Time for India to move Up the Global Ladder

Covid-19, Russia-Ukraine conflict, Sri Lankan crises, deadly heat wave…..

It seems that it’s now impossible to have a “rest” day when we are not bombarded by the gloom and doom stories happening around us. While we may not realise it but not just the global level issues but even the very local issues seems to now affect us and that too immediately. For example: the heat wave that gripped most of India in the month of April led to power outages that was a result of coal shortages across the country. So much so, that dozens of scheduled passenger trains had to be cancelled to allow for trains carrying coal to reach their destination in time. Was it so hard to predict this situation and take actions in advance? Granted that this was the hottest April in the last 70 years but it’s not the first summer in the last seven decades. How about we develop predictive modelling systems to ensure that there are no coal shortages if and when the next heat wave occurs.

It’s time for India to realise it’s global place. It’s too big a country, too strong an economy for the West to ignore or worse, dictate terms to. Global problems need strong solutions delivered by a sturdy leader. New Delhi has all the right ingredients to be that leader.

While the Ukrainians have been dealt a bad hand, it’s primarily the NATO countries that have every reason to be embarrassed. Not only did they provoked Putin but also at the time when it mattered the most “ditched” Zelensky. Boris Johnson walking down the streets of Kiev or Joe Biden committing support to Ukraine doesn’t bring back the lives lost, industries destroyed, farms uprooted. Ukraine which was one of the world’s biggest supplier of food grains, steel and other other commodities cannot do so anymore. Throughout EU there is a large void created and prices are starting to rise already. Food inflation in Turkey just hit 80%. India has always had surplus grains – a chunk of which rots every year due to poor storage. New Delhi should negotiate supply terms with needy countries (read EU) and send them immediate supplies. This will ensure valuable foreign currency as well as create space in our godowns for the next season of harvest. India should also promote sale of it’s steel to countries that were buying from Ukraine. New Delhi should insist on long term contracts which will guarantee that our steel mills shall remain busy for next several years and also increase new job creation.

At the same time, relations with Russia should not be put on the backseat simply because the West wants it to be. What’s in India’s interest is non negotiable and no one should dictate terms to New Delhi. Buying crude from Russia at discounted price, at a time when global prices are exceeding $110 a barrel, is an excellent idea and should continue till as long as needed. New Delhi would do well to scout for alternate defence equipment suppliers and not just depend on historical partners. PM Modi’s recent trip to Europe was a testament to how well India is being regarded as a trading, political, social partner. Even the heads of governments of Sweden and Finland (countries that he did not visit) came over to meet him in Denmark.

Closer home, our good old neighbour is suffering it’s worst financial crises ever. Who’s to blame? Among other things I think it’s their overdependence on China. China is the second largest lender to Sri Lanka controlling about 10% of its foreign debt. China plays what is called as “debt diplomacy” in that it offers lucrative loans to certain countries in exchange for large infrastructure contracts which are almost always awarded to Chinese companies. The unsuspecting country doesn’t realise that trap it walks into until it’s too late. Pakistan is on the same list.

India should rise to being a conscious leader in South Asia by bailing out (to some extent) Sri Lanka. Not in return for contracts for Indian companies but for negotiation peace across international waters, promoting tourism & cultural exchanges. The FTA between India and Sri Lanka needs a fresh look.

Finally, India should not become complacent in its in fight against Corona virus. The Indian vaccination program has been a success story of sorts. There is no country in the world that has delivered as many doses as India has in a clear, transparent and economically feasible manner. No one knows if and when there would be a third wave. But India could export it’s surplus vaccines to countries that are running short on supplies. Again, no strings attached. Just a simple commercial transaction. Back home, New Delhi working with the States should strengthen its healthcare infrastructure ensuring enough beds, ventilators, medical oxygen supplies other WHO recommended medicines in good supply.

Indians by nature don’t like to be told what to do….even if they agree that it’s the right thing to do. Therefore, masks have already all but disappeared, social distancing is a distant subject. Local authorities should be stringent with erring people in public places. Sure, keep the malls, cinema theatres, pubs, gyms and spas open but ensure entry only with masks and keep a safe distance between the patrons. Here too, India can lead with example.

This is once a generation moment for India’s foreign policy makers, diplomats and businessmen.

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