It’s always long term for China


Pragati

By Rahul Sharma

There is nothing to be excited about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip Pakistan during his forthcoming South Asia tour. Some might argue that it would have been a good time for Xi to land in Islamabad to show support for the country roiled by political uncertainty, but let’s be clear that the call to stay away does not reflect any change in relations between the two long-standing friends.

Xi is due to visit India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives later this month, trips during which he will test prime minister Narendra Modi’s keenness to improve trade ties between the world’s two most populous countries and reaffirm Beijing’s deepening ties with Colombo that has attracted vast amounts of Chinese investments in its infrastructure.

Ties between India and China have always been testy given the border dispute that saw the two go to war back in 1962. Frosty relations have thawed in recent years and trade between the two neighbours has grown, but there is still a long way to go before any degree of mutual trust can be established.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said this week that while Modi and Xi had established good relations when they met at the BRICs summit in Brazil soon after general elections in India, she also made it clear that Beijing had been delivered a strong message that it had to respect the “one-India policy (which means no claims on Arunachal Pradesh) given that New Delhi recognised Tibet and Taiwan to be part of China.

One thing India and its diplomats can be clear about is that his decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean China is ready to dump Pakistan. Usually Chinese leaders club their visits to India and Pakistan, but all that a de-linking this time around could possibly do is give New Delhi temporary comfort that at this point it figures higher in Beijing’s priority than in the past.

One thing India and its diplomats can be clear about is that his decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean China is ready to dump Pakistan. Usually Chinese leaders club their visits to India and Pakistan, but all that a de-linking this time around could possibly do is give New Delhi temporary comfort that at this point it figures higher in Beijing’s priority than in the past.

China seldom takes a short-term view of the world, and has clearly defined its relations with other nations on the basis of its long-term goals and needs. A recent info graphic in Global Times, a Chinese government-run newspaper, provided a view of how Beijing divides its worldly ties.

China essentially follows four partnership models: creative partnership, comprehensive cooperative partnership, strategic partnership (of cooperation) and comprehensive strategic partnership (of cooperation). The difference, according to the newspaper, is that while cooperative partnerships are formed at a fundamental level, are bilateral in nature and focus mainly on politics, economics, science and technology and culture, the strategic partnerships can be both bilateral or multilateral and are based on benefits of national security.

While one would imagine that diplomacy and foreign relations are usually dynamic in nature and, therefore, likely to change depending on circumstances, in China’s case one can merrily assume that any shift will only be snail paced with little or no change in the foundation. Foreign policy, like so many other things in China, can be rather nuanced and small variations in definition of relationships can mean a lot more than what the world outside may understand.

So it is interesting to see that China clubs the European Union and most large European nations except Germany and Russia as those with which it has a comprehensive strategic partnership. With Germany it has an “all-round strategic partnership” and with Russia it is in a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination”

With India, Afghanistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka, Beijing shares a “strategic cooperative partnership”. That means it sees all of them through the same prism, an idea that may not appeal to India, but might go down well in Kabul and Colombo.

According to the Global Times, China’s ties with ASEAN, central Asian republics, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and some East European countries are seen to be one of “strategic partnership”, while those with Nepal, Congo, Bangladesh and some other key African nations fall under the head “comprehensive cooperative partnership.”

The emerging great power rivalry with the United States and the old, historic unhappiness with Japan has led China to define its relationship with these two very differently than those with other nations of the world.

It calls its engagement with the United States a “new model of major-power relationship”, which means Beijing definitely sees itself in league with Washington, an idea that obviously reflects on its relationships with other capitals. In short that means that while China is willing to engage with all, it doesn’t consider anyone a bigger rival than the United States. Countries such as India are, therefore, mostly marginal to China’s larger cause.

Similarly, its defines ties with Japan as a “strategic relationship of mutual benefit.” Given the huge bilateral trade and Japanese investments in China even as the two battle over a gory past, the definition makes sense.

Pakistan is the only country with which China has an “all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation.” In layman’s terms, it simply means that Beijing considers its relationship with Islamabad over and beyond its ties with all others. The phrase “all-weather” is key; China might be willing to shift gears either way in its relations with other countries, with Pakistan it will always be an even ride just as it has been for the past several decades.

Let’s not forget it was Pakistan that essentially helped Beijing open its door to the world in the 1970s, an event that has now propelled China to almost become the world’s biggest economy. China never forgets its friends and that’s a thought Pakistan can live comfortably with irrespective of whether it has a democratically elected government or army rule.

It’s also a thought India’s new government needs to keep in its mind while dealing with Beijing and Xi, the now all-powerful man in China.

Rahul Sharma, a former newspaper editor, is President, Rediffusion Communications, Mumbai; Secretary, Public Affairs Forum of India, and a keen foreign policy follower. Views are personal.

It’s The Jobs, Stupid


By Rahul Sharma

Caravan Daily

There is a very good reason why Narendra Modi speaks to India’s young and exhorts them to vote the current Congress-led government out. He understands the simmering discontent among the country’s massive young population that is out looking for jobs and not finding any unlike other politicians who still believe only in politics of dole, caste and religion.

The state of the young in India is dismal and the mood gray. A slowing economy and high cost of living have only added to their woes. Add to that the fact that business sentiment will continue to be poor for the next several months in the run up to the elections – and even after that if a sustainable government doesn’t come to power – and you see a horribly potent recipe for social unrest.

Modi knows that if the young – a brand new, vibrant constituency — start believing that he will get those jobs and the financial sustainability that would let them buy all the gadgets, goods, automobiles and apartments, they would come out in throngs and help him win next year’s general elections.

Given the state of India’s shrinking job market into which 12 million youth trundle in every year, Modi’s call resonates well not only in large urban centres, but also the smaller towns where aspirations and opportunities have made traditional roles redundant.

So how badly off is the situation?

If you believe a new Confederation of Indian Industries-Economic Times (CII-ET) survey of India’s young, it’s pretty nasty out there. Of its 1.2 billion people, 800 million are less than 35 years old – and they seem to be really upset with the way things are.

According to the survey, findings of which were published in The Economic Times, three out of four of them believe that the economy today is worse off than it was in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crises. More than half say it is the worst time to look for jobs and nearly 60 percent have postponed buying a house, a car or having children. Worse, nearly 40 percent of the people polled in 28 cities said they won’t mind taking a pay cut if that improves their chances of holding on to a job.

It can’t get worse for the Congress; and it can’t be better for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is still looking for that one issue that could change its fate and bring it out of its decade-long political wilderness.

“This is the most disturbing micro impact of the macro slowdown,” the newspaper quoted Rajya Sabha MP and entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrashekkhar as saying. According to him, educated Indians looking for their first or second jobs are hurting the most.

Thousands of engineering, medicine and businesses schools in India produce millions of graduates each year. But they hit a hard wall when they get into the job market. The impact is two pronged. Fewer jobs also mean there aren’t many takers for the seats in the graduate and post-graduate schools, many of which are beginning to shut down.

“The following set of numbers shows the young have read the grim job market right. Andhra Pradesh has over 700 engineering colleges and 350,000 seats – the highest in any Indian state. But just 200,000 seats were filled up this year. Why? Because just 20% of the class of 2013 have got jobs. When young Indians give up the chance of getting an engineering degree, you know there’s something very wrong,” the Economic Times wrote.

The other, bigger, impact is on the consumer, automobile and real estate markets, which are now losing their sheen as poor demand pulls the economy down. No wonder, the government is being forced to ask state-owned banks to offer cheaper loans for consumer goods and two-wheelers to boost demand in an otherwise depressing economy.
These are problems only politicians can address. There is a need for a fresh thinking and new policies that could create more jobs, both in the manufacturing and services sector. There is a need to lift business sentiment so that investments on hold can be channeled into infrastructure and other industries that would create jobs. These are issues that can’t be solved overnight, but if you have a large chunk of your population that is either unemployed or underemployed, you have a huge problem on hand.

If you believe Modi, then he probably understands the issues better than other politicians. The Congress doesn’t seem to have a solution, nor can it explain its lethargy in fixing the situation in the 10 years that it has ruled India. The grand old party is not even talking about jobs – at least not yet. A disgruntled youth is not good for politicians and the country. The leader who can show a way to the youth stuck in between a rock and hard place is likely to win the next election.

It is up to politicians and the next government to take the right steps.

Modi Leads The Charge For Now


By Rahul Sharma

PRMoment

More than two years ago a taxi driver in Kerala told me that he would vote for Narendra Modi if he ever got an opportunity. A year later – and this was before Modi won the Gujarat state elections for the third time – a hotel doorman in Chennai said the same thing. And earlier this year a young engineer working with a technology company in Bangalore echoed similar sentiments.

In the two years since the Kerala cabbie voiced his support for Modi, the perception that the Gujarat chief minister (and yes, he continues to be in that role) is a strong administrator, decisive, incorruptible and a man who keeps his promises has only strengthened. In New Delhi, in Kolkata, in Lucknow, Bhopal, Jaipur and Mumbai, Modi looks down upon us from posters and billboards – half smiling, half mocking, challenging everybody – especially the Congress that seems to merely follow his political agenda.

Never has an Indian politician been “branded” as Modi has been. We have NaMo phones, we have NaMo tea stalls, there are already two biographies out in the book stores and a biopic is underway. We also have a NaMo kurta, and probably many other products to come as the election temperatures rise.

Pitched as Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) potential prime ministerial candidate after the 2014 elections, Modi is setting himself up against a much younger, yet non-branded, Rahul Gandhi – the scion of a political family that has either ruled or helped rule India for a very long time. A perception battle between the two – amplified by the media – is probably the most top-of-the-mind dinner table discussion these days and one that Modi seems to be winning, at least for now.

As Modi launches his political blitzkrieg, mowing miles with his first-mover advantage, it is amply clear that he is working to a sharply targeted multimedia strategy put together by a war room that is propping him as a leader who can change India. The early start bodes well as it will give Modi and his team enough time to convert the fence sitters and break away those charmed by the Congress.

The media is helping by headlining every word Modi utters and television panel discussions are only cementing his position as a man who matters. Slowly, but surely, Modi’s image of a steely leader is getting entrenched into the political and social frequency of an election that is still some months away.

On the other hand, Gandhi seems weak, indecisive, and battling his own party, as he tells people his mother was upset with his choice of words when he interrupted a party press conference to oppose a proposed ordinance allowing convicted parliamentarians to keep their seats that was cleared by the prime minister and his cabinet.

Set up against a wily politician and an orator who can transfix the crowds, Gandhi’s image of a reluctant inheritor only gets a fresh shine every time he speaks.

The battle is between a man who thinks on his feet and seemingly wants to lead this large and diverse country, and another who still doesn’t seem to have made up his mind about whether he wants the job. In the public relations battle, Modi has won the first set. He’s still got to win the match though.

The shift in perception since the days when the national media called Modi a “murderer” after the deadly 2002 religious riots in Gujarat has been slow but huge.

No longer is Modi the pariah he once was. No longer is he hated or reviled as he was. No longer is he a political embarrassment (to many) as he was. No longer is he in the headlines for the “wrong” reasons as he was. Feted by the industry, the youth seeking jobs and a middle class frustrated with the Congress government over poor governance, dynastic politics and inflation, Modi seems to have grabbed people’s imagination and emotions.

Gandhi is sincere, but he lacks the power to hold the crowds and veer them to see his point of view. That’s because while Modi is all over, Gandhi pops in and out with statements that only raise more questions. New Delhi’s political citizenry is widely convinced that the young man wants Congress to lose badly so that he could then clean up the grand old party’s corrupt, wobbly script.

I remember watching Modi make the crowds dance during his election rallies in his home state back in 2007. Thousands of people wearing the “Modi Mask” followed the slow wave of the man’s hand from left to right – hypnotized by the sheer power of his oratory and stage theatrics. It scared many a political pundit. Gandhi is no match. In fact, the entire Congress party is made of weak speakers who sound unconvincing even when they mean business.

But let’s remember that a few months is a long time in politics and a lot could happen between now and the elections due by May next year. Winning a public relations and a perception skirmish is only part of the larger battle that Modi has to fight to help the BJP return to power after a decade in the wilderness. Voters might love Modi, but they might still choose not to cast their ballot for his party.

Eventually, Modi will have to make people believe that he is not as divisive as many believe him to be if he wants the top job. That’s easier said than done. The posters and potshots are fine for now. The winner in the public relations battle between Modi and Gandhi will only be announced next year – the day the votes are counted. Until then, watch the political theatre and enjoy.