotts to pressure specific companies. This last tactic was used against the South Korean company Lotto for permitting land under its control to be used to emplace the US THAD anti-missile system in South Korea.
In all this, the Senate’s vote to reimpose a US ban on the Chinese telecom giant ZTE is a wild card. Both Houses of Congress have passed measures to sanction the company, and now their versions must be reconciled. In the meantime, White House is scrambling to prevent the President from either vetoing the legislation or getting involved in a confrontation with Congress.
It may be recalled that in April, the US Commerce Department had initially imposed a seven-year ban on American companies doing business with ZTE. Subsequently, Trump took up the issue and said he had struck a deal with President Xi Jinping. As a result, the company was allowed to operate in the US after paying a $1 billion fine and embed a US compliance team with a new management. US critics were outraged at this because ZTE had clearly violated US laws and by making a deal with Xi, Trump virtually surrendered invaluable US leverage in the trade fight against China.
In the meantime, the Chinese are also taking longer term measures to meet the criticism that they prevent foreign investment in too many areas. So, a new negative list is being released and restrictions on energy, resources, infrastructure, transportation, and professional services will be removed or loosened. The new list will have two sections, one which will be operative nation-wide, and the other which will be restricted to pilot free trade zones.
As it is, earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported that over the years, Chinese steelmakers have been shutting production at home and expanding it abroad to access global markets. Western governments have been complaining that Chinese manufacturers have been getting hundreds of billions of dollars of state support to build or purchase plants abroad through banks such as the China Development Bank and the Bank of China and various Chinese investment funds.
Like the US, the Chinese economy is also buoyant. The Chinese companies are in an upswing. According to Bloomberg, the five biggest US technology groups like Apple and Microsoft spent $228 billion in stock buybacks and dividends, while the five top Chinese companies spent just $10.7 billion and put the rest of it into investments that enhance their spread and influence globally.
What the current brawl is doing is to distract China from serious economic reforms that it must undertake to keep its economy on a growth path. In the main this relates to curbing the tendency of its companies to borrow money to grow. Dealing with the huge debt burden is a major challenge that Beijing must overcome to rebalance its economy.
Of course, the biggest battle is for China to protect its grand industrial strategy called “Made in China”, but that is exactly what the Trump Administration is now targeting. They want the Chinese to curb their massive $300 billion programme to become leaders in a slew of industries ranging from computer chips, commercial aircraft, pharmaceuticals and electrical vehicles. This is so intrinsic to the goal of making China a middle-income country that Beijing will not, and probably cannot, move back without serious political consequences for the Communist Party.
The Wire June 22, 2018

Losing the way: BJP has panicked out of the PDP alliance, beyond that is a larger failure

BJP has somewhat casually abandoned the Jammu & Kashmir state government that it ran in a coalition with PDP for the past three years. Almost certainly, this is an act of panic, occasioned by the coming general elections.
Jammu is the heartland of BJP, the place where the founder of their precursor party Syama Prasad Mookerjee attained martyrdom fighting against the special status the state had got for acceding to India. For many in BJP whose political ancestors did little in the country’s freedom movement, the struggle for the full integration of J&K with India is an expression of their nationalist past.
The highly political Dogras of the state, concentrated in the Jammu area, have made it clear that they will pursue their own version of national interest, if the central BJP leadership cops out. And so it was in 2002, when the Jammu Mukti Morcha undermined BJP, ensuring that its tally plummeted to a single seat in the state assembly. They are a bellwether electorate for BJP in the north and clearly, the party heard their message and decided to precipitously dump PDP before the next Lok Sabha elections.
In doing so, however, BJP which runs the Union government of the country has abdicated the leadership role it promised to play when it formed the government following the 2014 general elections.
An important aspect of the role was to shepherd the J&K state past its troubled years. All Union governments have played that role to varying measures of success. They have negotiated with separatists, even militants, reached out to Pakistan, appointed interlocutors, proposed ameliorative measures and promised political packages towards an effort to resolve the problem within the bounds of the Constitution and democracy.
Take the worst period between 1990-93 when the state was under Governor’s rule and a fierce battle was being waged against the separatist militants, leavened by Pakistani proxy warriors. The Lok Sabha poll of 1991 couldn’t be held in the state. The National Conference and Congress had melted down, there were no separatist politicians to talk to. So they had to be constructed and so, the Hurriyat was. Whatever may be said about their Pakistani connections today, let’s be clear, they are a creature of Indian endeavours whose goal was to push the gunmen into the background.
Slowly and steadily, the Union governments of the day encouraged the re-establishment of “normal politics”, pushing through a somewhat farcical Lok Sabha poll in May 1996 in which the National Conference stayed out. But in the state assembly elections later that year, the NC came back on Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s promise of “maximum autonomy”, and swept the poll. And in 2002, perhaps the first free and fair poll in the state, we saw the rise of yet another centrist political formation in the Valley, the People’s Democratic Party.
There is no need to recount the subsequent history of the state except to say that each election since saw a higher turnout than before, it also saw a vigourous contest not just between the so-called national parties like Congress and BJP, but also Kashmiri parties like PDP and NC. Taken together, NC and PDP, and the separatist Hurriyat, in their own way, ensured that the gun culture began to decline. That, in any case was the intention of promoting what we call “democratic politics” by a succession of prime ministers belonging to different parties, including BJP.
The Modi government’s task was not to defeat the militancy; it was already down and out when BJP came to power in New Delhi. Its task was to finesse a political settlement in the state. In agreeing to a coalition with PDP, Modi showed that he was willing to play that role. After all, who would have thought BJP of all parties would be willing to tie up with the “soft separatists”? But somewhere down the line it lost its way and as the Kathua rape case showed, its moral compass as well.
It’s been four years since Modi and BJP took charge of J&K affairs and they have little to show for it. All we have seen is a reliance on security forces to keep a lid on things. The politicians have not just abdicated their role, but added fuel to the fire where they could.
Times of India, June 23, 2018

India-US ties are strong – but for a price

We should not be distracted by the second postponement of the 2+2 dialogue between India and the US. The way it was done, suggests that it was, indeed, an outcome of an immediate requirement rather than any deliberate slight.
But there are other developments that point to the increasingly strong headwinds that India must confront its relationship with the US. These ties have grown enormously in recent years. They feature closer political coordination between the two countries, significant arms sales from the US to India, high-level visits, multiple forums of engagement at the ministerial and official levels, and regular military exercises.
india-us_inside_070218095952.jpgThe closer the two countries are getting, the higher the price New Delhi is being asked to pay.
Strangely, the closer the two countries are getting, the higher the price New Delhi is being asked to pay to bring the relationship closer. In some ways it appears that as the relationship moves from dating towards a marriage, India is being asked for the usual huge dowry.
The two major items in this demand, visible as of now, are the American call for India to break its relationships with Iran and Russia.
The US may be willing to allow New Delhi time to begin cutting its oil imports from Iran, but it’s clear that they must hit zero at a certain point. Iran, it should be noted, is the closest source of hydrocarbon energy to the Indian subcontinent. The second set of items relates to our important defence ties with Russia.
The letter of the American law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is quite clear and would immediately affect new purchases, joint ventures and the acquisition of spare parts and components.
Since the 1960s, Russia has met our defence supplies requirements big and small. The immediate impact could be on the acquisition of the S-400 system, the Project 1135.6 frigates and the Ks 226T utility helicopter deals. But the US law will also hit spares and components, which means some 60 to 70 per cent of India’s defence equipment.
The choices for India are stark. It can comply with the US demands and begin a process that would gut our ties with Iran and Russia. Or it can take a stand and tell the US that it will not accept the extra-territorial application of its laws and will only accept sanctions imposed by the UN. Ironically, the US action in Iran is based on a trashing of international law viz a UN-sanctioned agreement.
modi,-putin_070218100009.jpgSince the 1960s, Russia has met our defence supplies requirements big and small.
Balancing act
Whatever the view from Washington DC is, both Iran and Russia occupy an important place in India’s regional policy and have a geopolitical logic that is specific to India.
To tamely acquiesce with American demands would mean that India has, in essence, abandoned any pretense of servicing its own geopolitical needs. New Delhi has to decide what kind of a power it is. Is it truly a country that values “strategic autonomy” or is that just a slogan of convenience?
The Indo-US entanglement is not new.
From the 1950s we have had differences on our terms of engagement. In the Cold War, the US wanted military allies, India did not oblige and, indeed, reached out to the Soviet Union to meet the military needs the American camp refused to fill. After the Soviet collapse, we have danced a long tango, but have not quite been able to shape a new relationship. The US has consistently failed to understand that India cannot be a partner like Japan or Western Europe for which the US is a net security provider. Armed with nuclear weapons, India faces no existential threat. But it has wider security concerns and needs which require a geopolitical orientation which is different from that of the US.
modi-rouhani_070218100023.jpegIran, it should be noted, is the closest source of hydrocarbon energy to the Indian subcontinent.
Power politics
Beyond issues of world order and promotion of democratic ideals, India needs the US in balancing China, primarily because it has failed to carry out the deep restructuring and reform needed to modernise its armed forces and its defence industrial base. But by the same measure, the US, too, needs India to offset the growing strength of China. From the Sea of Japan to the Red Sea, there is no country with the heft of India to give the US-led effort to contain China some credibility.
So, there is a compelling short-term logic for closer India-US ties. But in the longer term, those ties are important also because of the idea of India — this country is pursuing a democratic, economically vibrant, and technologically advanced civilisation-state. A global power whose destiny as well as its decisional autonomy is in its own hands. The US once said it was willing to aid India in reaching this goal. But today, its narrower vision of its own foreign policy seems to be undermining this promise.
Mail Today, July 2, 2018

The Surgical Strikes Videos Are Proof That They Failed to Achieve Their Goal

What was the purpose of the so-called surgical strikes of September 28-29, 2016, video footage of which has been officially leaked to a clutch of pro-establishment television channels?
The simplistic answer would be “revenge” for the September 18 attack on the Uri brigade headquarters’ administrative area that led to the death of 19 soldiers. But modern military logic does not cater for goals like “revenge”. The attack was too limited to ensure the neutralisation of the part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir from where the militants had launched their attack, let alone lead to its recapture.
So the goal was deterrence by punishment. The attacks were meant to deter Pakistan from carrying out Uri-like attacks, with the threat that such actions would be met by punishment. For the threat to be credible, of course, India would have to act every time the Pakistanis attacked.

The Surgical Strikes Videos Are Proof That Politics is Fully in Command

Sadly, the record shows that the Pakistanis were deterred for just about two months. This is clear from the list of attacks launched by cross-border militants, usually Pakistanis, who have, as in the case of Uri, infiltrated into India. Mind you, this does not account for the every-day encounters that take place in Jammu and Kashmir, only those that are similar to the attacks that the army action was supposed to deter.
In November 2016, just two months after the so-called surgical strikes, the Pakistanis struck again. This time, the attack was arguably much more serious since, unlike Uri which is adjacent to the border, the target was the headquarters of the 16 Corps in Nagrota that looks after the Poonch, Rajauri and Jammu areas. Seven army personnel were killed, including two majors.
Then in April 2017, a fidayeen attack by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba militants in the Panzgam area of Kupwara led to the killing of three Indian soldiers, including an officer.
In May, four LeT militants were killed as the army foiled an infiltration bid along the Kupwara area. The army, which seized a large number of weapons from the dead militants, said these were highly trained fidayeen who were equipped to conduct a major strike.
In August, a fidayeen group struck the police residential area in Pulwama district, killing eight security personnel, including 4 CRPF jawans.
In September, the army again managed to pre-empt a freshly infiltrated fidayeen group and kill all three of them in the Kalgi area of Uri, before they could mount an attack.
In October, the Jaish-e-Muhammad carried out a pre-dawn attack on a BSF camp near the Srinagar airport in which a junior officer of the BSF was killed and three others injured. The militants, three of whom were killed in the attack, were part of a group that had infiltrated in August and had also carried out the Pulwama attack that month.
On the last day of the year, a fidayeen attack on a CRPF camp in Pampore led to the killing of five CRPF personnel. The Jaish-e-Muhammad claimed responsibility for the attack.
Earlier this year in February 2018, five army personnel and a civilian were killed following a JeM attack in the early hours of February 10, at the Sunjuwan military station close to Jammu city.
The bottom line is that the Pakistanis were not deterred.
Since the so-called surgical strikes did not meet their larger military objective, it is clear that they were a relatively small tactical operation which had little lasting impact. But they have generated some spectacular political theatre and are continuing to do so. Perhaps that was their purpose all the time, as far as the Modi government is concerned.
The issue is not the strikes themselves, nor their scale, which, for the first time involved multiple points of simultaneous attack. These were justified given the Uri raid that led to the loss of so many Indian soldiers. What was unjustifiable was their goal, which seems devoid of any military logic. Instead, they were used by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Posters hailing the attack were spread across UP where an election campaign was on. The prime minister appeared at a Ram Lila function with a fake Sudarshan Chakra, the mythical weapon Krishna wields in the Mahabharata. The then defence minister Manohar Parrikar declared that “Like Hanuman, the army did not know its power. I made our armed forces realise their power.”
There was triumphalism all around, which is now being repeated through the videos being circulated by the ‘usual suspect’ TV channels.
This only confirms the tawdry fact that the surgical strikes had a purely political purpose then, and their videos are being used for the same purpose now. Especially since the leak of the video is taking place two years after the event, suspiciously close to the next general elections.
It is not unusual or wrong for governments to use military achievements in an election campaign. But what is questionable is the tactic of converting a minor tactical operation into a major military triumph. In this, India’s establishmentarian TV channels are doing a grave disservice to the public. The director general military operations’ own announcement at the time of the strikes was properly low key and did not make the kind of claims that are being made on the army’s behalf now.
The hype by the BJP and the media is wrong for two reasons. First, the Indian Army has fought many wars and campaigns and sacrificed a lot of lives in operations and wars of much greater magnitude. To pass of a small tactical operation as a major strategic victory is an insult to their achievements. Second, in doing so, the government is deceiving the people by claiming that cross-border terrorism has been deterred,  while the record clearly shows that it has not.
The Wire June 29, 2018

China building Tibet-Nepal railway is not quite a setback for India

Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China last week was not quite the blockbuster it was made out to be, given his ideological leaning towards Beijing. Instead, it reflected the healthy realism that Nepal cannot build ties with China at the expense of India.
Among the agreements the two countries announced was a decision to extend China’s Tibet railway from the Tibetan city of Shigatse, north of Sikkim and 248 km to the west of Lhasa, to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. In the first stage, a 564-km line would connect Shigatse to Kerung, 24 km from the China-Nepal border, while the second stage of the project entails developing a 174-km link to Kathmandu, across the Himalayas.
This opens up the dramatic possibility of the first trans-Himalayan rail link that could go all the way to India. Recall that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced in April, when Oli was visiting New Delhi, that India and Nepal would build a railway line connecting Kathmandu with India.
There are, of course, many obstacles in the way before these dream projects can be executed – the terrain, the danger of earthquakes and, not in the least, the way they will be financed. Nepal would ideally like outright grants, though neither China nor India would be inclined to agree. A more relevant question is whether a trans-Himalayan railway is economically viable. The volume of trans-Himalayan trade, current and potential, and the thinly populated Tibetan region do not suggest it is.

Delhi-Kathmandu ties

In 2016, following a four-month-long economic blockade along the Indian border that Kathmandu blamed on New Delhi, the angry Nepalese signed what were billed as “game changer” agreements with China, including a transit and trade memorandum of understanding designed to end Nepal’s dependence on India. Besides road and rail links, Nepal sought to develop new fibre optic links and a petroleum supply agreement with China to bypass India.
After the 2015 border blockade led to tensions with India, an angry Nepal had signed agreements with China to reduce its dependence on New Delhi. (Photo credit: AFP)
After the 2015 border blockade led to tensions with India, an angry Nepal had signed agreements with China to reduce its dependence on New Delhi. (Photo credit: AFP)
Oli swept the 2017 general elections on a platform of opposing India. But bowing to reality, he decided to hit reset in his ties with India and ensured that his first visit abroad in April was to New Delhi. By then, Oli had realised that there was a geographical limit to the extent to which China could help Nepal reduce its dependence on India. This is evident from the fact that even today, Nepal remains totally dependent on India for its internet connections and oil supply. Indeed, during Oli’s India visit, he and Modi inaugurated a 69-km oil pipeline project linking Motihari in Bihar to Amlekhganj in Nepal, which is scheduled to be completed by March 2019.

During the visit, the two countries also spoke of plans to boost ties in the areas of defence, security and connectivity. Modi announced a new railway line connecting Raxaul in Bihar to Kathmandu. There was some important signalling here, considering an earlier Chinese proposal for a rail link from Kerung to Lumbini in Nepal’s Terai region, bordering India.
This had set off alarm bells in New Delhi, which were heard in Kathmandu. And so, a compromise of sorts has been arrived at that will enable the Indian and Chinese railway systems to meet in Kathmandu. India has been reluctant to directly take up any kind of trilateral cooperation in Nepal with China. This reluctance stems partly from its refusal to support Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and partly from its belief that its relationship with Nepal is qualitatively different from that of China.
China wants to extend its railway network in Tibet across the Himalayas and all the way to Kathmandu. (Photo credit: AFP)
China wants to extend its railway network in Tibet across the Himalayas and all the way to Kathmandu. (Photo credit: AFP)
Tibet-Nepal trade originally went through Kalimpong in West Bengal. After the Sino-Indian dust-up in 1959, it moved across to the Kodari highway to Kathmandu. But the Nepal earthquake of 2015 shattered the old Kodari route, which remains closed and the Chinese appear reluctant to reopen it in a hurry. In the meantime, the Chinese have opened another border crossing to Rasuwagadhi, though the infrastructure here is far from complete.
The Chinese had, in any case, planned to link Kerung with Shigatse, the terminal point of their railroad into Tibet, by 2020. Now, it seems that they would like to extend the link to Kathmandu itself.

The 2016 trade and transit treaty allows Nepal to use China’s sea ports – which are, of course, more than 3,000 km away. Nepal, therefore, has more to gain by linking with the Indian system and using Indian or Bangladeshi ports. Economic benefit is more likely to flow from the proposed 141-km Kathmandu-Raxaul line and broader links to the Indian railway system, towards Delhi in the west and Guwahati and Kolkata in the east, and to Bangladesh.

Railway linkages

The extensive Indian railway system touches the Nepal border across its length in the south. But north-south linkages are virtually non-existent, as are railroads in the Terai. In recent years, efforts have been made to link the Indian system to the Nepal border at five points.
Following Oli’s visit, India has agreed to carry out “preparatory survey work within one year” and move towards a detailed project report as far as the Kathmandu-Raxaul line is concerned. It has also committed to completing smaller cross-border railway linkages from Jayanagar (Bihar) to Janakpur and from Jogbani (Bihar) to Biratnagar Customs Yard within this year. In addition, work to complete the Jayanagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas and Jogbani-Biratnagar rail links will be given priority.
In the second phase of cross-border rail link projects, the two sides will take up connections between New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and Kakarbhitta in Nepal, Nautanwa in Uttar Pradesh and Bhairawa across the border, and Nepalgunj Road in Uttar Pradesh and Nepalgunj in Nepal. Whether these links are viable will depend more on the economic logic of Nepal-India relations rather than on political optics. June 26, 2018

From India to the Indian Ocean, the Modi Govt Has Been Floundering for Years

In her story, ‘Indonesia told India its quest to join Malacca Strait patrols isn’t feasible’, The Wire‘s Devirupa Mitra tells us the extraordinary story of tin-eared Indian officials and diplomats who were simply unaware of the rules and dynamics of the states on the littoral of the Malacca Straits. They sat down at an “expert level meeting” earlier this month to discuss India’s proposal for joining the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP) and its Eyes in the Sky (EIS) initiative.
But the Indian side clearly did not do its homework and evidently did not understand how this quadrilateral arrangement between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand works. In the MSP littoral states patrol their own territorial waters, albeit in a “coordinated” rather than “joint” manner. And under the EIS, representatives of all four countries are in the aircraft that conducts the patrol.
What came across was India’s ambition for its navy to send its warships and maritime surveillance aircraft to patrol the straits. Indonesia had to inform the Indian “experts” that Section 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that only states bordering the straits could patrol them. The bigger failing here is the inability to understand ASEAN culture, which emphasises low-key ties and consensual behaviour.
A question of competence
There have been questions about the Narendra Modi government’s competence for some time now. The disastrous demonetisation that caused huge job losses in the informal sector is, of course, a striking example. No one, even today, knows who advised the prime minister into taking that drastic step that resulted in so much pain for the aam admi without any commensurate gain.
This was followed by the botched implementation of the Goods and Services Tax. In the ensuing months, it became obvious that there were shortfalls in the GST revenue collection. A bigger disaster took place on February 1, 2018 when the e-way billing system that was supposed to electronically track the movement of goods across the country, collapsed. This was as much due to its over-complicated implementation procedures as the network system set up for it. Immediately, the GST council postponed the implementation of the procedure indefinitely.
In its meeting in March 2018, the GST council acknowledged the failings and decided to introduce the system in a phased manner thereafter.
The latest instance of incompetence of the Modi government appears to be the Air India divestment. On May 31, the deadline for bids for a 76% stake in its operation expired without a single bidder coming forward.
The poor response arose from the conditions set by the government. First, it wanted the buyer to take over not only Air India, but its two subsidiaries as well – Air India Express and Air India Airport Services. The buyer would have to inherit the Rs 24, 576 crore debt of the airline, the government would retain 24% of the stake,  and none of the airline’s bloated permanent staff could be sacked for a year. The government stake, many potential buyers felt, would lead to constant interference in operations and also make it difficult for the new management to deal with excess staff.
Almost all commentaries on the issue had forecast that it would be difficult to reel in buyers with these onerous conditions. But the tin-eared government did not hear them.
A matter of incompetence
In foreign policy areas, despite the hype and hoopla, the Modi government’s performance has been poor. It has now, in fact, backtracked from its positions. After wooing Pakistan by personally descending on Lahore on the occasion of Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, Modi swung to the other extreme by ordering heavy retaliatory firing on the border and denouncing Pakistan in international forums. Now, after much destruction and deaths of civilians and service personnel, India has agreed to a ceasefire.
In the case of Nepal, so incompetent was the bureaucracy that it sought to get Kathmandu to amend its constitution four days before it was to come in force. Subsequently, in an act of pique, a blockade was enforced on the landlocked Himalayan country. All of this contributed to anti-Indian sentiments surging in the country, leading to the election of K.P. Sharma Oli as prime minister.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the East Lake in Wuhan, China, on April 28, 2018. Credit: Reuters
Again, in the case of China, after an exchange of visits by Xi Jinping and Modi in 2014 and 2015, relations deteriorated when the government sought to play the Tibet card and undertook megaphone diplomacy by publicly demanding that China support India’s candidature to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Masood Azhar’s designation as a terrorist in a UN Committee. Again, in recent months, India has had to backtrack, publicly withdraw the Tibet card, and calm down its rhetoric.
The poor handling of Jammu & Kashmir  is another issue. Some of Modi’s advisers sold him the notion that a relentlessly hard approach could resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all. The result was a major security forces offensive that led to the killing of scores of militants. But, instead of decreasing, recruitment to the militant ranks has been increasing. Further, the security forces are having to contend with large public protests even as they are conducting an operation against the militants. The government then appointed Dineshwar Sharma interlocutor to try and suggest ways to bring down the temperature, but his limited limited his mandate  the point of ineffectualness.
From the outset it has been clear that the Modi team has been somewhat thin on talent. In trying to ensure his own primacy, he kept out experienced BJP leaders like Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and B C Khanduri from the Council of Ministers. Instead he promoted rookies like Smriti Irani and Nirmala Sitharaman to levels way beyond their experience and competence.
Suresh Prabhu, billed as a star performer, could not manage his railway portfolio and had to be shifted to the commerce ministry. In his major reshuffle of July 2016, instead of taking the opportunity to course correct and induct talent, Modi merely reshuffled the pack and did little else besides dropping some junior ministers.
The Wire June 8, 2018