US Presidential elections are the flavour of the season in India today. On social media as well as mainstream media, many express strong views about who should be the next US President. Few of us, including almost all those who feverishly debate the pros and cons of Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump’s win for India, are voters in the US elections. Yet, we have a view, rather a strong one, which shows how much we identify with that country. We were not bothered much about the fate of David Cameron if Brexit hadn’t gone the way it did. A majority of us didn’t know a leader by the name of Theresa May existed and that she would succeed Cameron as PM of the UK.
We should certainly be watching closely as to whether General Raheel Sharif would quietly leave Rawalpindi in a few weeks from now on November 29 like his predecessor did, or whether Pakistan will witness another power struggle between the two Sharifs — one in uniform and the other, a civilian. It’s well known that since Cyril Almeida’s story appeared in the Dawn newspaper, about the friction between the army and civilian leadership, things are not smooth in Pakistan. The army top brass, including General Raheel Sharif himself, upped the ante against the civilian leadership, claiming the story was a “breach of national security” and the result of the “feeding of a false and fabricated story of an important security meeting”.
The story was about an alleged rift between the civilian and military forces during the National Security Committee (NSC) meeting over the issue of tackling jihadi outfits. That Raheel Sharif is using the “planting” of the story to the hilt to shake up the civilian leadership is clear from the fact that almost a month after the story’s publication, senior leaders of the ruling PML-N were seen rushing to the general’s palace to “brief him” about progress in investigations into the “leak”. According to a media release by the Pakistan army, the delegation that called on Raheel Sharif included federal interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, finance minister, Ishaq Dar and Punjab chief minister, Shehbaz Sharif. Incidentally, Almeida’s story attributes the outbursts against the army at the NSC meeting to Shehbaz Sharif himself.
We should be alert to the elevation of Xi Jinping to the role of “core leader”. China’s Communist Party gave President Xi the title of “core leader” earlier this week. After a four-day closed-door meeting, senior CPC officials came out with a long statement which called upon all party members to “closely unite around the central committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core”. Coming just a few months ahead of the important party congress that takes place once every five years, this is going to strengthen President Xi’s position in the party — and the country.
The phrase was coined by Deng, who said Mao, himself and Jiang Zemin were core leaders, meaning they had almost absolute authority and should not be questioned. Now, Xi joins that exclusive power elite. India should be assessing the consequences of the “core leader” Xi following in the footsteps of either Mao or Deng.
India should be discussing developments in Sri Lanka which seems to be drifting towards China in recent months. China even claimed Sri Lanka was supporting it on the South China Sea after The Hague verdict. Sri Lanka was forced to make a clarification that it only wanted no outside interference in that area.
With $20 billion aid from China, how would Bangladesh’s leadership act in the future, or with its growing infrastructure presence in Nepal, how would China affect our bilateral relations with that country? Or, with 54 rounds of talks without Indian intervention between Bhutan and China in the last three decades, ever since that country shed its dependence on India in foreign affairs matters, what is in store for us in the Himalayan kingdom? These are all more important issues for us to bother about.
But the US stands out. At one level, it shows the importance of the relationship. More than that, it shows the track-two bond we enjoy through our over 3.5 million Indians living in the US. They have started playing an increasingly important role in American politics. Earlier, the community limited its role to funding major parties and candidates. But no longer. Now, Indians play an active role on both sides of the great American political divide. If there is a Shalabh Kumar for Trump, there is a Neera Tandon for Hillary. Who wins the US presidential election depends on the swing states that now seem to include Pennsylvania and South Carolina. The Indian community in the US appears to be evenly divided among both camps.
As far as India is concerned, we have a bipartisan approach to America’s political establishment. Under a Republican, Nixon, we had a tough time; under another Republican, Bush, we had the best relations. Under a Democrat Carter or Clinton, we had occasional difficulties, but under another Democrat, Obama, we again had the best relations.
India, with its renewed strength, enhanced importance and revved-up self-confidence, shouldn’t be worrying about who would become the next US president. India-US relations are on such a strong wicket, any future government in both countries would only further these. But if one lesson were to be learnt from the new-found enthusiasm of Indians over the US elections, that is about the need for track two diplomacy. It plays an important role in securing our interests.
As Prime Minister Modi once said, our leaders should be flying to a Dhaka or a Colombo for afternoon tea with leaders of those countries, returning to Delhi by the evening. Such informal relations with countries at multiple levels should be encouraged for the benefit of our country.
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