The Hindu Morning Digest: June 9, 2024

A view of the ongoing preparations on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister and other Members of the Union Council of Ministers, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on June 8.
| Photo Credit: ANI

Narendra Modi to take oath as Prime Minister for third consecutive term

Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi is set to take oath on Sunday for a third straight term as the head of a coalition government after two full tenures in which the BJP enjoyed a majority on its own. India on Saturday announced that leaders of seven countries from its neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean region including Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will attend the swearing-in ceremony scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. on Sunday.

Narendra Modi’s coalition Ministry set to assume office today

Prime Minister Modi is all set to be sworn in with his Council of Ministers for a third successive term – a feat achieved only by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – albeit as the head of a coalition government. Massive preparations are underway for the ceremony to be held on Sunday evening at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt after Prime Minister Modi was elected leader of the NDA’s parliamentary party on Friday.

INDIA bloc partners should work cohesively, collectively: Kharge

Calling the people’s mandate in the Lok Sabha polls a “decisive rejection” of the politics of “divisiveness and hatred”, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge also sounded a word of caution on the party’s “below par” performance in States where it is in government. In his opening remarks at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting here on Saturday, Mr. Kharge asserted that while celebrating a “revival”, the party should pause a little for it had not performed to its abilities and expectations in some States. “We could not repeat our performance in States where we had previously done well in Assembly elections and formed the government,” he said.

INDIA bloc leaders to jointly decide on attending PM’s oath-taking ceremony

Opposition parties belonging to the INDIA bloc will take a call on June 9 to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Council of Ministers. Earlier on June 8, senior Congress leaders K.C. Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh had said the party leaders had not received any invitation.

INDIA not staking claim to form government today does not mean it won’t tomorrow: Mamata Banerjee

Emphasising that the country needs change, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said that while the Opposition Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc may not have staked claim to form the government today it might do so in the future.

“If the INDIA bloc has not staked a claim to form a government today it doesn’t mean it will not do so in future. I will be happy to see this unstable government [NDA government] go at the earliest,” Ms. Banerjee said addressing media persons at her residence after meeting the newly elected MPs.

Devendra Fadnavis rescinds resignation, plans strategy for Assembly polls

Days after offering to resign over Bharatiya Janata Party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced on Saturday that he would remain in his position. This decision came following a party meeting where State BJP legislators expressed their confidence in him and urged him to continue as their leader.

Congress Working Committee asks Rahul Gandhi to accept Leader of Opposition post in Lok Sabha

The Congress Working Committee unanimously adopted a resolution on Saturday asking Rahul Gandhi to become the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the 18th Lok Sabha. Taking note of the sentiments expressed at the party’s highest decision-making body, Mr. Gandhi said he will think it over and decide “very soon”. Party president Mallikarjun Kharge urged him to “abide” by the CWC’s formal resolution and take up the responsibility.

Jarange-Patil begins fresh hunger strike for Maratha quota

Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil began an indefinite fast on Saturday, demanding the implementation of a draft notification that recognises all blood relatives of Maratha community members as Kunbis, an agrarian group classified as another backward class (OBC) community, who are eligible for quota benefits. “I will not give up until the Maratha reservation is granted,” he said.

Bodies of 4 students who drowned in Russia recovered

The bodies of four medical students from Maharashtra who drowned in the Volkhov river in Russia were recovered on Saturday, the Consul General of India in Russia, Kumar Gaurav, said. The four students were studying at the Yaroslav-the-Wise Novgorod State University in Veliky Novgorod city in Russia.

U.S. destroys drones, missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen

American forces destroyed four drones and two anti-ship ballistic missiles in areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-backed Huthi rebels, the U.S. military said on Friday. The Huthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they say are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

UN to add Israel, Hamas to the global list of offenders that harm children

The U.N. secretary-general will tell the Security Council next week that both Israel and Hamas are violating children’s rights and leaving them exposed to danger in their war to eliminate each other.

Iga Swiatek wins her third consecutive French Open women’s title by defeating Jasmine Paolini

Iga Swiatek won her third consecutive French Open championship and fourth in five years by defeating Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-1 in the final on Saturday.

T20 World Cup 2024 | New York braces for marquee India-Pakistan clash

It is the Super Bowl on steroids. This is how a Nassau County official described the India-Pakistan Group-A clash which will be held on June 9. The marquee affair of a World Cup has come to new shores, but the hype and excitement has not dipped. Tickets for the 34,000-capacity Nassau County International Cricket Stadium is long sold out, with prices now soaring high in the reseller market.

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The Hindu Morning Digest: June 7, 2024

Youth participating in the BJP’s Vikasit Bharat programm in Bengaluru. File photo
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Modi likely to take oath as Prime Minister on June 9

Newly elected MPs of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance are expected to meet on June 7 to elect Narendra Modi as their leader, paving the way for him to take oath as Prime Minister for a third term. The swearing-in is likely to be held on June 9.

CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey: BJP maintains advantage among young voters

While the BJP was able to maintain its youth support without receiving a strong dent, the Congress and its allies have made notable gains among young voters. More importantly, while the share of Congress and its allies among voters of different age groups is rather flat, in the case of the BJP, it declines with higher age — meaning that the BJP continues to attract voters of young age more than the elderly.

BJP says Rahul’s allegations of stock market scam are ‘baseless’

BJP leader Piyush Goyal termed as “baseless” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s allegations of a stock market “scam” based on the exit polls done by various survey agencies and his demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the matter.

Delhi police to file chargesheet in Parliament security breach case 

Six months after six persons were jailed under terror charges for allegedly breaching the security at the new Parliament building, the Delhi police are all set to file a chargesheet against the suspects in a city court on June 7.

Hit by poll debacle, Ajit Pawar holds emergency meetings

Amid the crisis engulfing the ruling Mahayuti coalition in Maharashtra following its rout in the Lok Sabha election, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on June 6 summoned emergency meetings of his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) faction leaders, even as Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has offered to step down from his post, reached Delhi to meet the BJP top brass.

India second-biggest foreign threat to Canadian democracy: report

A parliamentary committee report in Canada has described India as the second-biggest foreign threat to the country’s democracy. The revelations of the report added to the negative state of the bilateral relation between the two countries which have been caught in a diplomatic spat since the June 2023 killing of a pro-Khalistan ideologue in Surrey, British Columbia. 

You will see a new Chandrababu Naidu, TDP chief tells party’s Lok Sabha MPs-elect

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) national president N. Chandrababu Naidu has said that he would not repeat the mistakes that he had committed during his previous tenure as the Chief Minister. One would see a new Chandrababu Naidu in the coming days, he said at a meeting with the party’s newly-elected MPs at his residence at Undavalli near here on June 6 (Thursday).

Trinamool unhappy with ‘wait and watch’ policy of INDIA bloc

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) is not wholly satisfied with the INDIA bloc’s strategy of taking the “appropriate steps” at the “appropriate time”, arguing that the Opposition does not have the luxury of sitting around for the next five years.

Election results 2024: BJP’s ‘double engine’ develops a snag in Uttar Pradesh

As the process of reviewing the dismal performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh gets going, the internal tussle in the party has come to the fore. Not only have six Union Ministers lost their seats in the State, but 16 Ministers in the State government have failed to hold on to their Assembly segments in a humdinger of a contest in which the party came down to 33 seats from 62 seats in 2019.

Naidu’s return to national politics with big win puts SCS demand back in the limelight

The much-debated and long-pending Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh is back in the limelight with the return of Telugu Desam Party president Nara Chandrababu Naidu to national politics post thumping victory in the just-concluded elections.

We are the real Ram Bhakts, BJP only did politics in Ram’s name: new Ayodhya MP Awadhesh Prasad

The Bharatiya Janata Party was defeated from the constituency synonomyous with the Ram Temple as it has continuously done politics in the name of Lord Ram, said Awadhesh Prasad, the newly elected MP from Faizabad, which encompasses the temple town of Ayodhya. The Samajwadi Party leader described himself and his party as the real followers of Lord Ram.

Independent MP from Maharashtra’s Sangli extends ‘unconditional’ support to Congress

Vishal Patil, the newly elected Independent MP from the Sangli constituency in Maharashtra, met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Thursday and extended unconditional support to the party in a formal letter.

Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz will renew their rivalry in the French Open semifinals

Jannik Sinner is just 22, and Carlos Alcaraz just 21, yet they’ve already built quite a rivalry heading into their French Open semifinal on Friday. Spain’s Alcaraz owns two Grand Slam titles and spent time at No. 1 in the rankings. Italy’s Sinner won the Australian Open in January and will ascend to No. 1 next week. This will be their ninth meeting; the series is tied at 4-all.

T20 World Cup: Stoinis stars in Australia’s comprehensive 39-run win against Oman

Marcus Stoinis smacked a quick-fire unbeaten half-century and claimed three wickets as Australia began their T20 World Cup campaign with a comprehensive 39-run victory against Oman at the Kensington Oval on Thursday.

Emotional Sunil Chhetri bows out with Kuwait draw in FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Thousands cheered a tearful Sunil Chhetri off the pitch after his last match on June 6, bringing to a close an international career which put him among the world’s all-time leading scorers. Thousands cheered a tearful Sunil Chhetri off the pitch after his last match on June 6, bringing to a close an international career which put him among the world’s all-time leading scorers.

T20 World Cup: USA hands shock defeat to Pakistan after forcing Super Over

The United States scored a major upset at the T20 World Cup by beating cricket heavyweight Pakistan in the Super Over on Thursday. The U.S. had routed Canada in its opening Group A game, but beating 2022 runner-up Pakistan counts as historic in a country that hardly understands the rules of the game.

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Watch | Israel-Iran strikes | Can India escape being caught in conflict?

News breaking now of multiple strikes by Israel on bases and nuclear facilities in Iran are further driving up tensions in the region- while the two countries have had a shadow war between them for 45 years, we have not seen such openly direct strikes on each other thus far. Up ahead we will look at how this new turn will change the west Asian landscape, and seven ways India is impacted.

We have been covering everything that has happened since October 7- terror attacks by Hamas, Israel’s pounding of Gaza, but here’s is how the scene is shifting now.

On April 1: Israel launched strikes on Iran’s Embassy in Damascus, killing 7 military diplomats, including a senior General . Iran protested this was a violation of UN conventions, the Vienna conventions- many saw this as Israel’s attempt at broadening the war as its war on Gaza has gone into an impasse, and no progress of freeing Hamas-held hostages

Amir Abdollahian: No member state will remain silent on such an attack…diplomatic agents

April 12: Iran seized an Israel-linked ship MSC Aries- 17 crew members were Indian. While 1 has been sent back to India, the fate of the other 16 remains unclear.

On April 13: Iran launched 300-350 drones and missiles directly on Israel, the first time it has openly done so. The missiles, which were slow moving, were mostly repelled by Israel’s Iron Dome, but also with help from the US, Jordan, and reportedly with intelligence support from some Gulf States. Iran said it had 3 objectives: to deter Israel from further action, to showcase Iran’s missile capabilities and to demonstrate its ability to target vital Israeli military bases at will.

Netanyahu: We will take our own decisions, and the state of Israel will do what it needs to defend itself

On April 19: Israel has reportedly launched strikes on several targets inside Iran- believed to be bases, nuclear facilities and other strategic locations. This despite US President Biden expressly asking PM Netanyahu not to respond to Iran’s strikes.

India has also called on both sides to show restraint- External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke to both Iranian FM Amir Abdollahaian and Israel FM Israel Katz, but both sides have high expectations from India

You can read more in this interview with Iranian Ambassador to India Iraj Elahi

On the diplomatic front, we have seen some major moves as well:

UN Security Council met over the escalating tensions, but did not come up with a resolution
US, UK and others imposed new sanctions on Iran- targeting its drone capabilities
12 UNSC members voted in favour of making Palestine a full member state- the US vetoed it however, and Israel debated against it

Israel Amb: Granting the perpetrators full recognition is the vilest reward for the vilest crime

What’s next?

How will Iran respond to the Israeli strikes?

Will Iran now consolidate actions along with its proxies in the Gulf region

Hezbollah in Lebanon

Houthis in Yemen

Hamas in Gaza

Other militia

What is on the escalation ladder for Israel?
Thus far Israel conducts covert targeted assassinations on Iranian officials and nuclear scientists- will the Damascus attack pave the way for more such open strikes
Big worry over nuclear confrontation- neither country is a declared nuclear weapons power, yet the worry is that with this conflict deepening one or both might reveal their nuclear capabilities, further driving the crisis

Impact on India

1. Geopolitical impact- India has strong strategic ties with both countries, and this escalation makes it more difficult to maintain those ties. In its statements about Iran and Israel action, MEA has taken care to criticise neither side, to much disappointment in both capitals

2. Strategic impact: India’s connectivity projects with both Israel- under I2U2 and the proposed IMEEC are already in jeopardy, now the connectivity through Chabahar port and the INSTC corridor to Central Asia will be in trouble too

3. Oil impact- Even as elections get under way in India, the West Asia conflict will no doubt drive up the price of oil- already under strain with the Russia- Ukraine war- will India be forced to restart oil imports from Iran which it gave up in 2018 under threat from the US

4. Economic Impact- inflation of prices, jittery markets, interest rates are likely to be kept high

5. Trade impact- Cargo trade through the Red Sea and Hormuz is already under attack from Houthi groups, now shippers and insurers are likely to take longer routes around the region, given clouds of conflict

6. Travel impact: Flights will need to take longer detours as well, this will affect air ticket prices and travel times this summer. Air India has already suspended flights to Tel Aviv.

7. Labour Impact: While other Gulf countries account for about 8 million Indian labour and expatriate workers- Israel has only about 18,000 and Iran between 10-15,000 including a large number of merchant navy crew and personnel- caught in the crossfire right now- 6,000 Indian workers recruited for jobs in Israel are unable to leave, and questions about Indian crew on board various ships- with about 2.5 lakhs merchant navy personnel Indian, Indians rank 3rd in numbers

WV Take:

Given the numbers of Indians living and working in West Asia, a conflict between Israel and Iran, that bookend the region is a conflict in India’s immediate neighbourhood, and New Delhi cannot be immune to the escalation in tensions and on the ground- the immediate casualty, could also be India’s grand plans for connectivity which depend on both Iran and Israel as hubs for trade routes to the West.

WV Reading Recommendations:

1. Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East by Kim Ghattas

2. Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States by Trita Parsi

3. Cold War In The Islamic World by Dilip Hiro

4. Target Tehran: How Israel Is Using Sabotage, Cyberwarfare, Assassination – and Secret Diplomacy – to Stop a Nuclear Iran and Create a New Middle East by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar

5. The Making of the Modern Middle East: A Personal History Paperback – 14 September 2023 by Jeremy Bowen

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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India punishes critics by revoking visas and residency permits

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi often draws crowds of supporters from the Indian diaspora on his foreign visits. But back home, his administration has been revoking visas and residency permits of foreign nationals of Indian origin as well as spouses of Indian citizens. For those denied access or kicked out of India, the experience can be traumatic.


Vanessa Dougnac was at home in her New Delhi apartment on January 18, when she received a hand-delivered envelope that raised her spirits.

The French journalist glanced at the letterhead bearing the insignia of the Indian interior ministry’s Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and immediately thought this meant good news.

“Then I read the letter. It was totally the opposite. It was really, really bad news,” she recounted. 

Dougnac, 51, had lived in India for a quarter-century, or most of her adult life. For 23 years, she served as the India-based freelance correspondent for a number of French publications. Along the way, she covered stories across the country, married an Indian national, raised a son, and mastered the ropes in the place she came to call home.

But in India, things that were once fairly straightforward were now getting complicated – and stressful.

The official letter, delivered on January 18, informed the veteran French journalist that her Indian residency had been revoked. 

Dougnac had joined the growing list of overseas critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist policies being banned from India, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

They are part of the Modi administration’s broader crackdown on Indian citizenship laws, which have snowballed in various forms. But the intent of the “ever-expanding arsenal of laws and policies” is singular: to “target and punish dissenting voices”, said Amnesty International in a statement noting the international human rights contraventions that have increased during Modi’s 10 years in power.

With the upcoming 2024 elections widely predicted to propel Modi into his next decade in power, experts warn that India’s secular democracy is being reshaped as a Hindu-first majoritarian nation intolerant to dissent and minority religious communities. 

Citizenship lies at the heart of the reshaping, with the government pushing through laws and regulations on myriad fronts, upending lives and plunging dissenters into an omnipresent state of dread.

Diaspora with dollars to invest home

Dougnac was one of nearly 4 million people holding an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, which comes as a light blue, passport-lookalike and confers on the holder visa and residency rights.

The OCI is a form of permanent residency granted to people of Indian origin and their spouses. © Handout

Since India does not permit dual citizenship, OCI cards are provided for the equivalent of $275 to foreign nationals of Indian origin and the spouses of Indian nationals or OCI card-holders.

The residency status is the latest iteration of a decades-long bid by successive governments to tap into the economic potential of the Indian diaspora, the largest in the world, clocking nearly 18 million in 2020, according to UN figures. It’s also among the wealthiest, with strong ties to the motherland. In 2022, for instance, India’s inward remittances hit a record of almost $108 billion, around 3% of GDP, more than in any other country.

Attracting the diaspora’s dollars without offering citizenship rights historically entails acronyms in India. NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) before the 1990s gave way to PIOs (Person of Indian Origin) before the nomenclature settled on the current OCI. The latest overseas “citizen” of India is a misnomer since holders do not have voting rights or citizenship guarantees. But since the OCI privileges were an improvement on the earlier NRI and PIO categories, few made any fuss.  

That was until the government began tinkering with citizenship and visa regulations after Modi was re-elected in 2019 to a second term in office.

Many acronyms, few rights 

Just months after Modi’s May 2019 re-election, the Indian parliament, dominated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed a controversial citizenship amendment law, which gained notoriety as the country erupted in what was commonly called “anti-CAA” (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests.

File photo of anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, taken January 18, 2020.
File photo of anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, taken January 18, 2020. © Altaf Qadri, AP

The new law, which offers citizenship to non-Muslim migrants and refugees from neighbouring countries, was widely criticised for discriminating against Muslims, an allegation the Modi government denies.

While the anti-CAA protests drew international press coverage, the insertion of a subclause covering OCI cancellations passed largely unnoticed.

As Modi nudged past the half-way mark of his second term, the regulations got tighter. By 2021, the government required its overseas “citizens” to apply for “special permission” to “undertake” research, journalistic, missionary or mountaineering “activities”.

So on January 18, when Dougnac received a letter from the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO), she initially thought she had finally received her journalist permit, which was denied in September 2022, for no stated reason.

For the freelance journalist, the denial of a journalist permit meant a precarious dip in her income and she was eager to get back to work.

But that was not to be. The FRRO letter revoking Dougnac’s OCI instead accused her and her articles of being “malicious” and of harming “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”. The notice put the onus on the freelance journalist, requiring her to respond to why her OCI should not be cancelled. 

Dougnac has launched a petition in the Delhi High Court, adding to the legal appeals and challenges launched by several others in a similar state. But nearly a month after she received her notification, Dougnac was forced to leave the country she had made her home for 25 years and return to France. 

In a statement released February 16, the French journalist noted that it had become “clear that I cannot keep living in India and earning my livelihood. I am fighting these accusations before the competent forums and I have full faith in the legal process. But I can’t afford to wait for its outcome. The proceedings with respect to my OCI status have shattered me,” she noted.

‘Showing animus’ to governments, not country

The list of shattered lives has been increasing over the past few months, perpetuating a climate of fear among overseas Indians. An investigative report published on February 12 by Indian news site Article 14 found that more than 102 OCIs were cancelled under section 7D between 2014 and 2023.

Many targeted OCI-holders prefer not to speak to the press out of fear of scuppering their appeals process and being permanently deprived of the ability to travel to a country where many have families, including aging parents and ailing loved ones.

Some high-profile cases do make the news, such as British-American writer and journalist Aatish Taseer, whose OCI was revoked in 2019, shortly after Time magazine published his excoriating cover story, “India’s Divider in Chief”, on Modi’s brand of Hindutva populism.

Indian authorities said Taseer’s OCI was revoked because he “attempted to conceal” the fact that his biological father was a Pakistani national. The journalist, who was brought up in India by his single mother and wrote a critically acclaimed book in 2009 on his journey to meet his father, Pakistan’s former Punjab governor Salman Taseer – who was assassinated two years after his son’s book was published – dismissed the claim.

The official cancellation explanations for the recent spate of OCI scraps include ill-defined allegations of “showing animus” towards India, or “attempting to destabilise the social fabric” of the country. 

“In some cases, the authorities have openly cited criticism of BJP government policies as evidence to revoke the visa status,” noted Human Rights Watch, citing the case of octogenarian British activist Amrit Wilson, whose OCI was cancelled due to her social media posts on the Kashmir crisis and a 2020-2021 farmers protest movement.

Indian authorities note that governments across the world have the discretion to grant or refuse visas to their countries. It’s a point that Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, acknowledges. “Of course, every government has the right to determine who gets visas or not. But those rights cannot be based on discriminatory ideas,” she noted. “Any democracy relies on a foundational principle of permitting dissent. That is what distinguishes it from authoritarianism. Now all dissent and all ideas may not be accepted by the state. But the fact that those opinions are put forward should not be seen immediately as something that is against the country, it is against government policies, and governments change.”

‘I miss India’

In its attempts to ensure the government does not change after the 2024 general election, the Modi administration has been pushing through key campaign promises that are popular with the BJP’s Hindu nationalist base.

On March 11, just weeks ahead of the elections, the Indian government announced the implementation of the new citizenship law. While parliament approved the CAA in 2019, the Modi government held off on the implementation following deadly protests against a law that was widely viewed as discriminatory against Muslims.

Responding to the move, the US expressed “concern” with a State Department spokesperson noting that Washington is “closely monitoring how this act will be implemented”.

The concern was echoed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “As we said in 2019, we are concerned that India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) is fundamentally discriminatory in nature and in breach of India’s international human rights obligations,” said a spokesperson.

The Modi administration’s response to the expressions of concern was forthright. The citizenship law was an “internal matter”, an Indian foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters in New Delhi, noting that the US State Department’s statement was “misplaced, misinformed and unwarranted”. 

But Ganguly believes the changes in citizenship and residency laws warrant the attention of India’s democratic allies, particularly those measures that affect their own nationals of Indian origins. “It needs attention from foreign governments, because there is a lot of interest in the Indian market and in strategic partnerships. Those are legitimate interests. But when they want to do business with India, foreign governments need to be aware that any claims of partnerships between democracies is seriously undermined if the government is going to be so repressive on freedom of speech and in cracking down on its critics,” she noted.

As India heads for critical elections, Dougnac is in France, watching the coverage from thousands of miles away. “I covered elections in India for 20 years. Now for the first time, I will not be there to cover it. I miss India,” she said. 

While her appeal works its way through the Indian courts, the French journalist confesses she’s still in a state of shock. “Really, it’s too emotional for me,” she confessed. “I led a life filled with adventures and interactions across the subcontinent, and had the opportunity to witness over two decades of India’s history. Now I’m in France, I feel like I’m in exile in my own country.”

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India-Maldives row | Our Government must make tougher stand to repair relation with India, says Maldives Opposition leader

Amid the ongoing row between India and the Maldives, Opposition leader and the Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Fayyaz Ismail, has called for the government to take a “tougher stand” , saying that the racist comments against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were just isolated individual opinions.

Also refer: Maldives ruling coalition deployed anti-India sentiments during 2023 presidential polls: EU report

“I believe the government should take a tougher stand on that because this goes beyond government to government. Now, because of the easy accessibility of social media, this has reached a lot of Indians and a lot of Maldivians. And as arguments take over from both sides, there have been a lot of insults going back and forth. So the government needs to show that there was no intention on its part. These were just isolated individual opinions of these people who, unfortunately, were given positions in the government. So that needs to be clearly shown to the Indians, to the Maldivians, and the entire world at large,” he said.

On January 2, PM Modi visited the Union Territory of Lakshadweep and shared several pictures, including some of him trying his hand at snorkelling. In a series of posts on X, he wrote a message that read, “For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list.”

In a post that has now been deleted, the Maldivian Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Mariyam Shiuna, made a mocking and disrespectful reference to PM Modi. Indians, including cricketers and film celebrities, have since come out in open support in promoting local beach destinations and other tourist spots.

Also Read | EaseMyTrip suspends all Maldives flight bookings amid India-Maldives row

The Maldives Government has distanced itself from the remarks made by its Ministers. Three of them were suspended.

Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs Moosa Zameer said that these remarks against foreign leaders are “unacceptable” and do not reflect the official position of the Maldives Government.

Need to focus on mending ties

On being asked if the ongoing spat between the two countries is going to have an impact on the India-Maldives ties, as well the revenue that Indian tourists have generated for the island nation over the years, the Maldivian leader, who was also the former Minister of Economic Development of Maldives, asserted that it is much more than economics or revenue. “This relationship between India and Maldives has been nurtured and fostered over a long period of time by very mature leaders, past leaders of our country and yours as well. So just one or two tweets derailing this entire relationship is very sad,” the Minister said.

“So, for me, the main problem is that this has gone beyond governments. Governments will always have spats; obviously, with the change of political parties, whether it’s in India or Maldives, there will be differences of opinion,” he added.

He further went on to say that he is more concerned about how to make the required repairs as the ongoing spat between India and the Maldives has now reached the people. “But now this has reached the people, and that is something I am more concerned about— how to repair that. So to repair that from our side, our government have to come up with a stronger statement or action on that. And I would hope that from the Indian colleagues, that there will be more restraint as well to try to diffuse this,” he told ANI.

In terms of aid and assistance provided by India to Maldives, he said, “Yes, India has been a very strong development partner of Maldives, not only in terms of economics but social development as well. And at the same time, Maldives has been a strong, staunch ally of India across the international spectrum. So this is a mutual relationship.”

“And the security and stability of the Indian Ocean region depend on the part played by each of the countries, whether large or small, in this region,” he added, and urged that it is important that spat is forgotten as soon as possible for the interest of both countries.

Also Read | An ‘India out’ plan that could impact the Maldives 

He said, “Yes, some people, nationalistic people from both countries, may say that Maldives may say, we can do without India, and Indians may say that you are a very small country. But no, that’s not the correct approach. We will be here. India will be there. So we need to work together in tandem, which includes our governments and our people as well.”

Furthermore, the Maldivian Minister added by saying that he has visited India a lot of times and has always wanted to visit Lakshadweep. ”And now that this has really come up, my interest is much more piqued and I would really take more steps for me to go and visit that beautiful nation. And I think there is a historical link between Maldives and Lakshadeep as well. There are Maldives-speaking people in one of those islands as well. So we have deep historical and religious roots as well. And I have always wanted to visit and see Maldivian people in another country. So, yes, I would definitely like to visit Lakshadeep,” the Minister said.

Maldives’ pro-China tilt

Meanwhile, on Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s recent visit to China, where he was slated to meet Xi Jinping and sign key agreements, the Maldivian Opposition leader said that with the change in the political spectrum in Maldives, and in political parties, there will be always shifts in the intensity of engagement.

“Well, first of all, there is no doubt that the current government has a more favourable or more stronger relationship with China. The Maldives has always maintained friendly relations with all countries, except for Israel. So with the change in the political spectrum in Maldives, with the change in political parties, there will be always shifts in the intensity of engagement with different partners. And in this case, you’re seeing more robust engagement with China rather than India,” he said.

“Until now, we have always, all parties in the Maldives maintained an ‘India first’ policy, and that is also very crucial for our security and stability as well. But this government may have got different approaches to its foreign policy, and maintaining good relations with China is not an issue that any party in the Maldives would also want,” he noted.

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu urged China to “intensify” efforts to send more tourists to the Maldives during his ongoing five-day state visit to the East Asian country. Maldivian media reported that during President Muizzu’s visit, the two countries signed a $50 million project aimed at developing an integrated tourism zone in the Indian Ocean island.

The appeal for more Chinese tourists follows a diplomatic row initiated by derogatory remarks from some Maldivian Ministers against PM Modi, prompting the suspension of three Deputy Ministers and condemnation from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).

Recent data released by the Maldives Tourism Ministry shows that India was the largest tourist market for the country in 2023. Media reports cited data released by the Maldives Tourism Ministry stating that the highest number of visitors to the Maldives were from India (2,09,198 arrivals), followed by Russia (2,09,146 arrivals), and China (1,87,118 arrivals). In 2022, 2,40,000 arrivals were from India. Russia was in second place with 1,98,000 tourists, and Britain ranked third with over 1,77,000 arrivals.

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COP28 Summit and India | Is climate fatigue setting in?

COP28 Summit and India | Is climate fatigue setting in

We are half way through the CoP28 being held in Dubai – with half a million registrations, 77,000 delegates, 189 countries– that will end next week. Many controversies have roiled the UAE Presidency, but they have also been able to clear quite a few agreements. 

  1. Loss and Damage Fund: This was something held over from CoP27 in Sharm El Sheikh last year, proposed by the G-77 in order to help the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. Around $450 million have been committee so far, including $100mn each from UAE and Germany, $145mn from EU, $50 mn from UK and $17mn from the US, to set up the fund to be managed by the World Bank 
  2. Global Stock Take: This will be the first CoP Global Stock Taking exercise (GST) to see how the world’s actions in the past few years measure up against the Paris CoP 21 agreement in 2016. 
  3. Green Pledge: CoP 28 also has cleared a Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, which aims to triple renewable-energy generation capacity by 2030 and calls for an end to new investments in coal- significantly India didn’t sign on this. 
  4. Health Pledge: On the first Health Day at COP28, global leaders united in endorsing the health and climate change declaration, sounding the alarm on the severe health implications of climate change. India did not sign on to this either 
  5. Climate Finance: This CoP hopes to sort out the definition and mechanics of delivering $100bn in Climate finance by OECD countries, a pledge that was made in 2009, and was due to start in 2020, but has not been kept so far. 
  6. Fossil Fuel: The role of fossil fuels is being hotly debated in the CoP- particularly as big consumers and big economies China and India are against any curtailment of its planned development- at present the final draft is stuck on using the term Phase-out vs Phase-down of fuel, as India had insisted in Glasgow CoP. India has also made it clear that cuts must be on all fossil fuel, not just Coal which it needs for thermal power- about 73% of Indian power generation is based on coal- and has indicated that Oil and Gas cuts must also be included.

In his speech at the inaugural session with leaders PM Modi made several points: 

  1.  India has 17 percent of the world’s population, is the most populous country but its share in global carbon emissions is less than 4 percent- although Climate agencies say that figure is about 7% 
  2. India is one of the few economies in the world that is on track to meet the NDC targets. 
  3. India’s target is to reduce emissions intensity by 45 percent by 2030 
  4. India will increase the share of non-fossil fuel to 50 percent of the mix 
  5. India is sticking to a net zero target of 2070, not bringing that earlier. 
  6. India and UAE launched a Green Credit Initiative 
  7. The big announcement- that India would like to host the CoP33 to be held in 2028, that India last hosted in 2002.

“We don’t have much time to correct the mistakes of the last century.A small section of mankind has exploited the nature indiscriminately. But the whole humanity is paying its price, especially the residents of the Global South. This thinking of ‘only my welfare’ will take the world towards darkness. Every person sitting in this hall, every head of state has come here with a huge responsibility.”- Prime Minister Narendra Modi

It wasn’t all climate work- and PM Modi met with a number of leaders on the sidelines of CoP,  

  1. Discussing the Israel-Hamas conflict with leaders from the region including Israel President Herzog, UAE President, leaders of Jordan and other countries 
  2. The sentencing of 8 Indian Naval officers came up with the Emir of Qatar 
  3. Meetings with neighburhood leaders like Sri Lanka, and with the new President of Maldives Mohammad Muizzu, who subsequently said PM Modi had agreed to the Maldives demand to take back military personnel stationed there 
  4. And this famous selfie with Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni- who hashtagged the picture with Modi #Melodi. 

This CoP has also seen some major controversies and concerns as well:

  1. No Biden-Xi at CoP 28: The absence of both leaders was significant- with some suggesting that neither US President nor VP travelled to UAE given the Middle east crisis with the continuing bombardment of Gaza by Israel may have given a visit a political colour 
  2. At the same time Russian Putin arrived in UAE, but to discuss fossil fuel deals 
  3. Oil Lobby at CoP- there were several reports about the fact that UAE as host , itself a major oil exporter had a conflict of interest, and that many of those who came were pushing down targets on cutting fossil fuel production. 
  4. UAE CoP President Sultan Al Jaber himself came under fire- as he is not only the head of UAE’s renewable energy agency Master, but also of ADNOC, Abu Dhabi’s oil company. In particular comments he made indictating that the evidence against fossil fuels for global warming came under fire- here was his response: “ I am surprised at attempts to undermine cop28, we are guided by science “ – UAE CoP President Sultan Al Jaber
  5. India didn’t sign the Green Pledge, and Climate Health pledge- saying Climate justice was the most important principle 

Earlier I spoke to The Hindu’s Deputy Science Editor Jacob Koshy in Dubai about some of the questions raised over the summit:  

WV Take: It doesn’t need 77,000 delegates to fly to a conference in West Asia to study whether the world is on track with the goals they established at the CoP 21 in Paris in 2016- it should be fairly clear that the world has failed to ensure goals on mitigation of greenhouse gases, keeping global warming in check and on climate change adaptation. While India has done better than many, especially given its large population, it has not broadened the scope to tackle climate change at a regional level – across South Asia, one of the world’s most climate vulnerable areas- and this is where it needs more focus.

WV Reading Recommendations: 

  1. 3 books by Amitav Ghosh right at the top of my list: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis and the Living Mountain 
  2. 2. Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan to reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, who wrote Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one Generation 
  3. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate is Naomi Klein’s classic from 2014, but also followed up by On Fire: The Burning Case for a new green deal and All We can Save: 
  4. The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future David Wallace-Wells an acclaimed well book- also recommended by Jacob Koshy 
  5. The Earth Transformed: An Untold History by Peter Frankopan- who looks at the historical evidence of climate change- he is the author of The Silk Roads and the New Silk Roads, so the book does have a lot on China 
  6. The Next New : Navigating the Fifth Industrial Revolution by Pranjal Sharma, that has a chapter on Green Energy in India worth reading 
  7. The Climate Solution : India’s Climate Change Crisis and what we can do about it by Mridula Ramesh 
  8. Environmentalism : A Global History by Ramachandra Guha – on India’s environmental traditions 
  9. India in a Warming World: Integrating Climate Change and Development Edited by Navroz K. Dubash 

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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How Indian authorities ‘weaponised’ a New York Times report to target the press

NewsClick, a defiantly critical news site, has been in the Indian government’s sights over the past few years. But there was little to show after extensive financial probes – until the New York Times published a report which enabled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration to use the press to attack the press. 

Shortly after breakfast time on Tuesday, October 3, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta was outside his home in Gurgaon, a suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi, seeing his son off for the day when the police showed up at his place.

“Nine cops arrived at 6:30 in the morning,” recounted the renowned investigative journalist and writer in a phone interview with FRANCE 24. “I was surprised. I asked them, why have you come? They said, we want to ask you a few questions.”

True to their word, the police did have relatively few questions. But they were repeated over 12 hours at two venues, according to Guha Thakurta.  

After around two hours of questioning at his Gurgaon home, the veteran journalist was taken to the Delhi police’s Special Cell – the Indian capital’s counter-terrorism unit – and questioned again before he emerged around 6:30pm local time to a phalanx of news camera teams.

Guha Thakurta was among 46 people questioned during sweeping media raids that dominated the national news cycle, made international headlines, and sparked a series of condemnations from press freedom groups across the world.

The crackdown targeted NewsClick, an independent news site founded in 2009 known for its hard-hitting coverage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist policies. The list of those questioned included the NewsClick’s founder-editor, staff, former staffers, and freelance writers, as well as non-journalist contributors such as activists, a historian and a stand-up comedian. The police seized computers, mobile phones and documents during the raids. 

After an entire day of questioning, NewsClick’s founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha and human resources chief Amit Chakravarthy were arrested under the country’s draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), also known as the “anti-terror law” in India. The two men remain in custody while the others were released by Tuesday night. NewsClick’s New Delhi office has been shut down and put under a police seal.

Since Modi came to power in 2014, India has been nosediving in the international press freedom rankings, settling at 161 out of 180 countries on the 2023 Reporters Without Borders index. Some high-profile cases of media clampdowns make the news; many more pass unnoticed outside human rights circles.

Read moreAmid threats, Indian TV anchor battles on, but for how long?

What makes the latest raids noteworthy though is that they are linked to a New York Times report on a global network receiving funds from US tech billionaire Neville Roy Singham, allegedly to publish Chinese propaganda. NewsClick was one of the news organisations named as funding recipient. The report did not suggest the Indian news site had committed any crime.

NewsClick has denied the allegations in the report. The news site maintains that it does not publish any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity, nor does it take directions from Singham on its content. A police investigation into the site’s alleged Chinese funding is currently underway.

In its report, “A Global Web of Chinese Propaganda Leads to a U.S. Tech Mogul”, the New York Times unravelled a shadowy network allegedly propagating Chinese government talking points by funding left-leaning organisations across the globe via US NGOs. “Years of research have shown how disinformation, both homegrown and foreign-backed, influences mainstream conservative discourse. Mr. Singham’s network shows what that process looks like on the left,” noted the US daily. 

But in India, the process of press clampdowns and intimidation of the left looks very different. 

Years of assaults on liberal democratic values under the Modi administration have been propelled by a government discourse that vilifies dissenters as treasonous “anti-nationals”. 

The labelling of journalists, academics, activists and opposition figures includes vague associations, without evidence, to minor Maoist peasant uprisings in rural India. Disgraced dissenters are then booked under repressive anti-terror laws bereft of basic safeguards, according to international rights groups.

On the international stage, though, many of the violations pass unnoticed – or more precisely, unmentioned – since India is viewed in the West as a counterweight to China.

With the Ukraine war exposing splits between the so-called Global North and South, the focus in many Western capitals is on disinformation networks that lead to Moscow and Beijing. This is particularly marked as the US heads to the polls in 2024 with Donald Trump as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

But India is also heading to critical general elections next year. As Modi makes a bid for a third term, there are fears that his campaign will once again instrumentalise deteriorating ties with a neighbouring country to whip up a nationalist wave. In an ironic twist, the Modi government’s weaponisation of a report by a leading US daily – functioning under press freedoms enshrined in a mature democracy – is now threatening the very values that the West professes to uphold.

Same questions asked again – and again

The scale and planning of Tuesday’s raids sent an immediate signal across India that the state’s investigation of NewsClick – which has dragged on for more than two years without any charges – had gone up a notch.

“What happened is unprecedented. We’ve seen the police take coordinated action across the national capital region and also outside Delhi. Literally hundreds of police participated, they were summoned very early in the morning or probably late the previous night,” said Guha Thakurta.

The police’s questions appeared to show little understanding of the role of journalists in a democracy. “I was asked if I was an employee of NewsClick. I said no, I’m a consultant,” he explained.

The veteran journalist was then asked if he had covered a series of recent anti-government protests, including a farmers’ strike and demonstrations against a controversial citizenship law. “They were very polite. But the fact is, they kept asking the same set of questions. They were asked by different people, different officials, at various levels,” recounted Guha Thakurta.

Condemnations from press rights groups followed immediately, with the Press Club of India saying it was “deeply concerned” over the raids and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists calling it “an act of sheer harassment and intimidation”.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (L) speaks to writer Arundhati Roy (R) and Aproorvanand, a Delhi University professor (centre) during a protest at Press Club of India in New Delhi on October 4, 2023. © Altaf Qadri, AP

In Washington DC, a State Department spokesperson was asked if the US was aware of concerns about NewsClick’s China ties alleged by the New York Times.

“We are aware of those concerns and have seen that reporting,” Vedant Patel told reporters, adding that he could not comment on the veracity of the claims. “Separately,” he noted, “the US government strongly supports the robust role of the media globally, including social media, in a vibrant and free democracy, and we raise concerns on these matters with the Indian government, with countries around the world.”

There are no known legal proceedings in the US against Singham based on the New York Times report. In India, commentators note that even if the funding allegations against NewsClick turn out to be true, any Chinese funding of an investment by a listed US company in a business venture is legal.

Social media sites meanwhile are awash with links to news reports on Modi’s private fund, the PM CARES Fund, receiving funding from Chinese companies.

Investigating Adani and stories untouched by Indian media

The questioning of NewsClick freelancers, editorial consultants and contributors – who are not responsible for funding or financial decisions – has raised eyebrows, since many have done in-depth reporting on issues that are either ignored or superficially covered by the country’s mainstream media.

Guha Thakurta, for instance, is considered one of India’s leading, and certainly bravest, investigative journalists. A former editor of the once-prestigious policy journal Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), Guha Thakurta resigned from the post in 2017 following differences with the publisher after he co-authored an article on the Adani Group.

The conglomerate, led by Modi-ally Gautam Adani, was the subject of a high-profile investigation by US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research, which accused the group of using opaque funds to invest in its own stocks. The company denies any wrongdoing. Adani denies any improper relationship with the Indian prime minister.

Guha Thakurta was the only Indian journalist whose work was mentioned in the Hindenburg report. The 68-year-old journalist is also the author of the book, “Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis”, which investigated irregularities by the Ambani business dynasty, which also has close links to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Paranjoy [Guha Thakurta] is the only person in the Indian media doing any serious investigation of the Adani Group,” said Kavita Krishnan, a women’s rights activist and former leader of a leftist political party. “He has nothing to do with Chinese propaganda. He was questioned because he’s refusing to be a propagandist for the Indian government.”

Krishnan was under the spotlight last year when she wrote an article chastising the Indian left for supporting Modi’s neutral position on the Ukraine war. In her latest piece, published on Friday, Krishnan slammed the New York Times for failing to provide context in its coverage and ignoring her warnings that the Modi administration would use the Chinese funding allegations to crack down on NewsClick.

In its response to Krishnan’s article, published in independent Indian news site Scroll, the New York Times said it “published a thoroughly reported story showing the [Singham] network’s ties to Chinese interests. We would find it deeply troubling and unacceptable if any government were to use our reporting as an excuse to silence journalists.”

Krishnan is not mollified by the response. “The New York Times story is being weaponised by the Indian government,” explained Krishnan. “Because it’s the New York Times, the government is able to ride on its credibility to create a hysteria, a frenzy that this is evidence of journalists funded by China.”

Funding probes give way to terrorism questioning

The terrorist allegations following Tuesday’s raids are a new, disturbing twist to the Indian state’s ongoing NewsClick probes.

Since 2021, the news site has been investigated by numerous government agencies, including the finance ministry’s Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Delhi police’s Economic Offences Wing and the income tax department. 

After more than two years, none of the enforcement agencies have filed money laundering complaints or legal charges against NewsClick.

By invoking the anti-terror UAPA in its NewsClick investigations, the government has increased its capacity to legally harass and silence a small, underfunded news site, according to experts.

But in a statement released after the raids, NewsClick vowed to keep up the fight to survive. “We have full faith in the courts and the judicial process. We will fight for our journalistic freedom and our lives in accordance with the Constitution of India,” said the organisation.

‘The China connection’

As the NewsClick case looks set to go into the courts, the ruling BJP is already scoring political points off the controversy.

The politicisation started just days after the New York Times report was published, when a BJP parliamentarian claimed, without providing evidence, that China was financing NewsClick as well as the opposition Congress party.

On Tuesday, as the police were rounding up Guha Thakurta and dozens of others, the BJP was already linking NewsClick with Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi.

“Chinese Gandhi” said a BJP post on X (formerly known as Twitter) displaying overlapping circles representing the opposition party, NewsClick and China.

The instrumentalisation of the China allegations comes amid setbacks in India-China ties after Xi Jinping skipped the G20 summit hosted by New Delhi last month.

Anti-China sentiment is rising exponentially in India, according to the Pew Research Center, firing up a Hindu nationalist base that does not take kindly to signs of New Delhi’s weakness on foreign policy. In the lead-up to India’s last general elections in 2019, Indian air strikes on Pakistan just months before the vote swept Modi to a landmark victory.

Krishnan hopes the China funding allegations do not turn into an election issue ahead of the 2024 vote. “I trust that the Modi government will not succeed in using this in its favour as an election issue because everyone in India can see is that this is an unprecedented crackdown on journalism,” she said. “I think the election issue will be the crackdown on journalists, and not allegations of China funding.”

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What purpose does the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) serve? | Explained

From left, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (Japan), Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (Italy), President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (India), President Joe Biden (U.S), President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (UAE) and President Emmanuel Macron (France) attend Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment event on the day of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, on September 9, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

The story so far: At a special event on the sidelines of the recently concluded G20 summit in New Delhi, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed to establish the ‘India-Middle East- Europe Economic Corridor’ (IMEC). Other than the two co-chairs of the event, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden, the signatories included leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the European Union (EU), Italy, France and Germany.

The project, which forms part of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), may also serve as a counter to China’s economic influence in the Eurasian region, observers have suggested.

What is the corridor? 

The proposed IMEC will consist of railroad, ship-to-rail networks (road and sea) and road transport routes (and networks) extending across two corridors, that is, the east corridor – connecting India to the Gulf, and the northern corridor – connecting the Gulf to Europe. As per the MoU, the railway, upon completion, would provide a “reliable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network to supplement existing maritime and road transports routes”. 

It would enable the transportation of goods and services from India to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Europe, and back. All in all, it is expected that the corridor would increase efficiency (relating to transit), reduce costs, enhance economic unity, generate jobs, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is expected to translate into a “transformative integration of Asia, Europe and the Middle East.” 

The MoU states that participants, intend to enable the laying of cables for electricity and digital connectivity, as well as pipes for clean hydrogen export along the railway route.

The MoU states that participants will “work collectively and expeditiously” to arrange and implement all elements of the transit route. These relate to technical design, financing, legal and relevant regulatory standards. A meeting is planned in the next sixty days to carve out an “action plan” with “relevant timetables”. 

How has it been received? 

While Mr. Modi suggested the corridor “promises to be a beacon of cooperation, innovation, and shared progress,” Mr. Biden referred to it as the “real big deal”

Ms. von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said the corridor was “more than ‘just’ a railway or a cable, it is a green and digital bridge across continents and civilisations.” She called it the “most direct connection” between India, the Gulf and Europe: with a rail link that would make trade between India and Europe 40% faster. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose country will also be a part of the corridor, also welcomed the move. He said that the link would help realise “a multi-year vision that will change the face of the Middle East, and Israel, and will affect the entire world.” 

On the other hand, with the corridor being suggested as a competitor for China’s BRI, the announcement did not draw enthusiasm from the Chinese media. An editorial in the Global Times highlighted doubts from Chinese experts about the project’s credibility and feasibility. T “It is not the first time for Washington to make empty pledges to various countries and regions,” it read. 

What geopolitics is at play here? 

It has often been believed that China is utilising the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from the Indo-Pacific to West Asia to further their economic and political influence, particularly on sovereigns with relatively instable economies.  Financial Times  points out that, for the U.S., the project could also serve to counter Beijing’s influence “at a time when Washington’s traditional Arab partners, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are deepening ties with China, India and other Asian powers.” 

Professor Michaël Tanchum, Senior Fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said in August 2021 that a corridor connecting India to Europe via West Asia and the Mediterranean region could serve as an “alternative trans-regional commercial transportation route” to the troubled Chabahar-based International North-South Transit Corridor. “Instead of Chabahar, the ports of the UAE —India’s third largest trading partner — would serve as the Indian Ocean connectivity node,” he said. 

He observed that from Mumbai, Indian goods shipped by this route could arrive on the European mainland in as less as 10 days — 40% faster than through the Suez Canal maritime route. 

Professor Tanchum also observed that India’s “careful cultivation” of multilateral economic cooperation with such a corridor “was of paramount importance.” According to him, “Despite India’s favourable demographics, geography and commercial transportation infrastructure are not alone sufficient to ensure that India will realise its potential as a Eurasian economic power.” He further elaborated that, “Commercial corridors only emerge where requisite large investments in port and rail infrastructure are coupled with an industrial base anchored in manufacturing value chains”— precisely the purpose of the present corridor. 

This corridor may also hint at further normalisation of ties between Israel and the countries in the Gulf. 

How does this relate to the Israel and Gulf relationship?

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have diplomatic ties —primarily because of differences of opinion about the Israel-Palestine conflict. In fact, Israel has official ties with only Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in the Arab region. In this light, the transit network which seeks integration on multiple fronts assumes particular significance. 

Financial Times learnt from a person briefed about the discussions, that the corridor’s passage through Jordan and Israel could also support the Biden administration’s effort to build on the recent normalisation of ties between Israel and several Arab states, including the UAE. This may push Saudi Arabia to follow suit and formalise ties. “China is one factor. The U.S. is also trying to refocus attention on the region, to reassure traditional partners and to maintain influence,” the publication learnt. 

With Saudi Arabia being the world’s top exporter of oil and UAE being West Asia’s dominant finance centre, the publication writes that both are “seeking to project themselves as key logistics and trade hubs between east and west.” 

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Deeply concerned about impact of Russia-Ukraine conflict on Global South: PM Modi

India is deeply concerned about the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, especially on the countries of the Global South, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, asserting that the conflict must end.

In an interview to French newspaper Les Echos, he said India has always stood for peaceful resolution of differences through dialogue and diplomacy, and for respecting sovereignty of all nations while replying to questions about an “aggressive” China.

Explained | The past and present of Russia’s war in Ukraine

To a query on China and if its massive investment in its defense capabilities is threatening the security of the region, Mr. Modi said while peace is necessary for the future India seeks to build, it is far from assured.

“Our interests in the Indo-Pacific region are vast, and our engagement is deep. I have described our vision for this region in one word – SAGAR, which stands for Security and Growth for All in the Region. While peace is necessary for the future we seek to build, it is far from assured,” he said.

India stands for respective international laws and the rules-based international order, he said.

“This is more important than ever for maintaining mutual trust and confidence. We believe that it is through this that a positive contribution can be made towards lasting regional and global peace and stability,” he added.

On the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Prime Minister said he has spoken several times with President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to underscore India’s willingness to support all genuine efforts that can help bring this conflict to an end.

“India’s stand has been clear, transparent and consistent. I have said that it is not an era of war. We have urged both sides to resolve issues through dialogue and diplomacy,” he said.

Mr. Modi on Thursday left for France where he will be the Guest of Honour at the Bastille Day celebrations.

With the West nudging India to take a stronger stand against Russia over the conflict, the Prime Minister reiterated that all countries have an obligation to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, to abide by international law and to adhere to the U.N. charter.

“We are also deeply concerned about the impact of the conflict on the wider world, especially the Global South. Countries already suffering from the impact of the Covid pandemic now face energy, food and health crisis, economic slowdown, inflation and rising debt burden. The conflict must end,” he said.

To a question about India’s expectations from France in terms of strategic support in the stand-off with China, Mr. Modi said the partnership between the two countries, including in the Indo-Pacific region, is not directed against or at the expense of any country.

India and France have a broad-based and comprehensive strategic partnership that encompasses political, defence, security, economic, human-centric development and sustainability cooperation, he noted.

“When countries with similar vision and values work together, bilaterally, in plurilateral arrangements or in regional institutions, they can deal with any challenge. Our partnership, including in the Indo-Pacific region, is not directed against, or at the expense of any country,” he said.

Our aim is to safeguard our economic and security interests, ensure freedom of navigation and commerce, advance the rule of international law in the region, the Prime Minister said.

“We work with other countries to develop their capabilities and support their efforts to make free sovereign choices. More broadly, we aim to advance peace and stability in the region,” he asserted.

The Prime Minister’s comments came amid rising global concerns about China’s aggression. The ties between India and China have been strained following the Glawan clashes in eastern Ladakh in 2020.

Asserting that rights of the Global South, a reference to developing countries which are mostly in southern hemisphere, have been long denied, he said collective strength and leadership for the bloc is needed so that its voice can become stronger.

“I see India being that strong shoulder that if Global South has to make that high jump, India can be that shoulder to propel it ahead. For the Global South, India can also build its linkages with Global North. So, in that sense this shoulder can become this bridge of sorts,” he said.

What is needed is that this shoulder, bridge is strengthened so that linkages between the North and South can become stronger and the Global South can itself become stronger, he said.

Asked if he considered India the natural leader of the Global South, Mr. Modi downplayed the suggestion and said the world ‘leader’ is quite heavy and his country should not arrogate or assume any position.

With India and France marking the 25th anniversary of their strategic partnership, Mr. Modi said the relationship between the two countries is in an excellent shape.

“It is strong, trusted, consistent. It has been steady and resilient in the darkest storms. It has been bold and ambitious in looking for opportunities. The level of mutual trust and confidence we share is unmatched. It stems from shared values and vision,” he said.

Both countries share a strong sense of strategic autonomy and have deep commitment to international law, he said, asserting that both seek a multi-polar world and have an unwavering faith in multilateralism.

Noting that their partnership in sensitive areas like space and defence go back to five decades and more, he said it was a phase when the West did not have a friendly disposition towards India.

The Prime Minister then added, “So, it is not a surprise that France was the first Western country with which we declared a Strategic Partnership. That was a difficult time for the world, including for India. Since then our relationship has transformed into a partnership that is important not just for our two countries, but is of great geopolitical consequence.” Since coming to office in 2014, he said he has placed special emphasis on the strategic partnership with France.

Describing the two countries as two major resident powers in the Indian Ocean region, he said theirs is one of the key partnerships in influencing the course of the Indo Pacific region.

Our partnership aims to advance a free, open, inclusive, secure and stable Indo Pacific region, working together and with others in the region who share our vision, he said.

“There is a strong defence and security component that extends from seabed to space. It also seeks to help other countries in the region and strengthen the regional institutions for security cooperation and norm setting,” he said.

Both countries are working together not just to strengthen India’s defence industrial base and our joint operational capabilities but will also collaborate to support the security needs of other countries, including on defence equipment, he said.

“But, it goes beyond that. It involves the full range of economic, connectivity, human development and sustainability initiatives. These will draw other countries into shared endeavours of prosperity and peace. This partnership opens great possibilities for regional cooperation,” he said.

Beyond the Indian Ocean region, they will increasingly coordinate and cooperate in the pacific region as well, he said.

He also strongly batted for reforms in the U.N. Security Council, saying the global body in particular epitomises the dissonance in the changed world.

“How can we talk of it as a primary organ of a global body, when entire continents of Africa and Latin America are ignored ? How can it claim to speak for the world when its most populous country, and its largest democracy, is not a permanent member,” he asked.

Its skewed membership leads to opaque decision-making processes, which adds to its helplessness in addressing the challenges of today, he added.

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PM Modi’s visit to U.S. comes at a historic moment, says envoy Eric Garcetti

As the dates for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States draw closer, officials from New Delhi and Washington are busy making the final arrangements for the strategic and defence agreements the two sides hope to sign or announce during the State visit. U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti says the visit will be a historic one as U.S. and India seek to deepen their ties and work for peace, prosperity, the people and the planet. The envoy also lays emphasis on the democratic values that the two countries share. Excerpts from an interview:

This is a major visit for the two countries. What are the issues top on the agenda and what are the deliverables?

I think this is a historic visit and it’s coming at a historic moment. We’ve never seen the U.S.-India relationship so deep and so broad. And it rests on a foundation of deep friendship between the two leaders, both who have come from modest places and became the leaders of the two largest democracies. But also between two nations, the people of India and the U.S. who really feel an affinity to one another. It’ll deliver, I think, first and foremost, the deepening of the relationship. It’ll secondly have the symbolism of why this relationship is so critical, not just to India and the U.S., but to the world. And within that, what I call the four Ps, we’ll have deliverables among peace, prosperity, for the planet and for our people.

Peace, of course, which is the foundation of everything else… How we can deepen our defence ties, integrate our technologies, co-produce, purchase cutting-edge technologies to make sure that India is safe and secure, but also strategically how we can better integrate, supporting one each other in times of need. In terms of prosperity, we’re working very hard to see if we can dial back some of the trade disputes that we saw from the previous administration to really open up the doors for technology through iCET, the critical emerging technologies, everything from space to artificial intelligence. How do we use technology as a force for good, not of oppression? How do we as democracies contrast with autocracies? Third, the planet, I would say from the seabed to the stars… You’ll see the preservation of the ocean, here Indian Ocean and the region, work that we’ll do to preserve the climate and the planet through new cutting edge, zero carbon energy and transportation. And, then, participation in space together where we see unlimited opportunities. And finally, hopefully, we’ll deepen the resources we’re assigning to the people-to-people ties, whether that’s expanding our missions in both countries and getting people here who can help bring down the backlog and the waiting time for visas as well as educational exchanges, which are so integral. Those are some of the highlights of what we can expect.

There is lot of focus particularly on defence and high tech cooperation. Do you see jet engine cooperation materialising and also anything under the ambit of iCET?

More broadly, I’m very optimistic… We’re really leaning in to help make sure that India’s Air Force and Navy and domestic industry have the most exquisite technologies that exist. And that’s a real commitment of faith, of this relationship and of our future together. That’s something that really the U.S. hasn’t done before with any other country, not even our closest allies. And it reflects a confidence between our militaries, between our leaders, and between our people.

[As for] iCET, the sky is the limit. We’re looking at semiconductors and diversifying our supply chain. This is not about being against any other country. But we should not be overly dependent on any one source for critical technologies that run our cars, help our militaries and connect us with our phones. I always say, will technology be used to connect us, protect us, heal us, or will it be used to divide us, oppress us and cause us to have more unhealthy lives? And that choice is clear. And both countries aren’t just aligned in terms of strategic interests. Like we’re aligned with values, two democracies who respect the fact that I’m having an interview with you. This wouldn’t happen in in non-democratic countries… That we try to uplift women, minorities that are disenfranchised, people who come from poverty. This is, especially in a G-20 year, something we want to highlight.

In the overall relationship, military-to-military cooperation has seen a tremendous progress. So apart from defence sales and the co-development and co-production, what is next on that front, and to borrow the idea shared by Admiral Harry Harris several years ago here in Delhi, is it time for India and the U.S. to start something like joint patrols in the Indian Ocean Region?

That’ll be up to our Indian friends to tell us what their needs are. But I think we’ve proven ourselves as partners and friends. It’s deeper than partners. Sometimes, partners sounds too clinical and we’re really friends in times of need. We have been there now every single time in recent years India needed us. India does more military exercises with us than any other country. And the more that we do exercises, the more that we could envision those kind of joint awareness of seas, undersea domains and of an overall security. India isn’t a country that wants to project power, it wants to protect its people. The United States, too, we’re often misunderstood. We have no desire to project power. We want to protect trade, have the rule of law, and we want people to have peaceful lives. So I think the sky’s the limit. And that it will be up to the Indian military force to tell us what it would not only like to have, but what it would like to do with us.

One final question. Data and cybersecurity are something on which there has been concern from U.S. officials and the industry. Given recent reports, what are your concerns on that front and what is that you want India to do?

Firstly, we want to help India have the most secure kind of cyber environment that it can because we know there are malicious actors, who seek to disrupt, who seek to steal, who seek to weaken the strength that India has. So first and foremost, we want to build up that capacity. Secondly, for private industry, we’ve always thought that the right way forward is to safeguard the privacy of consumer data. But we are also impressed by India’s ability to take public systems like UPI and others to make sure there is no corruption, make sure the bottom at the end of the economic scale have access to the technology and through that access to prosperity. And we continue to make good progress here. By the way, it’s not just American companies but also Indian companies which understand that some data needs to be kept private for the consumer and for companies before they will make this sort of level of investment that I think India wants to see. But we have seen good amendments to initial legislation that went forward and I am very optimistic that we really see more and more eye to eye on this.

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