Dangers Of Complacency
In mythological lore which goes for a lot of ancient Indian history, but which is all that we have, India was called a sone ki chidiya, the golden bird. She was largely invaded from the north-west. Being born in the foothills of the salt range of what is now Pakistan, my ancestors fought the invader and looted him when he returned with the riches of the great kingdoms to the east and south. It is interesting that in issues which relate with the security of India at the most serious level, worried as our ruling groups are over domestic anti-national threats to security, hardly any attention has been paid to the Chinese encirclement of India, dismissed as “nothing very serious”.
The Doklam issue is by itself, as the external affairs minister said, not of any great significance and may settle down to face-to-face confrontation. But the selection of geography is fascinating. Defending a road in Bhutan is not a question that the world gets excited about. But it is one of those issues where India’s security gets involved in the fundamental sense of the pursuit of the national interest. India is tied to Bhutan with inextricable links. These go in the name of culture and shared historical experience through the centuries. The Chinese know this link since they have played these sentiments in a big way in Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau. Our reaction to the event is muted and that is strange because you can imagine what would happen if India raises churlish issues in Hong Kong or Macau. One can only look forward to a more serious reaction from the security establishment, in hopefully measured words or what are sometimes called non-papers.
In the Belt and Road initiative, the 2013 version of China’s transport corridor, India’s essential interest lies in keeping both Gwadar and Bandar Abbas open for energy supply to it from Central Asia. The most optimistic energy forecasts for India with renewable sources including hydel, nuclear and solar still leave substantial gaps. China building the transport links to Gwadar is going to create an environment which should be of concern to us. Our nonchalance is disquieting. Meanwhile, Iran has fired the first salvo amongst the oil producers of the Middle East with an angry establishment comment on goings-on in India and the cosiness with Israel and therefore no special deals on oil purchases as in the past. What is our strategy to ensure energy supplies at reasonable rates?
Deterioration of the growth prospects this year is again an issue facing a silent wall. It is left to the sagely Nomura and the chief economist of the World Bank to say that 7 per cent or more growth is not on and even 6 per cent is now being questioned. Of course, “8 per cent” went with Arvind Panagariya. The MET department was right in saying that kharif rains, somewhat late, will be around the long period average. But they should not forecast output. Delayed sowing has an impact. There was a big shortfall in the southern region, fluctuating at around a sixth of expected rainfall until August. High rainfall in the north west and western UP, which are largely irrigated, matters a lot less than the deficit in the dry Deccan plateau. In fact, the forecast for these areas for August is poor and after that, of course, the fate of the kharif will be sealed. It is important that the establishment recognises this and helps the states in salvaging what they can. Rainfall now will also help in retained moisture for rabi and a strong rabi campaign is called for.
The manufacturing sector is again showing that low growth is now the “normal”. The new index helped in measuring higher growth for recent years as against earlier lows for the same period with the old index. This column has noted this trend since March. But the June numbers with the new index of industrial production show that growth is only 0.4 per cent as compared to a figure of 7 per cent in June 2016. Tinkering with the interest rate will not bring about the turnaround. Fiscal policy has to be expansionist at this stage. It seems so obvious that one wonders what the policymakers are waiting for. Growth once foregone is