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Overseas ministry to merge with MEA

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Overseas ministry to merge with MEA

The government is set to merge the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs with the Ministry of External Affairs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved merger of the two ministries in accordance with a proposal from his Cabinet colleague Sushma Swaraj, who at present holds both the portfolios.

“Hon’ble Prime Minister has kindly accepted my proposal. So MOIA (Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs) will now be part of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA),” Swaraj posted on Twitter on Thursday.  

The MOIA was set up as a separate ministry in 2004 with the objective of connecting Indian diaspora worldwide with India. Swaraj is the first Union minister to be assigned the portfolios of both MEA and MOIA.

“As Minister for External Affairs & Overseas Indian Affairs, I realised that substantial work of MOIA (Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs) is done through our missions abroad,” she tweeted. 

The MOIA has been holding the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in January every year as a flagship event for connecting with the Indian diaspora.

The government in October 2014 announced major change in the format of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which would now be held every alternate year with smaller events focused on outcomes to be held every other year.

External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that administrative process for decision to merge the MOIA with MEA was taken in line with the government’s “overall objective of minimising government and maximising governance”.

He said that the process of merger had already begun and the exercise was being personally supervised by the External Affairs Minister.

Swaraj will deliver the keynote address on the occasion of first smaller scale Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in New Delhi on Saturday.


Fragments of other facts: - The decline of industry in West Bengal is not a simple story

First Person Singular A.M.

Interpreting economic history is a tricky business. It is particularly so when the period under focus is relatively proximate to our times. Notion is often described as reality. For instance, it is a pet assumption that the decline in industrial investment in West Bengal from the late 1950s was the consequence of the rise of the aggressive labour movement under the auspices of the communist party. Could it not be an effect enshrined as the cause?

In most of the current discussions, a crucial development which took place in 1956 is left unmentioned. T.T. Krishnamachari was then the Union finance minister. He had business and industrial interests in Tamil Nadu. He knew what policies would hasten industrial growth in the south and did precisely what he wanted to do.

The development of machinery and machine tools-producing industries is vital for the growth and expansion of all other kinds of industrial products. Besides, steel is basic to the production of machinery and machine tools; steel output is facilitated by the conjunctive availability of iron ore and coal. It was British capital which took the initial steps towards introducing modern industry in India. The narrow region comprising the borders of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa had under the soil ample supplies of iron ore as well as coal. The foundation of the steel plant at Sakchi by Jamshedji Tata enthused industrial investors. The railways had already arrived in this part of the country. With the assured supply of steel from Jamshedpur, clusters of machinery and machine tool-producing units, big, medium and small, came up in Calcutta and its outskirts, Howrah, Serampore, Burdwan, all the way up to the Asansol-Raniganj belt - and Kharagpur. What was additionally interesting was that while scores of small machinery repairing shops and small contractors supplying umpteen requirements for these units began to flourish on either side of the Hooghly river, skill in handling machinery and the art of improvisation got installed among novices who did not even know the letters. Such skill formation was a tremendous boost in fostering an industrial climate in the entire area.

TTK got approved by the Union cabinet an innocent-looking resolution equalizing the freight all over the country of only iron ore and coal; no other industrial raw material was, however, touched. The locational advantage the eastern region had till now enjoyed in the machinery and the engineering industries got forfeited overnight. This also brought to an end the flow of investment into West Bengal.

The relevant data clinched the point I am making. True, the communists were slowly expanding their base; the huge influx of refugees from the then East Pakistan, the consequent overcrowding in Calcutta and the districts, and rising demand for housing and jobs led to a spectacular strengthening of the Left movement. Rising commodity prices without adequate adjustment of salary and allowances aggravated the discontent with the Congress regime. None of these factors affected capital investment in the 1950s.

The freight equalization changed the picture altogether. What was boom for the rest of the country became the curse for the eastern region, particularly West Bengal. B.C. Roy was then the chief minister of the state; his dominating personality made pygmies of other local politicians. He commanded equal deference at the Centre, including from Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister. None in West Bengal, even amongst the so called intelligentsia, was aware of what a calamity the state was facing. The Calcutta academia was crammed with economists of the highest calibre; they, too, were seemingly unaware of the implication of the freight equalization announcement. It was left to an émigré Bengali in Bombay, Sachin Chaudhuri, who had a few years ago floated the Economic Weekly. The journal was leading a hand-to-mouth existence; his personal finances were equally precarious. Chaudhuri, nonetheless, spent out of his own pocket to buy a return ticket and arrived in Calcutta. He wangled through friends an interview with B.C. Roy and tried to make the state chief minister aware of the peril underlying the TTK resolution. The eminent chief minister was the least concerned: he was going to build "his" West Bengal in his own manner, he was not interested in such piffling thing as freight equalization, let the Centre do what it wants to do, Jawaharlal has promised him a steel plant at Durgapur, he could not be happier. The proposed plant in Durgapur was part of the grand design envisaged at the moment as an integral entity of the heavy industry expansion programme in the public sector under the Second Five-Year Plan. A curious coincidence, once more not any academician loaded with knowledge of economic planning, but the honorary statistical adviser to the government, P.C. Mahalanobis, the founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, was the author of the great dream. Both B.C. Roy and Mahalanobis belonged to the Bengali Brahmo community. But the twain never met.

A rebuffed Sachin Chaudhuri returned to Bombay totally broken-hearted. He nonetheless continued with his campaign and kept writing editorial pieces, week after week, drawing attention to the gross discrimination against the eastern region. TTK was soon forced to quit as finance minister in the wake of the Mundhra scandal, but the freight equalization policy remained as a permanent edifice.

The other legacy of industrial enterprise bequeathed by the British to West Bengal was jute manufacturing. Raw jute was mostly produced in districts which became part of East Pakistan while almost the entire jute processing units were in West Bengal. Shortage of raw material affected the industry in the immediate post-Independence years and jute exports dropped dramatically. Rapid growth in raw jute cultivation took place in some of the West Bengal districts from the 1960s. But global circumstances had meanwhile changed, the use of plastic material caused a death blow to the demand for traditional jute bags. The global factors affected East Pakistan no less, but there was enough official initiative to diversify products from out of raw jute and the industry has continued to play a substantially important role in Bangladesh.

The story, however, would not be complete unless another blatant piece of official discrimination is placed on record. The Centre set up the Cotton Corporation of India and the Jute Corporation of India almost simultaneously; the purpose was to protect the interest of farm growers by offering them minimum support prices at which the government would purchase the fibres. The class factor, though, has cast a shadow here. Cotton growers in western India are by and large owners of large holdings, and have organic links with the manufacturing and exporting groups. In contrast, jute in West Bengal is mostly grown by small farmers who have little resources, little organizational acumen and therefore are in no position to exercise adequate political influence. The consequence has been severe. The Cotton Corporation has been extraordinarily enthusiastic to purchase raw cotton at prices even much, much higher than the officially announced procurement prices. On the other hand, year after year the Jute Corporation has failed to buy raw jute even at prices that were lower than the announced minimum support prices. No wonder the jute industry is gradually fading away. With supplies of raw jute altogether uncertain and at the mercy of the whims of speculators, world demand keeps declining and prospects of innovative new manufacturing directions are thin.

It is the totality of such developments which has contributed to intensify the gravity of the industrial crisis in West Bengal. One has to mention yet another factor. A certain listlessness has featured in the last decade of Congress rule in West Bengal; one result was no expansion in power production capacity during this period. Power shortage became an additional alibi for capital to stay away. The Left Front government tried to correct the situation by allocating by far the largest proportion of budgetary expenditure to electricity generation. One objective of its drive to alter Centre-state relations was to garner extra revenues for the state which could be set aside for industrial investment in the public sector. All this is by now a well-trodden story.

In fairness, retrospectively viewed, the decision of the last found regime to invite at the beginning of the century the Tatas to set up the small car project was not altogether unsound. Had the Singur plant become a reality, the capital flow to the state might have resumed. It was, however, the lack of competence of the state authorities that put an end to the venture: the land acquisition process could have been completed by adopting more democratic methods and there was perhaps no need to be so effusively generous while negotiating terms with the Tata Group. To add to the government's woes, its public relations, too, were abominably poor. The lady who spearheaded the resistance to the project and is now the state's chief minister shouted month after month that four hundred acres out of the total one thousand acres of land acquired at Singur were from unwilling farmers. The then government's response was diffuse and too much on the defensive; it is only now that the people in the state have been made aware that it was a very small minority of farmers owning barely forty acres of land who remained adamant. The vast majority had accepted the government's offer and quietly departed with the cheques offered as compensation for the sale of land.

The tragedy of Singur cannot, however, be obliterated. After the Tata nightmare and the present chief minister was indelibly marked as the person who was responsible for the episode, no capital from outside the state would arrive here as long as she stayed in command. All the claims she has been recently making of a gush of new investment in different spheres in the coming years are eyewash. There is one exception though. The amount she hopes would flow into real estate business will perhaps coincide with reality. Till very recently, gold was supposed the safest of outlays for speculative capital. China has destroyed that notion by its sudden manoeuvre to sell the metal in such huge quantities as to halve its global price within 24 hours. No similar possibility threatens investment in real estate. World population is bound to grow with each decade; speculative capital which fails to get an outlet in the real estate sector in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, is likely to migrate to Calcutta and its neighbourhoods. That would hardly contribute towards lessening the state's industrial and employment problems.


Around a restless sea: - India in the Asia-Pacific

Krishnan Srinivasan

The Asia-Pacific, like Asia, emerging Asia or South Asia, is a fungible term and not easy to define. In the 1980s, the term was associated with membership of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation initiative, but after the Barack Obama visit last year, it apparently includes India, at least in the strategic thinking of the United States of America.

Nothing over the past few decades has changed the global economy like the rise of China, which, with the industrialization and modernization of some other parts of Asia, has led to a remarkable transformation over the past three decades, and is the reason for the reorientation of the global economy towards the Asia-Pacific. From being recipients of manufactures to exporters of a competitive variety of goods and services, emerging Asia now impacts global financial markets, production networks and pricing of commodities, apart from having an increasing bearing on global political strategies. Four Asian countries, apart from Japan, are in the top 16 of the World Bank's gross domestic product table for 2014 - China, India, South Korea and Indonesia, and there are many positive Asian trends to be discerned, political, institutional, technological and educational among them. Indian, Chinese and South Korean cultures, especially popular culture, have gone global and added immensely to soft power perceptions.

If these trends in basic indicators continue, the Asian element in the Asia-Pacific's political and economic influence will increase, but the Asian rise requires technology and specialized skills to climb the value-added chain and avoid the middle-income trap. The unsettled relationship among rising and established powers, and between the rising powers themselves, may delay the advent of any 'Asian century', although dire predictions of the implosion of China and the descent of India into dystopia have proved wrong, and there is growing optimism among the Asian capitals. It remains an open question whether the Asian rise will lead to emerging Asia constituting a new group of world powers, though clearly China is already on the way to that status with its yuan becoming a reserve currency and the main currency in Zimbabwe, besides the Belt and Road, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific initiatives. While Chinese interests have acquired a global character, the rest of emerging Asia is mainly an economic and cultural phenomenon, although Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore show that with right interventions, developing countries can catch up with the advanced world.

Most emerging Asian countries are allergic to the view that outsiders should prescribe policy preferences for them, but they do not yet present a rival ideology to the West. Over time they might offer an alternative discourse of modernity, such as questioning the free market and democracy with a form of Sino-style semi free-market model within an authoritarian framework, but there is little conformity or parallel timelines across the concerned countries. The Asians are busy stressing their differences rather than their commonalities, especially in South Asia, and even big and ancient Asian civilizations like India and China have not articulated any world view apart from the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and Xi Jinping's four principles of great power relations which are too vague to build upon.

The other side of the coin is that emerging Asia remains the home of every conceivable instability. With huge concentrations of population, big increases in the aspirational middle class, concerns over terrorism and proliferation of nuclear weapons, inter-state and intra-state tensions, abject poverty and climate-change fears, the region enjoys neither political nor economic unity, with systems of government ranging from communism to liberal democracy. There are many unresolved territorial disputes. The Korean peninsula is the most heavily armed region in the world, North Korea is a nuclear weapon state and so are India and Pakistan. The strategic re-balancing exercise of the US regarding the Asia-Pacific is understandably seen by China as unhealthy containment. If there is any outbreak of warfare in Asia, the negative impact on the global economy would be immeasurable.

The political map is not the same as the economic map, and Asian integration will depend on relations between China, Japan and India, the big three on whom any new Asian architecture would need to be based. But they are too domestically preoccupied and still have too little say in global institutions. In spite of the disputes, emerging Asian economies are likely to focus on economic growth without external adventures. India and China account for half the global economic growth, with high savings and investment rates, although India's economy is too closed to incorporate with any of the deep-integration free trade areas of Asia. China keeps interest rates low in the West even as it makes the difficult transition from manufacturing to services, high investment to higher consumption, and State-driven decisions to free market determination. In spite of foreign exchange reserves of $7.29 trillion, emerging Asia is unusually dependent on consistent high growth to address inequalities, mitigate environmental degradation, compete for finite natural resources and ensure food security. The economic boom is essential for the authority of the Communist Party of China, and increasingly important for re-election in democratic countries like India.

Asian cooperation, as seen in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional forum, the Asean or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, is in the spirit of Asian norms, in other words, good platforms for economic cooperation but falling well short of robust political engagement. Rhetoric about 'win-win' cooperation and attempts to craft a common narrative have not provided the commonalities needed for these countries to construct the appropriate architecture for political cohesion or to settle disputes.

China's interests as a rising state can clash with those of the other trans-Atlantic power, the US, and competition for global resources and political and military tensions generate causes of concern. The age of US primacy in Asia as the non-resident power is drawing to a close but China cannot displace it while the US has decided to reassert its influence in Asia. It is difficult to find evidence of any real pivot for Asia, and its central component might comprise the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is limping towards the finishing line; negotiations took more than six years and there may not be political support for the TPP in the US Congress.

Economic interdependence fosters cooperation, and the benefits of deep integration are too strong for the parties to resist. American allies in Asia, like Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, and supporters like Vietnam and Thailand, all have stronger economic ties with China than with the US. Political cooperation will grow on the back of increasing intra-regional economic flows, and there have been remarkable initiatives to address decades of hostility in the recent meetings between the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea and between China and Taiwan.

Now that, courtesy the US, India has become an honorary member of the Asia-Pacific, where does it stand in this scenario? India has had no involvement in the unfolding tensions in the Asia-Pacific, the China/Japan and Korea/Japan strife-strewn histories, the islands disputes, Korean unification or the Taiwan Strait. There can be no question that China is the flying goose that gives the upthrust to economies all over the Asia-Pacific, but India is not without its assets. It is diminished by its incessant quarrel with Pakistan, but its disorderly politics, though Indians despair of it, is admired by all countries, like Myanmar and Nepal, attempting to move in a democratic direction. India is advantageously placed in spite of its low-income status because no big power can afford to ignore India. Its rise is considered benign, and its future full of promise.

India should maintain friendly relations with major powers, but avoid too close an identity with the US strategic agenda which is fickle. It should actively pursue normalization of relations with China, including by educating its public. In no country in the world is China regarded with greater ignorance and hostility, with the result that every Chinese activity in South Asia is wrongly interpreted as Indo-centric. There will be no international support for India in any conflict with China or Pakistan; this calls for faster movement towards determining the line of control with China and fresh thinking on Pakistan, which has become the 'indispensable nation' to Afghanistan, China, the US and many countries in the Arab peninsula. New Delhi cannot expect third countries to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. It should forget about South Asia or the Indian Ocean being an exclusive sphere of Indian influence, but concentrate on our legitimate security interests and encourage partners to be stakeholders in our economic growth. As T.N. Ninan has affirmed in The Turn of the Tortoise, economic growth is India's best foreign policy.

The author is a former foreign secretary of India


Consistent diplomacy

Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy towards Pakistan is under fire from its opponents alleging a lack of consistency, clarity and coherence. Apart from the alliteration which makes for good rhetoric, it is worth examination whether consistency is necessarily a positive factor in foreign policy. British Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston in 1848 best expressed the contrary view; “I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy … We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

A foolish consistency is in fact the enemy of a sound foreign policy, because it implies a slavish following of the same path handed down by tradition or predecessors, and prevents the flexibility of response that is required. Good foreign policy practice is alive to any opportunity despite the deepest deadlocked situation, and it is an act of statesmanship to depart from precedent to exploit such opportunities.
If consistency was the invariable ingredient of good policy, we would not have had Nixon going to China, Gorbachov abandoning the Soviet satellite states or Obama’s outreach to Cuba. History is replete with instances where a bold and unorthodox decision was able to turn the tide and influence future events positively.  Modi’s visit to Lahore could be the turning point in relations with Pakistan if the momentum is sustained.
Since 1947 no Indian government has been able to develop a working policy on Pakistan. Keeping channels of communication open, showing willingness to cooperate to mutual benefit combined with readiness to demonstrate strength and using force in worst-case scenarios have been given different weight in different historical contexts. The result is that no neighbourly cooperation for mutual benefit, let alone lasting peaceful coexistence, has been established.

The history of India’s Pakistan policy is one of trial and error and New Delhi has no option but to keep trying, hoping that one day this might lead to more than a temporary détente. Given the Talibanization of Pakistan after Zia-ul-Haq,  India faces the nigh-impossibility of placating various rival sources of power there; the only hope lies in Pakistan establishing a political system under civilian central command, redefining its national interests, and understanding that hostility to India has resulted in nothing but damaging Pakistan. If India Rs  apart from setting an example Rs can contribute to this development, it is by showing readiness for dialogue. The most dire scenario for India would be an imploding neighbour possessing nuclear arms and New Delhi would be well-advised to support stability and better living standards across the border.

Modi’s initiative has been welcomed by public opinion in Pakistan and India and by foreign offices the world over; it gives a glimpse of what might be achieved for the two countries if normality could be restored to the relationship. There are influential circles in both countries who wish to keep each other at arm’s length, to ignore the geographic and economic compulsions of the relationship, and they include the military establishment in Pakistan which sees tension with India as self-justifying.
On the other hand, there is also a constituency for peace in Pakistan as there is in India, and it is this group that would be strengthened by closer ties between the two countries. This factor makes it even more important that the moment should be seized by both India and the civilian elected authority in Pakistan to build a coalition with the international community to combat and eliminate the terror cells based in Pakistan, and not to give the terrorists a veto on the negotiation process.
Congress Party critics of Modi’s approach to Pakistan have conveniently forgotten that under the Congress government of the time, official talks were conducted with Pakistan in the early 1990s despite the Hazratbal and Babari Masjid fall-out, the Pakistan-stoked violent upheaval in Kashmir, and the Dawood Ibrahim inspired riots in Mumbai. Critics claim that it is under Western pressure that Modi has embarked on a dialogue with Pakistan. There is no need of external pressure for India to pursue its national interests, though it is undeniable that foreign governments, especially in North America and Western Europe, have always urged the two countries to resolve their differences through negotiation, and this has been the case whether a Congress or non-Congress government has held power at the Centre.
History shows that not talking to Pakistan has served no purpose. It has not given India any greater security, and has only encouraged the militant factions and extremist ideological elements in Pakistan. It is only through confidence-building with Pakistan that existing terror cells, the influence of the Pakistan military and the looming threat of the Islamic State, which has already spread its tentacles to Afghanistan, can be arrested and rolled back.
The Pathankot attack was not unexpected. In fact it must have been planned for weeks if not months before it took place; such incidents cannot be engineered on the spur of the moment. It would be correct to surmise that the sponsors of such terror from Pakistan did nothing to abort the operation despite the bonhomie between the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers evident at Lahore. It is precisely these malevolent elements in Pakistan that need to be eliminated, and it is necessary for Pakistan to take action on India’s evidence of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s involvement. Such action would be evidence that the Pakistan Prime Minister can take charge of the military and his personal commitment to the peace process. It has to be hoped that such action will be forthcoming and the proposed series of talks can proceed. There could no more fitting response to the Pathankot terrorists.
As for the repeated invocation of consistency by Modi’s critics, who have highly limited or negligible experience of the actual practice of diplomacy, they would do well to find alternative grounds for criticism.


Sustain the ‘nerve’

There are times when seeking a positive passage through a vexed relationship, ridden with the potholes and baggage of history, requires rare moral fibre. It is so much easier to fall back on the “prestigious” positions of yesteryear and end up not moving anywhere. India and Pakistan find themselves in such a situation yet again, but with the Prime Ministers of both countries having made recent attempts at rapprochement they are now required to sustain their ‘nerve’ and take that process forward. Stuttering, stumbling on their way perhaps; but declining to take the easier way out and falling back to hostile, confrontationist, stand-offs. That “Pathankot” did not trigger another round of customary belligerence is welcome, what is awaited is New Delhi’s assessment/reaction to the outcome of high-level meetings in Islamabad. Having indicated a degree of patience and flexibility when “putting the ball in Pakistan’s court” there is no reason to have sought a “soft” lob that could be easily smashed. The domestic compulsions that provoke strident positions in New Delhi operate in Islamabad too-it would be naïve to expect (as some “experts” do) Pakistan to overtly crack down on anti-India terror outfits, signs of covert pressure on them ought to suffice to keep the dialogue on track. A jingoistic response-which the BJP favoured when it was an opposition party-and calling off the scheduled meeting of the foreign secretaries would be handing “victory” on a silver platter to the terrorists.

They would have breached more than the perimeter of the military facility. There would, however, appear to be mature reasoning to the suggestions that those talks be deferred a trifle, preceded by an early meet of the NSAs (accompanied by border management officials?) to plug the gaps being exploited by terrorists and smugglers. The dialogue can be delayed, not abandoned. The “hawks” would be disproving the theory of superior vision if they did not perceive some subtle differences in Pakistan’s post-Pathankot position. It did not come up with a blanket denial, held two high-level security meetings and repeated its promise of “action”. And it has been quiet on the LOC. Is that good enough? It would be wishful thinking to hope that it would accept the Indian “information” as a plan of action.
And to be fair, the details being “fed” to the media by the NIA and other investigation agencies are rather far-fetched. If New Delhi cannot rein in its cops and ensure investigations that are more professional and less publicity-oriented can it demand that the police in Pakistan be directed to silence anti-Indian tirades?  Mr Narendra Modi “stuck his neck out” on 25 December, now he must prove “tall” enough not to emulate a turtle when complexities arise.



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