The problem with India’s multi-alignment stand
China’s recent mediation efforts to resolve the Ukraine crisis have once again spotlighted India’s approach to conflict resolution. By holding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastward expansion responsible for instigating the war; by painting America as the biggest obstacle to ceasefire; by exploiting the differences among western countries regarding the extent of support to Ukraine; by further cementing the Beijing-Moscow relationship, and ensuring the survival of the Vladimir Putin regime, China has effectively positioned itself in opposition to the American approach. This is not how India views its role in resolving the conflict.
India has increasingly used varied symbolic instruments of power to enhance its soft power appeal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi now projects India as the “mother of democracies” and as a “moral force” to enforce global peace.
In sharp contrast to the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first outreach last month to the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, since the Russian invasion, Mr. Modi has spoken to Mr. Zelenskyy many times. In October and December last year, Mr. Modi, in his telephonic conversation with Mr. Zelenskyy, had expressed India’s solidarity with Ukraine while extending support for peace efforts. And in September, Mr. Modi had publicly told Mr. Putin that “today’s era is not of war” — a remark that seemed to be a reprimand to Moscow. Even the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, felt compelled to describe this widely-reported remark as “significant”. Washington understands the importance of India’s continuous engagement with Ukraine because that is an important way of bringing New Delhi’s response to the Ukraine war into alignment with its own. The geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific and the Ukraine conflict are in many ways inter-connected.
The regular Modi-Zelenskyy interactions may be seen as underscoring India’s rising stature and recognition of its unique position in the emerging global order, despite western criticism of India’s continued energy imports from Russia and export of excess refined Russian fuel to the European market. During Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova’s recent visit to New Delhi, she remarked (in a widely reported tweet) that “India wants to be the Vishwaguru, the global teacher and arbiter. In our case, we’ve got a very clear picture: aggressor against innocent victim. Supporting Ukraine is the only right choice for true Vishwaguru.” The hint here is that the ‘Vishwa Guru’ image that the government seeks for the country will remain imperfect if India refuses to take a strong moral position on Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Nationalist ideas have always influenced the Indian state, contributing to their further proliferation in society and polity. The choice of the ‘Vishwaguru’ phrase by Ms. Dzhaparova is not accidental as it is at the core of the Modi government’s nationalist foreign policy discourse. The contemporary salience of Vishwa Guru image, which builds on historical trends in India’s political thought seeking to emphasise the distinctiveness of the country’s cultural ethos and civilisational values, also highlights the unique nature of ‘soft power’ in foreign policy debates. Soft power is simultaneously ubiquitous and ambiguous, accepted as significant yet narrow in its policy impact. It should be understood as any other form of “nonmaterial” power which interacts with material resources or hard power, either enlarging their impact or making up for their absence.
Lack of hard power
That India lacks hard power has been acknowledged by Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ‘ideological fountainhead’ of India’s ruling political dispensation. In a recent speech, he had said that if India had been adequately powerful, it would have stopped the Ukraine war. He argued that “Russia attacked Ukraine. It is being opposed. But nobody is ready …to stop Russia because Russia has power and it threatens.” Drawing a contrast with supposedly selfish global powers, Mr. Bhagwat asserted that “If India had such [material] power in its hands, then such an incident [Ukraine war] would not have come before the world.” This narrative assumes that a powerful Indian civilisational state will stand for global peace and stability.
While New Delhi has expressed its disapproval of the Ukraine war, it has avoided taking a clear position in many UN resolutions on the issue. This may be understandable as India has often taken an evasive position on conflicts that involve its traditional allies. However, critics are not unreasonable in arguing that this ambiguity does not behove a nation aspiring to become a permanent member of the UNSC, which implies a commitment to speak as a global voice against territorial aggression and rights violations similar to what Russia has unleashed on Ukraine. Moreover, the normative pillars of the democratic, self-confident and morally superior Vishwa Guru identity cannot be identical to those underlying the cynical hegemon maximising its power at all costs, bereft of any morality.
While New Delhi’s seemingly evasive position in the Ukraine war underlines India’s traditional discomfort in viewing its national interests in binary terms as well as Russia’s military and geopolitical importance for India’s military preparedness, yet Russia’s justifications for its military actions in Ukraine do not resonate among most of India’s political elite. These justifications are sometimes parroted by China, including the latest unabashedly pro-Russian statement by the Chinese Ambassador in France regarding the legal status of the post-Soviet republics, with a view to reserving the right to use force against Taiwan. India has no such revisionist motives. India’s views on sovereignty converges with a universally acceptable Westphalian notion and thus clash fundamentally with the communist China’s political philosophy of ‘might is right’.
Democracies enjoy legitimacy globally and this legitimacy can transpose an authoritarian ruler’s use of force into violence against the population. Ukraine is seen as a victim which is resisting aggression from an authoritarian neighbour. The Modi-Zelenskyy interactions highlight the fact that such narratives engender Indian sympathies for the victimised target. Nevertheless, the Ukraine war alone is not sufficient to undermine India’s historical ties with Russia, which is based as much on New Delhi’s military dependence on Moscow as it is on the anti-colonial strand of India’s strategic autonomy doctrine.
A pursuit of ‘multi-alignment’ may have given New Delhi some diplomatic space in the ongoing war in Ukraine. However, it may not be sufficient for India to try to play the role of a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. India currently lacks the material resources to match the extent of China’s economic and military potential.
Through his charm offensive of a phoney peace diplomacy, Mr. Xi’s primary aim is to discourage Mr. Zelenskyy to launch the much-discussed counteroffensive, so that Russia’s dependency on China rises further. Driven by the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, Mr. Putin has unleashed forces that have already done immense damage to Russia’s global standing and offended most of the democratic world. Thus the Modi government must ensure that India’s refusal to condemn Russian belligerence and continued increase in the import of Russian fuel is not interpreted as a pro-Moscow approach. While India’s ties with Russia are likely to be on a downward spiral, the piecemeal distancing from Russia will take a bit longer as New Delhi struggles to find some manoeuvring space in the emerging nexus between Russia and China.
While it may have given
New Delhi some diplomatic space as far as the war in Ukraine and the global stand are concerned, it may not be sufficient for India to try to play the role of a mediator between Russia and Ukraine
The SC ruling on Sena vs. Sena
Why did the Court state that the call of the then Maharashtra Governor to initiate a trust vote was not justified? Can the Court reinstate Uddhav Thackeray? Can the courts rule on disqualification petitions? What has it said on the Speaker’s role?
The story so far:
In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court on Thursday held that then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s call for a trust vote, which led to the resignation of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government last June, was illegal. It said that Mr. Koshiyari was “not justified” in calling Chief Minister Uddhav Thackerary to prove his majority on the floor of the House. But the Court also said that it could not reinstate Mr. Thackeray as Chief Minister because he had resigned instead of facing the trust vote.
How did the case land in the SC?
Last year, the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government was toppled and replaced by another government, comprising a faction of the Shiv Sena, which claimed to be the “real” Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party and several Independent MLAs. The leader of the breakaway Sena faction, Eknath Shinde, became Chief Minister.
The first petition was filed by Mr. Shinde last June after notices were issued by then Deputy Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly, Narhari Zirwal, against 40 rebel MLAs under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution which deals with disqualification on the grounds of defection. Thereafter, petitions were filed by the Thackeray group challenging the then Maharashtra Governor’s decision to call for a trust vote and the swearing-in of Mr. Shinde as Chief Minister. The election of the new Speaker, Rahul Narwekar, was also challenged. A Constitution Bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justices M.R. Shah, Krishna Murari, P.S. Narasimha and Hima Kohli had reserved its judgment on March 16. On May 11, based on the five petitions and arguments made by both parties, the Court gave its ruling on questions of law that arose in this case in a 141-page judgment.
Can the Supreme Court decide a disqualification petition?
The Speaker is the authority to adjudicate petitions for disqualification under the 10th Schedule. The petitioners wanted the Court to give its decision on the issue of disqualification of Mr. Shinde and his supporters. However, the Court said it “cannot ordinarily adjudicate petitions for disqualification under the 10th Schedule. There are no extraordinary circumstances in the instant case that warrant the exercise of jurisdiction by this Court to adjudicate disqualification petitions. The Speaker must decide disqualification petitions within a reasonable period.”
The Court said an MLA has the right to participate in the proceedings of the House “regardless of the pendency of any petitions for their disqualification. The validity of the proceedings of the House in the interregnum (the period between a regime change) is not ‘subject to’ the outcome of the disqualification petitions.”
Was the floor test justified?
The Court noted that the Governor was not justified in calling upon Mr. Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the House “because he did not have reasons based on objective material before him, to reach the conclusion that Mr. Thackeray had lost the confidence of the House.” But the Court also said that “status quo ante cannot be restored” because Mr. Thackeray did not face the floor test and resigned from the post. The Governor, it said, was justified in inviting Mr. Shinde to form the government.
What is the Court’s ruling on the role of the political party in relation to the legislature party?
Questions arose on whose whip is binding, if the whip appointed by the political party and the one acting on behalf of the legislature party (the Shinde group in this case) give different instructions to members. The Shinde faction argued that it is the legislature party that appoints the whip. The Court disagreed: “To hold that it is the legislature party which appoints the Whip would be to sever the figurative umbilical cord which connects a member of the House to the political party. It would mean that legislators could rely on the political party for the purpose of setting them up for election, that their campaign would be based on the strengths (and weaknesses) of the political party and its promises and policies, that they could appeal to the voters on the basis of their affiliation with the party, but that they can later disconnect themselves entirely from that very party and be able to function as a group of MLAs which no longer owes even a hint of allegiance to the political party.”
The Court ruled that direction to vote in a particular manner or abstain is issued by the political party, and not the legislature party.
Both the Whip and the Leader of the party in the House should be appointed only by the political party. Accordingly, it said the Speaker’s action approving Mr. Shinde’s appointment as Shiv Sena leader in the House was contrary to law. “The Speaker shall recognise the Whip and the Leader who are duly authorised by the Shiv Sena political party with reference to the provisions of the party constitution, after conducting an enquiry in this regard and in keeping with the principles discussed in this judgment,” the judgment read.
The Supreme Court held that then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s call for a trust vote, which led to the resignation of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government last June, was illegal.
The Court noted that the Governor was not justified in calling upon Mr. Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the House “because he did not have reasons based on objective material before him, to reach the conclusion that Mr. Thackeray had lost the confidence of the House.”
The Court also said that it could not reinstate Mr. Thackeray as Chief Minister because he had resigned instead of facing the trust vote.
What is the stalemate over the U.S. debt ceiling?
Why is there a debt ceiling for the U.S.? What are the consequences of a debt default to the global economy?
The story so far:
The U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen notified Congress last week that the country could default on its debt as early as June 1, if the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and President Joe Biden’s White House did not reach a consensus to raise or suspend the debt ceiling.
What is the U.S. debt ceiling?
When the federal government spends more than it brings in, it runs up a budget deficit. It then has to borrow money to meet its financial obligations, accruing debt. The government borrows by creating and selling debt securities like bonds to U.S. investors and companies, banks, pension funds, foreign investors and countries. The largest part of these are owned by the U.S. federal government itself, which keeps the money for social security schemes, medicare, federal pensions and so on. While the administration and Congress decide on taxation and spending, the collection of taxes and the borrowing of funds is done by the U.S. Treasury Department. In 1917, Congress passed the Second Liberty Bond Act, to allow then-President Woodrow Wilson to take out funds for the First World War without waiting for the approval of absent Congress lawmakers. However, the Congress created a limit on borrowing ($11.5 billion at the time), thus creating a debt ceiling that could only be raised by the approval of the Congress (House and Senate).
The U.S. government has hit or come close to hitting the debt ceiling multiple times. According to Treasury Department figures, Congress has acted 78 separate times since 1960 either to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit. While the government continues to receive taxation revenue after hitting the debt ceiling, it cannot borrow any more to pay its existing bills. The U.S. would then be unable to pay its debt-holders, resulting in a default.
Why have debt ceiling standoffs become a recurring issue?
For starters, the debt ceiling is not a “forward-looking” budgeting instrument, that is, it does not reveal what potentially ideal levels of spending look like. First, Congress approves programmes for which it does not have the entire funding, and then there’s a limit on how much the Treasury can borrow to pay for these already approved programmes. Take this analogy, for instance: if Congress approves $100 of spending, $70 comes from taxes but the cap on what the government can borrow to pay for the rest is fixed at a mere $15.
Another reason why disagreements over the debt limit happen often, almost annually since 2011, is that it has become a political bargaining chip, as any raise or suspension has to be approved by Congress. As American politics becomes increasingly polarised, the Opposition has often used the debt limit as a way of getting budgetary and other legislative concessions. The U.S. came dangerously close to defaulting on its debt in 2011 when the Republicans and the Obama administration could not reach an agreement to hike the ceiling till the last minute. Observers have called the current impasse between House Republicans and the Biden administration even messier than in 2011. The Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy-led House passed a Bill that pairs a $4.8 trillion in spending cuts with an increase in the current $31.4 trillion debt ceiling. However, Mr. Biden said that he wants a clean debt-ceiling hike and won’t negotiate any kind of cuts, resulting in the current deadlock.
Ms. Yellen and other economists suggest doing away with the debt ceiling, which does not contribute to fiscal discipline anymore and leads to frequent political grandstanding, often at the risk of national and global financial stability.
What will happen if the U.S. defaults?
Analysts say there is no set post-default scenario since the U.S. has never actually defaulted on its debt before. They have warned, however, of a “catastrophic” situation for American and global financial markets. If the government cannot make interest payments to domestic and foreign investors who own its debt securities, it could plunge the globe into a financial crisis, say Wall Street experts. The CFR points out that the “unthinkable” event of a U.S. default could lead to another downgrade of U.S. creditworthiness by agencies, large-scale job losses, weakening of the dollar, stock sell-offs, and a rise in the cost of borrowing for the U.S. government.
The U.S. Treasury Secretary notified Congress last week that the country could default on its debt as early as June 1, if the House of Representatives and the White House did not reach a consensus to raise or suspend the debt ceiling.
Disagreements over the debt limit happen often, almost annually since 2011, and it has become a political bargaining chip, as any raise or suspension has to be approved by Congress.
Analysts say there is no set post-default scenario since the U.S. has never actually defaulted on its debt before.
Mpox no longer a global health emergency: WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that mpox no longer constitutes a global health emergency on Thursday, almost exactly a year after the disease formerly known as monkeypox started spreading globally.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision was prompted by sharply falling case numbers worldwide, but emphasised that the disease remains a threat, particularly in areas of Africa where it has long been endemic.
This comes a week after the UN agency also declared that COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), its highest level of alarm.
SOURCE : THE HINDU