The threat posed to key Indian entities by antagonistic forces such as China is beginning to merit critical attention in all the right quarters. This follows revelations by the U.S.-based cyber security firm, Recorded Future, which were carried by the media in the United States.
Infrastructure as target
According to a despatch byThe New York Times(https://nyti.ms/2OW0jze), in the lead-up to the India-China border clashes, Recorded Future had found an increase in malware attacks targeting the Indian government, defence organisations and the public sector. Also that, coinciding with Chinese incursions in Eastern Ladakh, certain Indian power facilities had been targets of a cyber attack. Furthermore, that there was still some evidence of ongoing intrusions, though the intensity of the activity appeared to have ceased by mid-February 2021.
A needless controversy did erupt in the wake of these disclosures, as to whether the October 2020 blackout in Mumbai was directly linked to this cyber attack. State authorities in Maharashtra attributed the blackout to the attack by the Chinese cyber group, but authorities in Delhi blamed it on human error. Far more crucial than merely assigning blame, and what should have been of real concern, is that key infrastructure facilities, such as the power sector, were now in the crosshairs of a hostile China, which appeared intent on deploying cyber weapons to target India. China’s intention evidently is to keep India in thrall, while outwardly demonstrating a conciliatory posture, such as vacating some of the areas in Eastern Ladakh that it had occupied post April 2020.
The reported events are a wake-up call for India, and it would be a grievous error if India were to underestimate the extent of the cyber threat posed to it by China. Indian government agencies, such as the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) may have more information on China’s aggressive cyber campaign, but if what Recorded Future has indicated is true,viz., ‘that since early 2020, there has been an observation of a large increase in suspected targeted intrusion activity against Indian organisations from Chinese state-sponsored groups’ concentrating on infrastructure targets, including the power sector and ports, then India needs to be on its guard.
At least 10 Indian distinct power sector organisations are said to have been targeted, in addition to two Indian ports. What adds verisimilitude to these revelations is the identification of the network infrastructureviz., AXIOMATICASYMPTOTE, whose servers are known to be used by RedEcho, a China-linked activity group, that targets India’s power sector, and facilitates the employment of a malware known as ShadowPad. ShadowPad is a network intrusion malware affiliated to both the Chinese Ministry of State Security and the People’s Liberation Army. ShadowPad is depicted as a “back-door ‘Trojan’ malware which creates a secret path from a targeted system to a command and control server to extract information”. If indeed the future is digital, and if China has indeed embarked on an all-out offensive of this nature, India needs to adopt comprehensive measures to forestall a potential ‘Cyber Pearl Harbour’, as far as India is concerned.
An offensive by China
Across the world, Beijing does appear to be engaged in a major cyber offensive, directed not only against countries like India but against many advanced nations as well. In attempting this, what China is doing is essentially exploiting to perfection the many vulnerabilities that software companies (essentially those in the West), have deliberately left open (for offensive purposes at an opportune time). Exploiting this loophole, and also turning matters on its head, it is companies in the western world that are now at the receiving end of such antics, having ‘left vulnerabilities for future exploitation’.
Chinese cyber espionage sets no limitations on targets. Towards the end of 2020, and as the world prepared for large-scale deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, their attention was directed to vaccine distribution supply chains around the world. A global ‘spearphishing campaign’ targeting organisations responsible for vaccine storage and transportation was reportedly unleashed, and while concrete evidence as to which country was indeed responsible for this is not available, the shadow of suspicion has fallen mainly on Chinese hackers. Their objective seems to have been targeting vaccine research, gaining future access to corporate networks, and seeking sensitive information relating to COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Cyber warfare by others
Very recently in 2021, several thousands of U.S. organisations were hacked in an unusually aggressive Chinese espionage campaign. The Chinese group, Hafnium, which has been identified as being responsible for this breach, exploited a series of flaws in the Microsoft software, enabling attackers to gain total remote control over affected systems. Each hour of the day, thousands of Microsoft servers were compromised as a result, till the breach was discovered.
While Chinese cyber espionage may be the flavour of the month, what must be recognised is that many other countries, including the U.S. and Russia, do engage in the same kind of cyber warfare. Little is publicised about western cyber espionage, and while these may not match that of either China or Russia, it does happen. The U.S. has extensively publicised Russia’s cyber antics from time to time. Best known are accusations of Russia’s cyber interference in the U.S. presidential elections in 2016, which approached the level of a major scandal. Russia is currently the prime suspect in one of the greatest data breaches concerning the U.S. Federal government, involving the Departments of Defence, Energy, State, Homeland Security, Treasury, etc. Headlined SolarWinds, the late 2020 breach is a prime example of the damage that can be caused by a cyber attack.
Cyber attacks and cyber espionage could rewrite the history of our times. We are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg at present and most nations are truly unaware of the extent to which breaches are taking place. Nations should beware and be warned about how cyber attacks can bring a nation to its knees. This was well demonstrated way back in 2016, when a major attack on Ukraine’s power grid took place and set an ominous precedent in this respect. The attacks were carried out by skilled cyber security professionals, who had planned their assaults over many months, testing the quality of the malware, carrying out detailed logistics planning, and conducting a very sophisticated operation. The Ukraine example should be a wake-up call for India and the world, as in the intervening five years, the sophistication of cyber attacks and the kind of malware available have become more advanced. India, could well be blindsided by Chinese cyber attacks on critical infrastructure if the latter sets out to do so, unless prophylactic measures are taken in time.
There are no readymade solutions to counter the cyber offensive emanating from different quarters. No nation can hope, or can claim, to be insulated from such attacks. The U.S. seemed to fully wake up to the cyber threat only in 2017 when U.S. security tools were hacked, having preferred for long to indulge in a kind of ‘active defence’ by seeking to hack enemy networks. U.S. President Joe Biden is now understood to have included a sum of over $10 billion for cyber security in his COVID-19 Relief Bill, which is clearly intended to improve U.S. ‘readiness and resilience in cyber space’.
Part of Beijing’s world view
From an Indian perspective, the Chinese cyber threat could prove to be truly daunting. The reasons for this are many. China’s analysis of the state of current relations between China and India is that they remain antagonistic to the point of ‘de-coupling’, and the confrontation between Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘Community with shared future for mankind’ and India’s current posture could lead to a ‘long period of volatility’. As India grows closer to the U.S., this gap between the two key Asian nations can be expected to become still wider.
Under Mr. Xi, China has forged a firm nexus between authoritarianism, global ambitions and technology, and is determined to transform the global order to advance its interests. ‘Cyber’ could well be one of China’s main threat vectors employed against countries that do not fall in line with China’s world view. China’s 2021 Defence Budget (amounting to $209 billion) gives special weightage to the Strategic Support Force (SSF), which embraces cyber warfare — an ominous portent that bodes little good for countries that posit a challenge to China’s ambitions, such as India. Drawing up a comprehensive cyber strategy, one that fully acknowledges the extent of the cyber threat from China, has thus become an imperative and immediate necessity.
M.K. Narayanan, a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal, is currently Executive Chairman of CyQureX Pvt. Ltd., a U.K.-U.S.A. cyber security joint venture
For the past seven years, a vibrant cottage industry has emerged in India that can be divided into two unequal halves: the first offering political advice gratis to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the second vigorously writing him off into political exile. However, this industry has failed to help us understand why the Gandhi scion continues to remain a danger to the evolving empire of the BJP. In part, this is because most commentators lack a big picture view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘New India’ — a picture that is only now revealing itself and must be grasped in 3D.
First, Mr. Modi’s preferred political model is Chinese-inspired. Like the Communist Party of China, the BJP wants total domination of the political landscape. What we are seeing, therefore, is the quest for ‘comprehensive politics’ that either silences the Opposition or makes it irrelevant. This ‘take no prisoners’ political approach is expected to culminate with the completion of the Central Vista project. The new Parliament building will not only physically displace Lutyens’ Delhi but will also becomes the grand venue with double the number of parliamentarians after a fresh delimitation exercise.
Those familiar with the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) would know that it has about 2,980-odd members, many of whom are part-time and work pro bono. The NPC functions as a rubber stamp mostly because the numbers make it unwieldy for debate and discussion. The end result is that power has been centralised within a fraction called the Central Committee, which is further distilled into an even tinier faction comprising seven members called the Standing Committee. The exercise of actual power is thus highly centralised and concentrated. There is every possibility that the Central Vista project could mirror the preference for this ‘made in China’ political arithmetic and geometry with an Indian variant of the standing politburo comprising only Mr. Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah — a two-part ‘partly free’ democracy.
The second dimension, the economy, draws from the South Korean strategy for cultivating Chaebols — family-owned conglomerates that are backed by unstinted state support. In a recent article, journalist Harish Damodaran describes how barely a couple of Indian conglomerates have now come to dominate the entire economic landscape. This Indian Chaebol version, in fact, has already been ‘imaged’ in the world’s largest cricket stadium at Ahmedabad, with both the bowling and batting ends unabashedly acknowledging the alliance of government and the two great conglomerates of India.
There is, however, a catch. The South Korean Chaebols were primed for global competition and much of their success and prestige depended on conquering global markets and supply chains. Alas, that does not seem to be the case, as of yet, for the Chaebols of New India. Instead, what one witnesses — from demonetisation, implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and the introduction of farm laws — is the steady transfer of the ‘generalised wealth’ held by the many (small and medium industries, traders, shopkeepers, middle farmers, etc.) to the few — notably New India’s Chaebols. No surprise that the wealth of Indian billionaires rose 35% during the pandemic year, even as much of the earnings and savings of the working population were decimated. Put bluntly, a steady transfer of wealth prior to the COVID-19 outbreak got accelerated during the lockdown.
The third and final part of the 3D involves injecting Hindutva into the life blood of India’s complex, heterogeneous and historically layered social worlds. These social engineering efforts — peaking with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the reading down of Article 370 — aimed hard at the cultural simplification of India. One is either Hindu or Muslim, vegetarian or a meat eater, bhakt or anti-national, and so on. The otherwise tangled colourful histories of overlap, nuance and ambiguity are now making the Indian a dull humourless monochromatic citizen.
In sum, New India appears as an all-out Asian endeavour that forges China (politics), South Korea (economics) and India (Hindutva society) into a single national bloc. But is this the case? Should we give the BJP under the leadership of Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah all the credit for carrying out this remarkable political script?
Not necessarily. Since 2011, global politics has sharply swerved towards a ‘right-wing populist’ turn. Starting with Viktor Orban’s election in Hungary, populism was unleashed in Brexit Britain, Donald Trump’s U.S., Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil. This populist wave, as pointed out by the Dutch scholar Cas Mudde, was about how strong men (all men, no women) learnt to game political fault lines within liberal democracies. And at the heart of their play was the ability to re-purpose information technology and the social media for dismantling institutions, throttling dissent and gutting democratic society. In other words, Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah were global but not original.
It is only within this big picture that one can meaningfully locate Mr. Gandhi’s persona and tactics. Mr. Gandhi strives to ‘hold the centre’ in Indian politics. The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their affiliates have populated and overwhelmed every conceivable political niche on the hard right with ruthless efficiency and total domination tactics. In contrast, the Congress, which always held the centre, aimed for gradualism, negotiation, adjustment and compromise — it essentially aimed for a moderate social temperature for governance. The Modi-Shah combine, in contrast, have broken this thermostat and now relentlessly churn society and create conditions for a ‘permanentbawal(tumult)’ — intense politicking and constant popular mobilisation.
The centre can hold
Given such a hard shift to the right, the most important strategy for a party occupying the political centre has to be about holding the line. And here, despite Mr. Gandhi’s acts of omission or commission, he has nonetheless been able to make sure that the Congress has not suffered annihilation by making a hard swerve either to the right or the left. Holding the centre, as political analyst Sushil Aaron recently wrote inThe Wire, has been critically dependent on how Mr. Gandhi has over the years sustained ‘an ethic of decency’, while also ‘offering a vision for a social democratic India’ — behaviour and ideas that he has been good at articulating and keeping alive, despite the impossibly hostile political environment. In other words, the message has become louder than the messenger and it makes Mr. Gandhi the carrier of a legacy rather than a mere inheritor of a dynasty.
Increasingly, as the standing politburo of Modi and Shah accelerate the transfer of general wealth to the Indian Chaebols through the Hindutva orchestrated tactics for permanentbawal,there might emerge a blowback or even a yearning for a centre that can restore institutional checks and recover public decency. If there are hopes for such a future, then Mr. Gandhi’s legacy as the message will remain relevant, if not urgent.
Rajesh Mahapatra is a current affairs and public policy commentator; and Rohan D’Souza teaches at the Graduate School of African and Asian Studies, Kyoto University
The Haryana government has recently passed legislation that mandates companies in Haryana to provide jobs to local Haryanvis first, before hiring people from outside the State.
The unemployment rate in Haryana is the highest of all States in India, as per data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, or CMIE (https://bit.ly/3tnokOx). A whopping 80% of women in Haryana who want to work cannot find a job. More than half of all graduates in Haryana are jobless. The jobs situation in Haryana is staggeringly dismal.
Many factors control jobs
Politically, 11 out of the 18 million voters of Haryana do not have a regular job. World history warns us that when such a vast majority of adults are jobless, it inevitably leads to social revolutions and political upheavals. So, it is entirely understandable that the democratically elected Haryana government panicked and chose to reserve the few available jobs for its own voters.
Haryana is not alone in this quandary. The cabinet of the government of Jharkhand approved similar legislation to reserve jobs for Jharkhand residents. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu announced a similar proposal to reserve jobs for Tamils in its manifesto for the upcoming Assembly elections. Many States in India have embarked on this nativism adventure to protect the interests of the vast number of their jobless locals.
Predictably, this has attracted criticism from economists and commentators, as it militates against their liberal idea of a free economy. ‘Focus on creating more jobs, not on reserving the few available ones’ is the popular refrain. But, it is a false binary. Creation of new jobs is not entirely in the control of State governments. It is a complex interplay of multitude of factors.
States and key parameters
Job creation is obviously an outcome of the performance of the larger economy. If say, the American giant retailer, Amazon, believes that the Indian economy is poised to grow robustly, it may choose to expand its operations in India. The Chief Minister of a State in India has limited control over the management of the larger economy and thereby, attract new investors and businesses who can create jobs. When Amazon, enticed by a buoyant Indian economy, decides to expand its Indian operations, then presumably, the State governments can compete to lure Amazon to their State and help create new jobs.
Ostensibly, Amazon needs abundant high quality skilled and unskilled labour, land at affordable prices, uninterrupted supply of electricity, water and other such ‘ease of business’ facilities for its expansion. State governments in India can theoretically compete with each other on these parameters to attract Amazon to set up operations in their State. Further, any tax advantages that a particular State can providevis-à-visothers will increase its attractiveness for Amazon. In fact, this is exactly what happened in America in 2018 when Amazon decided to build its second headquarters and various States, towns and cities publicly competed with each other to woo Amazon and its jobs to their area. But, realistically in India, in very few of these parameters can a poorer State compete against a richer State to attract Amazon.
An elected State government can certainly, during its five-year tenure, attempt to provide high quality local infrastructure to attract new businesses. State governments also have the ability to provide land at affordable prices or for free to attract investments. However, the availability of skilled local labour is a function of many decades of social progress of the State and cannot be retooled immediately. After the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), State governments in India have lost their fiscal autonomy and have no powers to provide any tax concessions to businesses. So, while State governments have the ability to use land and local infrastructure as tools to attract businesses, they do not have control over immediate availability of skilled manpower or to use taxes as a tool to lure. In America, States compete against each other vigorously using tax concessions and land offers to bring new jobs to their States.
But, beyond all these, the most critical factor in the choice of a location for a large business is what economists term as the ‘agglomeration effect’ — the ecosystem of supply chain, talent, good living conditions and so on. A State with an already well-established network of suppliers, people, schools, etc. are at a greater advantage to attract even more businesses than the States that are left behind. Put simply, if Amazon’s competitor Walmart is already established in Karnataka, then there is a greater incentive for Amazon to also locate itself in Karnataka to take advantage of the established ecosystem. This leads to a cycle of the more prosperous States growing even faster at the expense of the lagging States.
The ‘3-3-3’ danger
This phenomenon is already evident in India’s increasing economic divergence among its States. In previous published joint research, I have called this the ‘3-3-3’ effect — the three richest large States (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka) are three times richer than the three poorest large States (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh), in per-capita income, compared to 1.4 times in 1970. This gap between the richer and poorer States in India is only widening rapidly and not narrowing, due to the agglomeration impact of modern economic development paradigms.
In the absence of a level playing field and with no fiscal autonomy, it is enormously difficult for developing States in India to attract new investments and create new jobs. In this context, an elected government that operates on a five-year electoral cycle, confronted with a powder keg of millions of jobless voters will understandably resort to seemingly ‘paisawise, rupees foolish’ appeasement policies to salvage whatever it can of an ominous employment situation. After all, how is the Haryana government’s policy to restrict labour movement into its borders and protect jobs for locals any different from the Prime Minister’s ‘self-reliant India’ initiative to restrict goods movement into India’s borders and protect local jobs?
The potent combination of widening inter-State inequality, a ‘rich States get richer’ economic development model, an impending demographic disaster and shrinking fiscal autonomy for elected State governments in a politically and culturally diverse democracy will inevitably propagate nativistic sub-nationalism among the various States of India. Until the economic playing fields for the various States are levelled and much greater fiscal freedom provided to the States, “don’t protect but create jobs” will only remain a topic of a hollow lecture and moral sermons.
Praveen Chakravarty is a political economist and a senior office bearer of the Congress party
Last Wednesday, a Chennai-based reader, M.D. Menon, came up with an interesting proposal regarding my salary as the Readers’ Editor. He felt that half my salary should be paid by the readers or at least a group of readers who want the institution of the Readers’ Editor and the other half byThe Hindu.He even worked out a tariff that had an annual member category and a life member category. He also suggested that the cost of the paper should be raised by 25 paise on the days the paper publishes the ‘From the Readers’ Editor’ column. He wrote: “I believe that as long as you are paid by one party [alone], there is a conflict of interest.”
We need to contextualise the role of an ombudsman in the news media. Though an ombudsman is appointed by the management of the news organisation,the management provides independence and autonomy to the Readers’ Editor while he or she examines complaints and queries from the readers. Further, to ensure accuracy, there should be a formal visible correcting mechanism. Course correction is binding on the news organisation.
I have been part of the ethical journalism debate since 2005 and I have worked closely with Aidan White, the founder of the Ethical Journalism Network. He said all the revenue in the media is from the readers. They pay to buy a newspaper, their subscription drives the advertising revenue, and even governmental support for the public interest media is funded through tax revenue, which is essentially readers’ contribution. From the management to the editorial, everyone in the news business is paid only by the readers.
The Readers’ Editor is no exception. In the judiciary, though the salary for judges comes from governments, we know that the money is from the people in the form of either direct or indirect taxation. Hence, to charge readers for doing my job would amount to double billing.
One of the major lessons that I learned from working closely with Mr. White is how to serve and be effective in a fast-changing world without losing any of the core values that define journalism. He observed: “In a landscape where global media and supranational organisations are weakening the grip of the nation state, when politics is scarred by extremes and corruption, when many in the media business have lost all sense of mission, we have to rethink our attitudes on how media and journalism contribute to democratic life. How can journalism properly empower a public who are starved of the information they need to hold governments to account, while at the same time overwhelmed by a surfeit of information from the trivial to the surreal?”
Role of an ombudsman
Mr. White said increasingly, we are permitting media output to become the fast food of the mind: ubiquitous, colourful but of doubtful provenance or nutritional value. The role of an ombudsman is to bring back that missing nutritional value and make clear the provenance of anything that is published in the newspaper. From social media frenzy to intolerant governments and a legal and regulatory framework that is unashamedly tilted towards the executive, there are multiple factors that hamper good journalism. At the Highway Africa conference in Grahamstown, South Africa, in 2012, I spent nearly four hours discussing with Mr. White the way forward. While dealing with complaints from readers, along with the written terms of references and various published codes for ethical journalism, I have often drawn from that engaging conversation.
Mr. White made a distinction between remarkably sensitive yet non-sensational journalism and the harm-inducing shrill reportage which ends up as a force multiplier for the government. Force multiplier journalism sacrifices the citizens’ right to know at the altar of executive diktat and contributes to the shrinking of democratic space.
Mr. White taught me to do the simple things right: promoting open debate, providing reliable information, exposing wrongdoing, and explaining the impact of events on the world in which we live. The bedrock of democratic pluralism is provided by open governments, political freedom, an effective judiciary and the imperatives of ethical journalism. In this context, it is very clear that there is no clientelist relationship between the management and the Readers’ Editor. Hence, I have to decline Mr. Menon’s generous offer.
While addressing the country’s top military leadership in Gujarat’s Kevadia recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the top commanders to develop the military into a future force while taking note of the rapidly changing technological landscape. He also called for an approach that focuses on breaking down civil-military silos and on expediting the speed of decision-making besides shedding the legacy system.
Changing nature of war
Earlier, wars used to be easy to define. We could say with confidence whether we were at war or at peace. We could identify whom we were fighting with and at which front. The character of war was demonstrated depending upon the norms and ideology of society, technology, and anonymity. Now, new terms denote changes in the definition of modern war. These include ‘hyper’, ‘hybrid’, ‘compound’, ‘non-linear’, ‘fourth-generation’, ‘next-generation’ and ‘contactless’. Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz recognised the changing character of war incredibly early when he stated that war was practically limitless in variety. Such being the unpredictability, how do you modernise a force and make it ready for the future?
War, at its core, is organised violence, waged for political purposes. The real purpose is domination. If humans are naturally political animals, war will be the proverbial state of nature and peace, the aberration.
For peace to prevail or be enforced, development of future force capability based on a Third Offset Strategy was announced by the U.S. in 2014. It consists of cutting-edge technology, exploration of new operational concepts for utilising such technology, and retaining the best and brightest in human resource to achieve the objective of peace. Although still in its inchoate stages, it focuses on promising technology areas such as robotics and system autonomy, miniaturisation, Big Data, and advanced manufacturing. It provides for autonomous learning systems, collaborative decision-making between humans and machines, assisted human operations, advanced manned-unmanned systems operations, network-enabled autonomous weapons, and high-speed projectiles. Technologies like these can be expected to cause unprecedented effects and disruption by impacting cognitive and perceptional domains through weapons, soldiers, robots, and cyborgs. Tactical actions undertaken through these can be expected to cause strategic effects.
It will be the way the effects are directed for employment that will most significantly change warfare. Strategists reared in Western-Style liberal democracies, who are used to thinking in terms of an orderly Westphalian world, are slowly being forced to come to terms with anomalies in the existing paradigm. In India, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, is preparing the future force. He admits that ‘force on force’ concepts are difficult to tide over but is positive about the future.
What do military developments mean for political and democratic decision-making? Democracies work slowly. To prepare for accelerated future wars, they need to master the ‘hybridised effect’ of warfare that our adversaries are increasingly adopting. Operating below the threshold of out-and-out hostilities, effects caused by anonymous threats bypass frontiers without challenging national sovereignty. Our understanding of war on the other hand has remained the same: organised campaigns, orchestrated by domain-led central staff against an enemy that conforms to preconceived notions of logical and rational actions. Confluence technology and a whole-of-government approach, which are absent, need to drive new strategies and tactics.
Perhaps the most important political trend affecting armed conflict in the 21st century will be in the relationship between civilians and those who fight on their behalf. This is what the Prime Minister said needs to change when he asked for breaking of civilian-military silos.
Lt General Anil Chait is former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Central Army
The virtual summit that brought together leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, last week, contained both broad substance and deep symbolism. Countering any perception that the Quad is merely a “talk-shop”, the outcomes announced by U.S. President Biden and Prime Ministers Modi, Morrison and Suga include a vaccine initiative and joint working groups to cooperate on critical technology as well as climate change. The vaccine initiative comes with an ambitious deadline: a billion vaccines by the end of 2022, made in India with U.S. technology, Japanese funding and Australian distribution networks to reach as many Indo-Pacific countries as possible. The four Quad countries will ensure emissions reduction based on the Paris accord as well as cooperate on technology supply chains, 5G networks, and biotechnology. Mr. Biden, who hosted the summit, managed some powerful atmospherics, by coordinating a joint statement — and a first — called “The Spirit of the Quad”, and a joint article by the four leaders that committed to an open Indo-Pacific “free from coercion”. The leaders are expected to meet later this year, at the G-7 summit. For Mr. Biden, the early push for the Quad engagement is part of his promise that “America is back” in terms of global leadership, reaffirming regional alliances, and taking on the growing challenge from China. For similar reasons, and due to maritime tensions with China, trade and telecommunication issues, Australia and Japan are keen on taking the Quad partnership to deeper levels of cooperation. For India, the new terms of the Quad will mean more strategic support after a tense year at the LAC, as also a boost for its pharmaceutical prowess, opportunities for technology partnerships, and more avenues for regional cooperation on development projects and financing infrastructure, especially in South Asia, where China has taken the lead.
It would be a mistake, however, to portray the Quad summit as a “throwing down of the gauntlet” to China. The new U.S. government is still exploring its own relationship with China; its first engagement with Beijing’s top diplomats is in Alaska, on Thursday. For Japan and Australia, China remains the biggest trading partner, a relationship that will only grow once the 15-nation RCEP kicks in. India, given its own ties with China, sensitivities over ongoing LAC disengagement talks, and its other multilateral commitments at the BRICS and SCO groupings, also displayed caution in the Quad engagement, keeping the conversation focused on what Mr. Modi called making the Quad a “force for global good” rather than pushing plans for a militaristic coalition. In that sense, the Quad’s new “summit avatar” has given India yet another string to its bow, broadening India’s interests on its geopolitical horizons even further.
With just over two weeks left to the March 31 deadline for the government and RBI to complete the quinquennial review of the current inflation target under the monetary policy framework, the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) reading provides a salutary reminder for policymakers to maintain a ceaseless vigil over price stability. Retail inflation, measured by the CPI, accelerated to a three-month high of 5.03% in February, data released by the National Statistical Office on Friday showed. The jump of almost 100 basis points from January’s 4.06%, while partly attributable to a base effect given that price gains had relatively eased in February 2020, is a clear signal that food and fuel costs continue to pose a threat to broader price stability in the economy. Specifically, the RBI’s early February prognostication of continuing pressures in the prices of pulses and edible oils has been borne out by the last two months’ CPI data. Inflation of both essential food products has persisted in the double digits during the period, and in the case of the latter, accelerated disconcertingly to 20.8% last month. Price gains with respect to two other key sources of protein, meat and fish and eggs, also remain stuck above 11%. And the deflation in vegetable costs, which had helped offset the generalised pressure in food inflation, also waned considerably in February to minus 6.7% from minus 15.8% in January. The upshot was that food and beverages as a combined category, with a weight of 54.2% in the CPI, witnessed an almost 160 basis points quickening in inflation to 4.25% last month, from January’s 2.67%.
Another equally worrisome source of inflationary pressure is the continuing upward trajectory in the prices of petroleum products. Transport and communication, which directly reflect these prices, saw inflation rocket by more than 200 basis points to 11.4% in February, from 9.3% the preceding month. Diesel, the main fuel for freight carriage, is now hovering around Rs. 85 per litre in many parts and will most certainly feed into the costs of everything requiring to be transported. Brent crude oil futures have surged by close to 40% in the three-month period through March 11 in the wake of output cuts by major oil producing nations, another worrying portent for inflation. With the RBI’s own researchers having so cogently laid out the case for persisting with the current flexible inflation targeting regime of ensuring that price gains stay within the 2% to 6% band in the central bank’s first Report on Currency and Finance in eight years, policymakers must stay laser focused on keeping price stability front and centre of their fresh framework for the next quinquennium. Any effort to dilute the focus in a purported bid to prioritise growth, risks putting the economy on a perilous path that may secure neither objective.
We cannot congratulate the Madras Corporation on its resolution passed yesterday to relinquish a good portion of land in Napier Park for the purpose of the Suguna Vilasa Sabha building a theatre on it. The plot is an extremely valuable one, and should be reserved for the benefit of the public in general and especially of the poorer classes of people in the city. The arguments against the motion were put forcibly before the meeting by Mr. Devadoss, Rev. Mr. Leith, Major Russell, Mr. Vyasa Rao, Dr. Kamath and others, and it is regrettable that they did not prevail. The resolution was carried by a narrow majority, 15 Councillors voting for and 14 against it. Among the former were, it is said, a number of members of the Suguna Vilasa Sabha. During the discussion Major Russell pointed out that the Councillors who were members of the Sabha would do well to refrain from voting on the resolution.
Both the Congress (R) and the marxist-led United Left Front in West Bengal to-day staked their claims to form a coalition Government in the State after the verdict of Wednesday’s Assembly election showed that no single party or Front has secured an absolute majority in the 280-member House. With results for only four of the 277 seats still outstanding, the Congress (R) has captured 105 seats and the ULF 121. Election for three seats has been countermanded. The break-up of the ULF tally is: CPM: 109; RCPI 3; Biplabi Bangla Congress 1; Forward Bloc (Marxist) 2, ULF-supported Independents 4, and Workers Party 2. The ULF at an emergency meeting this evening decided to request the Governor, Mr. S.S. Dhavan, to invite it to form a Ministry by virtue of its being the largest single bloc in the new Assembly. The meeting elected Mr. Jyoti Basu as leader of the Front and said in a statement that the ULF was prepared to form a Government on the basis of its programmes. The statement expressed the hope that the need for such a Government in West Bengal would receive the most serious attention of other parties, groups and individuals outside the Front which had adopted an “anti-Congress stand”. Asked at a press conference whether the ULF was prepared to initiate discussions for a coalition with other parties, Mr. Basu said “we will definitely discuss with them if they came forward to find meeting points”.