Editorials - 15-06-2021

China is now in a different league, competing with the U.S., and New Delhi faces the task of living with an uneasy calm

On June 15 last year, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) witnessed its first deaths after 1975 when 20 Indian soldiers and at least four soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) died in a violent clash in Galwan in Ladakh. An Indian news report (https://bit.ly/3wmUefH) mentioned that around 50 Indian soldiers had been taken captive by the PLA during the clash and released in batches over three days. Although both countries have given gallantry awards to the fallen soldiers, details about the violent incident have not been officially made public so far.

Political accountability

This is in keeping with the broader approach of the Government where no official briefing or press conference about the situation in Ladakh has taken place in the last 13 months. The ministerial statements in Parliament were monologues with no questions allowed from other representatives of the people. The official excuse was operational security, but the actual reason was to avoid political embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Four days after the Galwan clash, Mr. Modi addressed an all-party meet where he unequivocally stated, “Na koi wahan hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai aur nahi koi ghusa hua hai, na hi hamari koi post kisi dusre ke kabze mein hain” (No one has intruded and nor is anyone intruding, nor has any post been captured by someone).” A huge public outcry led to an official clarification by the Prime Minister’s Office which contained rhetoric that dodged the offending remarks (https://bit.ly/3vjqoaJ).

The Government’s political strategy for dealing with the Ladakh border crisis has been based on dodging, denial and digression. An honest appraisal of the situation in Ladakh would be politically costly for a government led by a “strong” Prime Minister, as PLA soldiers remain in control of what was hitherto in Indian control. Despite the largely supportive news channels, the Government has not been able to convince the public about its version of events. In the recent ‘State of Nation’ poll conducted by C-Voter, 44.8% respondents said the Chinese encroachment in Ladakh was a failure of the Modi government, while only 37.3% said it was not (https://bit.ly/3gmiadA).

The crisis in Ladakh erupted months after Mr. Modi had held his second informal summit with the Chinese President Xi Jinping (at Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu) and weeks after he hosted the then United States President Donald Trump for a political event in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. For someone attributing his foreign policy prowess to the power of his persona and his personal chemistry with other world leaders, there could be no worse rebuttal of his claims than the timing of the Chinese incursions. In a government identified solely with the Prime Minister and dominated by his office — there is no record of the Cabinet Committee on Security being convened to discuss the Ladakh border situation — Mr. Modi is being held responsible in the public imagination for the setback.

Military situation

The current situation is not militarily precarious in Ladakh. With a continued deployment of 50,000-60,000 soldiers, the Indian Army has been able to hold the line to prevent any further ingress by the PLA. The Chinese presence on the Indian side of the LAC in Gogra, Hot Springs and Demchok gives the PLA some tactical advantage but the area which majorly jolts Indian military plans is the Chinese control of Depsang Plains. With “official sources” trying to palm it off as a legacy issue, despite evidence to the contrary from many retired military officers, the Indian Army has only weakened its negotiating position during the talks with the PLA. In any case, there has been no progress in talks after the disengagement at Pangong lake and Kailash range in February.

Outside of Ladakh, the Indian Army remains in an alert mode all along the LAC to prevent any Chinese misadventure but the bigger change has been its reorientation of certain forces from Pakistan border towards the China border. The basis of this shift was articulated by the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat when he recently said that China is a bigger security threat for India than Pakistan. The Ladakh crisis has also exposed India’s military weakness to tackle a collusive threat from China and Pakistan: to avoid such an eventuality, the Government opened backchannel talks with Pakistan which led to the reiteration of the ceasefire on the Line of Control.

External rebalancing

The Ladakh crisis has also led the Government to relook external partnerships, particularly with the United States. After his meeting with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar late last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that they discussed the “India-China border situation”. The Indian side was silent about it but senior U.S. military officials have earlier spoken of the intelligence and logistics support provided to the Indian forces in Ladakh, while the Indian military has sought to learn from the American experience of implementing the Multi Domain Operations (MDO) doctrine to wage a war of the future against a technologically superior PLA.

That China is “a larger neighbour, which has got a better force, better technology”, was acknowledged by General Rawat recently, to argue that India will “obviously prepare for a larger neighbour”. The military importance of the Quad remains moot, with India reportedly refusing to do joint naval patrolling with the U.S. in the South China Sea; the two treaty allies of the U.S., Japan and Australia, also refused. Moreover, India’s focus on its land borders and its limited resources for military modernisation in a period of economic decline impinge on its maritime ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.

Balancing act

Even as India has tried to talk tough with Beijing and shown greater interest in the Quad, its attempts to counter the burgeoning Chinese influence in the neighbourhood have faltered, exacerbated by the mishandling of the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic. With the widening power gap between New Delhi and Beijing, the challenge is as much economic as it is geopolitical. Despite the border crisis and the Indian restrictions on Chinese technology companies, China displaced the U.S. to be India’s biggest trade partner in 2020-21, up to nearly 13% of India’s total trade compared to 10.4% a year ago (https://bit.ly/3cFydRs).

For the Modi government, it has been a difficult balancing act between its domestic rhetoric and external reality. Even though India has been dependent on China for medical equipment to fight the pandemic and asked for assured supplies, the Government has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge this dependence: it underplayed Mr. Xi’smessage to Mr. Modi offering support and assistance. It has asked Beijing to grant visas to Indian students and businesspersons but has refused medical aid or Chinese vaccines. Simultaneously, New Delhi has placed the border issue at the centre of the relationship with China, arguing that there can be no normalcy without restoration ofstatus quo anteat the borders.

Unappetising choices

For the past few decades, Indian planners operated on the premise that their diplomats will be able to manage the Chinese problem without it developing into a full-blown military crisis. That belief has been laid to rest. Militarily, Chinese incursions in Ladakh have shown that the idea of deterrence has failed. A return to thestatus quo anteof April 2020 remains a mirage with the Chinese side refusing to engage meaningfully after February. New Delhi has learnt that it can no longer have simultaneous competition and cooperation with Beijing; the dramatic engagement that started with Rajiv Gandhi’s historic visit to China in 1988 is over.

The bouquet of choices before the Modi government is not appetising. A new reset in bilateral ties, àla the early 1990s, is difficult because China is now in a different league, competing with the U.S. India will never be comfortable taking sides in a new Cold War between the U.S. and China, as it has always valued its strategic sovereignty. Beijing seems as keen as New Delhi to avoid a military conflict, though accidents such as Galwan can never be ruled out. That leaves India with the daunting task of living with this tense and uneasy calm with China for some time, a challenge brought to the fore by the Ladakh crisis.

The events of the past one year have significantly altered India’s thinking towards China. The relationship is at the crossroads now. The choices made in New Delhi will have a significant impact on the future of global geopolitics.

Sushant Singh is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

Ray was always assessing the cinematic potential of literary sources that ignited his imagination

Satyajit Ray is universally admired for his cinematic creations. However, to understand his mind, it may be worthwhile to reflect on the literary ideas that he could not transform on celluloid. Some are well known —The Alien, A Passage to Indiaand theMahabharata. But there were many more which only the Ray aficionados are aware of. Fortunately, the essays and letters of Ray and his son Sandip; the biographies by Marie Seton (Portrait of A Director, 1971) and Andrew Robinson (Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, 1989); Suresh Jindal’sMy Adventures with Satyajit Ray — The Making of Shatranj Ke Khilari(2017), Nasreen Munni Kabir’sConversations with Waheeda Rehman(2014); and articles by Bangladeshi photojournalist Amanul Haque and others throw some light on the subject.

An idea about aliens

Based on his own story and ideas, and encouraged by the famous author Arthur C. Clarke, Ray drafted the screenplay of his sci-fi filmThe Alienin 1967. Columbia Pictures agreed to produce it with Peter Sellers in an Indian role. Steve McQueen was contacted and even Robert Redford considered, and the Indian cast was almost finalised. Columbia even advanced some money for the project. However, there were many unexpected twists and turns, as recounted by Ray in “Ordeals of the Alien” (The Statesman, October 4 and 5, 1980), and the project had to be abandoned. Ray wrote to Sellers:

“Dear Peter, if you wanted a bigger part

Why, you should have told me so right at the start.

By declining at this juncture

You have simply punctured

The Alien balloon,

Which I daresay would be grounded soon

Causing a great deal of dismay

To Satyajit Ray.”

The project was revived later, but by then Steven Spielberg’sE.T. the Extra-Terrestrialwas released (1982), with ‘striking parallels’ noticed by Clarke and others. Ray held, as Robinson quotes, that E.T. “would not have been possible without my script ofThe Alienbeing available throughout America in mimeographed copies”. However, Spielberg commented, “Tell Satyajit I was a kid in high school when his script was circulating in Hollywood’. Despite advice, Ray did not pursue the matter further. His depiction, as communicated to Jindal, that the aliens were “benign by nature, small and acceptable to children, possessed of certain supernatural powers, not physical strength but other kinds of powers, particular types of vision, and that they take interest in earthly things” was indeed influential.

The West’s image of India

Ray met E.M. Forster at Cambridge in 1966 with the intention to filmA Passage to India. Robinson quotes Ray, “… but he knew my name. He kept shaking his head much of the time which meant that he didn’t want the book to be filmed. That was the drone — no! — in words, gestures, looks, everything. He was adamant. And I felt there was no point in asking why.” Later, much after Forster’s death, Ray was approached in 1980 by the trustees at King’s College, but by then he had lost interest in the subject. David Lean’s version (1984), understandably, could not satisfy Ray — “… The whole thing is too picturesque… For me none of the characters come alive… Peggy Ashcroft’s performance notwithstanding…” In a famous essay “Under Western Eyes” (Sight & Sound, Autumn 1982), Ray had touched upon the limitations of the West’s interest in India and how its views were often distorted and unreal, sometimes even with “grotesque stereotypes as Hurree Jamset Ram Singh…” He ended, “Slighted for so long, India will not yield up her secrets to the West so easily…” It is a pity thatA Passage...could not be filmed by Ray.

All on paper

TheMahabharatafascinated Ray from his early childhood. From the late fifties he had been planning to film it. But in what language? “How to introduce even the main characters to a non-Indian audience?” At one time, he intended to cast Dilip Kumar, Toshiro Mifune and others. Ray was interested in the dice game part. More than the war, it was the exploration of personal relationships between the characters that appealed to him cinematically. In jest, he once told Jindal, “I gave up, because I couldn’t imagine Kirk Douglas playing Arjuna.”

Waheeda Rehman, who acted in Ray’sAbhijan(1962), said that Ray had been keen to adapt R.K. Narayan’sThe Guideand had contacted her for the female lead. As she observed, the approach and treatment of the film would have been entirely different under Ray’s direction. But then we would have missed the Bollywood blockbuster.

There were many Bengali film ideas that Ray had nurtured at some point or the other, as detailed by Sandip Ray inAnanya Satyajit(1998)and others. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’sRajasimha(with Balraj Sahni) andDevi Chaudhurani(with Suchitra Sen), Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’sMahesh, Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay’sDrabamayeer KashibashandIchhamati, Manik Bandyopadhyay’sPadma Nadir Majhi,Mahasweta Devi’sBichhan,Buddhadeva Bose’sEkti Jiban, Prafulla Roy’sRam Charitra, Shibram Chakraborty’sDebotar Jonmo, Banaphool’sKichhukshan, Bangladeshi writer Shahed Ali’sJibrailer Danaand Selina Hossain’sHangor Nodi Grenadewere thought of. For a variety of reasons, including non-availability of actors (Chunibala Devi and Suchitra Sen, for example), these ideas had to be abandoned at different stages. According to Sandip, his father moved on with his work, never regretting what could not be pursued.

Ray was approached by Indira Gandhi to make a documentary on Jawaharlal Nehru for whom he had admiration. Besides, in a letter of June 1, 1978, Ray wrote to Jindal about the proposals he had been requested to consider “… (a) documentary on Rajasthani music for French TV… (b) a 3-part film for BBC (each 90 minutes long) on any subject or subjects of my choice… (c) a proposal from UNO to make a film on ‘the horrors & miseries of war’, for worldwide TV screening… (d) a revival ofThe Alienunder a major U.S. company backing with an updated script and a new title…” UNICEF approached him for a film on child labour. Ray was also interested in the operatic form ofBalmiki-Pratibha, and documentaries on notables like Radhanath Sikdar who first calculated the world’s highest mountain peak. None of these eventually took off for reasons not publicly known.

Conscious of what’s happening all around, Ray was immersed in ideas. A storyteller, both in celluloid and print, he was always assessing the cinematic potential of literary sources that ignited his imagination. Now, on the occasion of Ray’s 100th birth anniversary celebrations, it is for the researchers to probe and delve into the available material in order to fathom why many of these ideas couldn’t get transported to the medium of cinema.

Amitabha Bhattacharya is a retired IAS officer who has also worked in the private sector and with the UNDP. Views are personal

The declassification of India’s military history should also lead to building on successes and avoiding past follies

Saturday’s announcement by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on archiving, declassifying and compiling of war histories (https://bit.ly/3zroOqL) is a long overdue initiative that signals that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is at last willing to shed its shroud of confidentiality over happenings long gone by. Largely conforming to global practices, the policy has the potential to kick-start multiple initiatives within the MoD and the three services that will offer researchers, analysts and historians an easy lens into studying military operations in the post-Independence period.

Interlinked challenges

Drawing on my own experiences of nine years as a practitioner-historian who has struggled to put together two definitive historical and joint narratives of war and conflict in contemporary India, conversion of this policy into deliverables will be a tough and unglamorous grind. The four biggest challenges facing this initiative will be the fusion of political directives and strategic decision making with the operational and tactical happenings on ground; compilation and reconciling and analysis of events at multiple levels (headquarters, commands and field formations); putting together a team of dedicated researchers and historians with a mix of academics and practitioners with access to records and files; and lastly, putting together a concurrent oral history and digitisation of all archival compilations associated with this initiative.

Decisions to go to war and wage conflict in democracies are largely political decisions and it is important that such decisions are fused into compilations of war histories. For example, one of the reasons why the Indian Army is reluctant to declassify the Henderson Brooks Report that considered operational failures during the 1962 war with China is because it is largely a scathing indictment of the Indian Army’s leadership without any accountability assigned to the political establishment led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon. On the other hand, several histories of the Vietnam War can now be considered credible and well-rounded because researchers have had access not only to operational accounts but also to archived discussions between the political architects of the conflict such as Presidents J.F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and Defence Secretary Robert S. McNamara.

Similarly, General K. Sundarji and Ambassador J.N. Dixit have borne the brunt of much criticism by researchers examining India’s intervention in Sri Lanka from 1987-1990 because they expressed themselves in the open domain without fear. But it is only when researchers get access to records of discussions involving other generals, admirals and air marshals and even Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Minister of State for Defence Arun Singh and even political heavyweights in Tamil Nadu such as M.G. Ramachandran and M. Karunanidhi, that the cobwebs around Operation Pawan will be cleared.

On ‘Brasstacks’

‘Most military historians of contemporary India agree that Exercise Brasstacks (1986-87) heralded the transformation of Indian war fighting doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures in conventional war fighting, particularly in the plains and the desert. However, all of them, including this writer, have relied on oral recollections to put together a mosaic of what may have transpired in the confines of the Military Operations (MO) Directorate of the Army HQ and thereafter. Writing the official history of Exercise Brasstacks must be high on the list of the initial projects in this initiative as it will highlight the fusion of decisions taken at multiple headquarters right down to the regiment and squadron level.

The right approach needed

Notwithstanding the effort taken to put together official histories of the 1965 and 1971 wars, these are considered as safe histories that only scratch the surface of strategic decision making, operational analyses, leadership and lessons for the future. The reason for this is the absence of robust multi-disciplinary teams that are required to put together each such history and the desire to bring out non-controversial documents. While highlighting controversies and failures must not be an obsession with such initiatives, it is only a robust academic-cum-practitioner flavour accompanied by good and contemporary writing that will lend weight to such histories.

Unlike the Ministry of External Affairs which has stolen a march over other ministries in declassifying files, the three service headquarters and MoD have been rather slow in initiating this. Not only is it difficult to trace files from eras gone, it is highly possible that in the absence of digital conversion, several priceless discussions have been destroyed in the periodic discarding of files. But even if such files are available, who will spend long hours trying to identify elements that remain historically relevant?

Digitisation and creation of oral histories will form a critical component of this transformation. Both are either unfolding at a snail’s pace or are absent in our existing official repositories of history at the service headquarters or war colleges. A software major must be roped- in for this and an outreach must be made to individual historians, think tanks and global repositories to share their oral history collections on contemporary Indian military history.

The first chapter

Considering the timeline of 25 years, a suggested list of declassifications to trigger this transformative initiative are the Nathu La skirmish of 1967, ‘The Lightning Campaign’ in the Eastern Theatre during the 1971 War, Operation Meghdoot (Siachen), Exercise Brasstacks and its subsidiary operations, and Operation Falcon (Sumdorong Chu). Lest the initiative be accused of only showcasing successes, Operation Pawan (Indian Peace Keeping Force;picture) too needs to be officially written about, albeit with due sensitivity. One of the hallmarks of a leading power/emerging power/power of consequence and a leading military is the ability to take criticism, tackle institutional reluctance to expose faultlines and push forward with reform with the big picture in mind. History does not offer a blueprint for the future, but it is certainly instructive in building on successes and not repeating the follies of the past. That proposition must be the bedrock on which this initiative takes off.

Air Vice-Marshal (Dr.) Arjun Subramaniam (retd.) is a military historian and the author of ‘India’s Wars: A Military History, 1947-1971’ and ‘Full Spectrum: India’s Wars, 1972-2020’

Allowing money spent out-of-pocket to feed vaccine production in India is regressive and inequitable

The Union government recently reversed the liberalised vaccination strategy. States no longer have to bear the responsibility of procuring vaccines; the Centre will procure them on behalf of the States as the single purchaser. While this move has been applauded, some doubt that a few things will change under the new regime. One area of objection has been that the private sector’s share of total vaccines remains unchanged at 25%.

Problematic decision

As some experts have rightly pointed out, the private sector’s share of total manufactured vaccines is out of sync with its share of total vaccination centres, which are far fewer than the government’s, thus entailing a demand-supply mismatch between government and private centres and concomitant inequities. Although capacity to vaccinate is a more important metric to consider than just the relative share of vaccination centres, it is unlikely to be a redeeming factor. However, the policy looks problematic even if the number and the share of private vaccination centres increases substantially to accommodate their share of total vaccines.

Writ large, a 25% share for private vaccination entails an implicit assumption that 25% of the population is willing and able to pay for a commodity for which social benefits exceed private benefit. This is indicative of our mistaken assumption of an inflated ‘middle class’. The fact is that the affluent form only a small fraction of the uppermost 25% of our population based on income.

Markets tend to under-produce commodities having significant positive externalities. Preventive services like vaccines generate a lower private demand than curative services. Subsidising or incentivising users and penalising non-users of preventive services are two ways of promoting consumption of such services. Even assuming reasonably higher levels of wealth, education, and COVID-19 awareness in the uppermost 25% of the population, significant demand generation concerns would remain, which may lag behind desirable levels. Not to mention that this section is also likely to have better access to free vaccines provided by the government, creating a ‘crowding out’ effect for the poorer sections. Of course, we assume here that India doesn’t have a large surplus of vaccines. We also need to consider the age structure and its possible implications. A large chunk of self-payers are likely to be younger, productive individuals, who are at lesser risk of severe disease and mortality than the elderly.

It’s intriguing as to what motivates this 25% share for private players. Is the government driven by herd immunity considerations, which project that between 60% and 80% of the population needs to be imperatively immunised? It is crucial to realise that vaccinating the poorer and marginalised sections, even if it is free of charge, is much more challenging than vaccinating the easily accessible better-off sections. The resultant disparities along geographic and socioeconomic lines would not be consistent with the notion of herd immunity.

All this points to the need to increase the government’s share of total vaccines. It is unfair to demonise private hospitals in this situation, especially since service charges have now been capped. The benefits, if any, of differential pricing are likely to accrue mainly to vaccine manufacturers. But vaccine production is also a costly process, and the government’s track record of investing in domestic COVID-19 vaccine production has been anything but phenomenal. The result of this is that money spent out-of-pocket is feeding vaccine production in India, which is an inequitable and regressive way of doing things.

Better engagement with private sector

Traditionally, India’s approach to dealing with the private sector has been ‘all or none’ of sorts. On accusations of extortionate pricing by private players, the government hasn’t hesitated to impose often unreasonable and unfavourable pricing restrictions. On the contrary, successive governments have frequently been criticised for adopting an unduly favourable attitude towards the private sector in healthcare. It’s time we moved beyond this. Greater reach, innovative processes, and efficiency are some of the strengths of the private sector. Any engagement with this sector needs to sufficiently exploit such strengths as part of a strategic purchasing framework. But this will require the government to engage with smaller players too, not just big private hospitals. This will be replete with challenges, including the need for strong regulatory and information systems. More decentralised but accountable regulation might be called for. However, it is possible to envision a favourable risk-benefit trade-off with such engagement. The pandemic is the right time to attain the appropriate public-private policy mix.

Dr. Soham D. Bhaduri is a physician, health policy expert, and chief editor of ‘The Indian Practitioner’

Moving the collections in the National Archives annexe needs careful planning and execution

The National Archives is the primary repository of documents on India’s past. The last time it was in the news was in 2016 when digital copies of files relating to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose were made publicly accessible. The imminent demolition of its annexe by the Government of India has brought the institution to public attention once again. A petition by leading Indian and foreign scholars is in circulation demanding that the government show greater openness in the proposed demolition of the National Archives annexe and the safe storage of its contents since “several centuries of India’s history lie in the documents that make up the National Archives of India”. The petition said: “The archival records include 4.5 million files, 25,000 rare manuscripts, more than 100,000 maps, treaties, 280,000 premodern documents and several thousand private papers... The loss or damage of a single object or archival record would be an irrevocable loss.”

The annexe also houses the cartography section and 1,50,000 oriental records in Persian, Arabic and Urdu. The birch bark and clay coated Gilgit Manuscripts in the National Archives are, according to UNESCO, “the oldest surviving manuscripts in India”. These include “canonical and non-canonical Buddhist works that throw light on the evolution of Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, Manchu and Tibetan religion-philosophical literature”.

Poor shape

The National Archives is in poor shape. A series of articles published inThe New York Timesin March 2012 by the historian Dinyar Patel laid bare the parlous state of the National Archives. He noted, among other things, that “letters penned by Mohandas K. Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, Gopalkrishna Gokhale, and other eminent Indian nationalists have suffered from exposure to humid weather, staff negligence and mishandling, and improper preservation methods.” Things have improved since then, but not enough. Writing inThe Telegraph Online,of May 30, 2021, Sana Aziz, Assistant Professor of History at Aligarh Muslim University, pointed to lack of expertise to manage acquisitions which has led to “the locking up of some of the rare documents in Persian, Urdu, Arabic, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil, Malayalam, and Modi(records from Maharashtra)”.

Moving the collections in the National Archives annexe needs careful planning and execution. Few know this better than The British Library. Its guide from its Preservation Advisory Centre, titled ‘Moving Library and Archive Collections’, is succinct and comprehensive, covering every aspect of shifting an archive. A significant point it makes is that “the order in which the collection is to be moved and unpacked must be carefully considered and mapped. In the long term, it is cheaper to put items into their correct place straight away, rather than being rushed into a random storage arrangement.”

Moving contents

Those who are protesting the demolition of the annexe include scholars holding important positions in some of the best institutions. They have access to the finest archival expertise in the world. They are best placed to produce a detailed report on how to move the contents of the National Archive annexe and share it with the government giving names of institutions and experts willing to help. Not just the National Archives, but those of the States too are in poor shape. A case in point is the Goa archives, one of the oldest in the country. It contains material relevant not just to India but also to the rest of Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. While making their proposal, these scholars would do well to recommend an integrated national approach to archival management bringing together State archives too. The private sector could be brought in to construct a world-class building within the next two years as part of CSR and have the annexe collections shifted there. Such a project will do a lot of good for India’s image rather than all the protests from a “community of concerned”, which , incidentally, is all of us.

Uday Balakrishnan teaches at IISc Bengaluru. Views are his own

The G-7 needs to be more open and less exclusive in an increasingly interlinked world

The G-7 summit, at Carbis Bay, sent out two very strong messages. The first was driven by the United States’s new President Joseph Biden and his vow that “America is back” to take the lead on global challenges. The G-7 commitment to donate one billion coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries and to invest $12 trillion in their combined pandemic recovery plan depends on U.S. commitments for a large part. The special communiqué on “Open Societies” for the G-7 outreach, and the invitation to “fellow democracies” India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa are also an extension of his stated commitment to convening a Democracy Summit this year. Even the slogan for the G-7, “Build Back Better”, was a White House term to declare America’s economy and jobs recovery plan. The second message was the consensus amongst the seven-member countries on countering China. The final G-7 communiqué holds no less than four direct references to China, each negative, including criticising Beijing for its rights record in Xinjiang and democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, its “non-market policies and practices...”, concerns over its actions in the China Seas, and a demand for a transparent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 virus. Though the bonhomie among the G-7 leaders was palpable, the differences and contradictions in the grouping remain a challenge. Even two decades ago, questions were raised about whether the grouping (earlier, the G-8), could claim its mantle as the world’s “richest” countries, when emerging economies, China and India, are not included. On economic issues, the EU is a more representative unit than the individual European G-7 member countries. Finally, the premise of a group like the G-7, that of an exclusive club of the “haves” or “the best vs the rest”, seems anachronistic in a world that is much more interlinked now than in 1975, when the grouping first came about.

India, a special guest to the G-7/G-8 since 2003, has also maintained its independent course, especially on political issues. It is significant that the G-7 outreach communiqués that included the guest countries, did not make the same references to China as the main document, and MEA officials clarified that Chinese aggression was not raised at the outreaches, which focused on the pandemic, climate change and democratic freedoms. India voiced concerns about some clauses in the joint communiqué on Open Societies which condemned “rising authoritarianism”, net shutdowns, manipulation of information, and rights violations — areas where the Modi government has often been criticised itself. Addressing the session on Open Societies, Mr. Modi said that India is a “natural ally” to the G-7. In the present, the Government will be expected to walk the talk on its commitments at the G-7 outreach, especially in the areas of information clampdowns, given that India had the largest number of Internet shutdowns in 2020.

Djokovic is now in sight of a Golden Slamafter winning on a difficult surface

Novak Djokovic has always maintained that ending his career with the most number of Grand Slam titles is one of his prime motivations to keep playing tennis. In the Roland-Garros final on Sunday, he took a giant stride in realising this dream with a sensational come-from-behind five-set victory over the fast-rising Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas for his 19th Major, pulling him within one title of his celebrated rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It was the Serb’s second French Open trophy, making him only the third man in history (after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver) and first in the Open Era (post 1967) to win all four Slams at least twice. The rhythmic allure of the record aside, the sense of completeness and the feeling of sporting immortality it brings, even to a career as storied as Djokovic’s, is unparalleled. So will the 34-year-old’s semifinal victory over 13-time champion Nadal, the greatest of all clay-courters. That Djokovic had the tennis to challenge the Spaniard was never in doubt. What was astonishing was the way he bounced back from the shell-shocking in last year’s final and outwitted an in-form Nadal. For Djokovic to not fall off the emotional cliff and defeat Tsitsipas — a player 12 years younger — brought to light one of his constant themes — poise and resilience under relentless pressure.

The triumph is yet another reminder that Djokovic is this era’s most complete player. Where Federer has tweaked his shot-making with a larger racquet-head and Nadal has displayed new levels of aggression, Djokovic has prioritised balance, footwork and timing. Currently, no one can perhaps hit as well as Djokovic, from both wings, with pace and spin, at varied angles, even when on defence. As Nadal and Tsitsipas found out over exactly four hours and 11 minutes each, a tennis court had never felt smaller. This has now kindled hopes of a ‘golden’ Grand Slam, a herculean feat of winning all four Majors and the Olympic gold in a single year. However, if there is one man who has dared to dream and succeeded, it is Djokovic. Unseeded Barbora Krejcikova perhaps took cue and became the Czech Republic’s first singles champion in Paris in 40 years, providing a storyline to latch on to after Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal because of mental health concerns and Serena Williams’ early exit. Nine months ago, Krejcikova was ranked outside the top-100 and had appeared in only three singles main draws at Slams. But with two doubles and three mixed doubles trophies, she was no stranger to success. Over the last fortnight, with her delightfully languid but polished game, she became the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to sweep both singles and doubles at Roland-Garros.

We hope the attention of our readers has been drawn to the article inYoung Indiaby Mahatma Gandhi extracted in theHinduof the 13th instant on “The Need of The Hour”. Mr. Gandhi says that “it will be nothing short of a tragedy if we do not fulfil the Bezwada programme before the end of the month. This question of payment is the acid test of our sincerity, earnestness and capacity. Let us hope that the 30th of this month will not find us wanting.” The Joint General Secretary of the Indian National Congress has been issuing earnest appeals to the people in this Presidency exhorting them to respond to the national call for contributing to the Tilak Swaraja Fund. He has been publishing from time to time the amounts received which uptodate has only come up to about Rs. 30,000. How poor the response has been so far is shown by the amounts due, from the various Districts, and the amounts collected. We earnestly hope that Madras will not cut a sorry figure among all the Provinces on the 30th June.

The dissolution of the Punjab Assembly by the Governor, Dr. D.C. Pavate, has obviously upset the long-nurtured plans of the topplers who were getting ready to replace the shaky Akali Dal Ministry headed by Mr Badal by what could have only been an equally shaky and ramshackle coalition. No tears need to be shed over the exit of the Badal Government which, along with the Akali Dal itself, had been riven by faction and intrigue for months. Those who thought that the reunion of the faction headed by Mr. Gurnam Singh with the parent Dal under Sant Fateh Singh in November last would ensure stable government in the State would seem to have reckoned without the Akalis’ penchant for groupism and infighting. The present crisis which has sparked off some vague and unspecified charges of corruption against some of the Ministers by another Minister, Mr. Trilochan Singh Riasti, was but part of this factious struggle within the party, though his demand for a smaller and more compact Cabinet for so small a State was reasonable. Mr Badal’s reluctance to get rid of some of the Ministers on the eve of the Assembly session is also easily explained, as with the outgoing Ministers would also have gone some of the needed support in the Assembly.