Thursday, July 25, 2019

Wuhan to Varanasi – The Journey of Discovery & Recalibration of Civilizational Powers!

Wuhan to Varanasi – The Journey of Discovery & Recalibration of Civilizational Powers!

The upcoming second round of non-formal one on one dialogue in Varanasi between Xi Jinping and Modi is something that is going to lead to a watershed in the Indo-Sino relationship over the next decade.

The Wuhan round was the first indication from China that India is here to stay and is not going to accede to an Asian century with China as the principal head.

The vision that Xi Jinping articulated during the last Congress was for the achievement of what is now called the Chinese Dream - of becoming a High Income Level country, with an improved standard and quality of Life for Chinese and a leadership role for China in global affairs that is commensurate and a manifest destiny.

It is an important address that should be read very carefully. It outlines the vision and the Report to the NPC outlines the strategy. The BRI, modernization of PLA, transforming the economic model from "Manufacturer to the World and Export Led" model to a  " Leading Value Added Innovator of the World with a Balanced Domestic demand Led" model are all part of the strategy.

It is in this context, the Chinese are recalibrating their relative strengths and power equations and the rise of India with a similar aspiration, strategy with a real galvanized National Will by the Modi government has forced them to rethink they way they want to deal with India.

In the rubric of Chinese thinking and based on their priorities, India represents a threat and an opportunity at the same time. India can be not only a major competitor to Chinese ambitions, but if it perceives China to be an adversary, it will not hesitate to act in concert with others to stop China's aspirations both regionally and globally.

On the other hand, India can be an opportunity for China - both from an economic point of view as well as a strategic point of view. The expanding Indian economy is a market that China can benefit from and there is enough potential to collaborate and join together to solve some of the key challenges that are common to both societies. On the other hand, on many strategic issues that includes energy security, environment, space, high technology, access to markets, financial systems, terrorism control, representation in global power architectures and arrangements etc, there is a lot of potential for synergies and commonalities in objectives.

Yet, the Chinese approach to India's rise has been one of cautious engagement. They are unsure of India's intent and the common view is that India is ganging up against the rightful rise of China based on an irrational fear that is being exploited by the West.

The other aspect that one has to discern through the actions of the Chinese is that the real apprehension that a fast moving India can actually bridge the current huge gap between the two economies and pose a serious challenge to China's ability to emerge as the de-facto Superpower that can and will displace the US by 2035.

In a typical Chinese style, this is masked by the tendency of trying to "put India in its place" by way of dismissive statements and designating India as an ambitious sub regional power that is trying to punch above its weight. Periodic statements and articles that highlight India’s problems, poverty and lack of progress when compared to China’s steady progress and achievements back this up.

But the actions on the ground suggest that the Chinese are actually concerned about India's economic resurgence and its ability to flex its muscle. They have tried hard to prop up Pakistan as a check and also hem in India through encirclement. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives and Bangladesh have been subjected to special attention by the Chinese. The huge capital reserves of China have been harnessed to secure all these countries into the Chinese sphere of influence so that India is boxed in.

The advent of Modi and his active foreign policy that is clearly articulating Indian sovereign interests in the region and displaying the necessary National Will to protect them has forced the Chinese to rethink its options.


The Indian economy is now finally on the move and is transforming rapidly. That is coupled with a political stability of a lasting nature that is also representative of the coming of age of India from its independence era political, social, economic and cultural narrative to one that is based on the resurgence of the civilizational identity and nationalism.

Both these factors - the recognition of the Chinese to understand Indian aspirations better and the reality that the Chinese Dream cannot be attained with a strained relationship with India have made the Chinese to recalibrate its objectives and aspirations when it comes to Indo-Sino relationship.

It is under this context that the Wuhan Dialogue was initiated with an invitation by Xi Jinping to Narendra Modi. It is thus a joint attempt by the Chinese and Indians to –

(i) Understand each other's Indian Strategic intent, aspirations and goals by opening up an agenda less format that allows for each leader to share their ideas and views on a wide range of issues. It is also to clarify to each other the strategic intent, aspirations and goals.

(ii) Identify the possible red lines from each other's perspective and see how the areas of divergence and potential conflicts are to be handled

(iii) Identify the areas where there is potential to collaborate in establishing a more balanced world order that recognizes the rise of China and India


The Wuhan Round was largely spent on discussing point (i) from what can be surmised from the post meeting comments and analysis of the Chinese state controlled media as well as from Indian officialdom.

It is pertinent to note that China's hosting of the event, the elaborate arrangements made and the way in which Xi Jinping held his meetings with Modi are unprecedented in the Indo-Sino context. No other leaders from either side have invested so much time and effort in getting to understand each other in history.

It is also pertinent to note that following this event, there was yet another round of Leadership Dialogue between Russia and India with Putin hosting Modi. That one too had a lot of significance from the perspective of the RIC triangle.

Both these went beyond the usual Strategic Dialogue format where officials and long standing positions determine the way the dialogue happens. In both these cases, it was a clear attempt by the executive leadership of the nations, to break free from stated positions and explore new directions and trajectories with a view to understand each other's real intentions.

It happened due to the fact that in all these three countries, there is a strong executive leadership that is in command, a clear transformational agenda that is being pursued, and a common goal of changing the existing unequal and West dominated global world order.

It is important to recall here, that during the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, the Jaswant Singh- Talbott series of dialogues, paved the way for a new model of engagement with the US and what followed post these dialogues is there for all to see. India-US engagement moved from Estranged Democracies to Engaged Democracies that have strengthened across several administrations on both sides.

However, the important difference is that while the US-India dialogue was following a straight path of proven diplomatic format of Strategic Dialogue with designated interlocutors from both sides, here the Dialogue is directly handled by the Leaders themselves, free of diplomatic straitjacketed thinking.

That is why the upcoming Varanasi Dialogue is something that will pick up from where Wuhan Dialogue left and it will continue the process of engagement and understanding. From an Indian perspective, China is neither a Dragon that has to be feared nor is it a nation that has to be contained and defeated in alliance with the West.

Similarly, it appears that the Chinese thinking is slowly shifting from seeing India as a small power that should be contained to a potential global partner or at best a non-adversarial ally that will allow the Chinese to achieve the stated goal of the Chinese Dream as India achieves its own goal of becoming a Parama Vaibhava Vishwa Guru.

The world at large and Asia in particular will emerge as a secure, prosperous and stronger place if the two Asian giants get to an understanding that is based on mutual recognition and accommodation of each other's aspirations and global positions.

The Wuhan Dialogue and the forthcoming Varanasi Dialogue can turn out to be crucial events that will shape the Asian Century’s trajectory and speed.

M. Rajaram
25 July 2019

Monday, October 8, 2018

Preparing for a Dollar War and Shifting Sands of a New Economic Order!

The trajectory of geo-political trends with regards to tariff wars, renegotiation of multilateral trade deals unilaterally by the US, the EU -US geo strategic equation with US demands to fund more of the Security, moving of manufacturing back to the US and its focus on reducing trade deficits are impacting the dollar.

In the short term, Dollar is likely to have a surge and that is being seen now. However, Putin's latest remarks in the Energy Conclave in Russia give a strong indication that there is a counter reaction that is forming through convergence of diverse interest amongst other players.

The EU economies, notably Germany and France, despite their misgivings about Russia are being forced to reconsider their positions and their dependence on the interlinked economic system with US and its Dollar.

China is facing a tariff war with the US and as the largest owner of the US Dollar reserves and US debt (US Treasury bonds) it is in an unfamiliar territory. With slowing down of its economy and raising internal debt, it cannot afford to lose access to the US market, but a stronger dollar can also be beneficial in the short term given the reserves and debts it has. It is also facing a huge energy problem with increasing oil prices and strengthening dollar.

Which leads us to the next international pole in terms of energy, OPEC and Oil producing countries. Sustained pressure on them by the US to increase production and bring down prices on one hand while it is cutting down the overall availability with sanctions on Iran and impending sanctions on Russian Oil. This is being further compounded by increasing internal economic pressures and economic crisis in almost all Gulf states including Saudi Arabia which is recording massive budget deficits.

India is headed for an election year and one cannot ignore the impact of price surge due to fuel price rise. Huge programmes are being funded with tax revenues from Oil and this leaves very little room to keep petrol prices down. India too is facing a problem of an orchestrated attack on its capital markets as well as on Rupee. It is in fact under an economic attack while it is undergoing a transformation and clean up of the financial systems internally at the same time. That is a huge challenge.  On the positive side  economic growth is good; monsoon is good, but the increasing dollar and increasing fuel prices can undo or at the minimum cramp Indian economic management flexibility.

Over the last 4 years, thankfully the government has been working consistently on 4 fronts

1. Building up of energy security through - building strategic reserves, forward negotiating contracts, diversifying sourcing, non dollar denominated contracts, increasing alternatives to POL internally, consumption management through redirected subsidies & keeping price high to moderate demand

2. Long term alternative building - Push on renewables, International Solar Alliance, creating non fossil fuel based alternative grids, etc

3. Securing Growth through Investments to create national demand instead of depending on exports thereby insulating from both currency pressures as well as trade related pressures

4. Working on creating alternative energy (ISA) and financial systems (BRICS) that can withstand American pressures using the Dollar or the financial system that is controlled by them on the basis that the Dollar is the de facto universal reserve currency. This is being done under the auspices of BRICS and a plethora of bilateral arrangements and regional arrangements where the trade and investments will not be in dollar.

The convergence of interests in protecting themselves against American unilateral exceptionalism across these otherwise diverse group is forcing a turn of events that may see the first steps in the coming together of an international coalition of powers, motivated purely by their own national interests, to formulate together a strategy to move the global financial order away from the omnipotent dollar basis to a new basis of perhaps a basket of other currencies that will include Chinese Yuan, Russian Rouble and Indian Rupee besides the Euro.

The American isolationism and unilateral withdrawal being carried out by Trump Administration is likely to have an enormous impact on American economy too. In the short time, it looks like the benefits of a strong dollar and a high performing stock market coupled with increased manufacturing is going to work for America. It may even ensure that Trump second term is achieved.

At the same time, it is also likely to have an impact on the global arrangements that has held the US led western dominance in place post WWII. The renaissance of China and India and the revival of Russia as an energy power will accelerate the shift from Europe and American dominance to Asia. Technology trends and new energy ideas will reduce the prominence and wealth of the Middle East.

In the medium term if the US persists with its inward looking policies and unilateralism in using the status of the Dollar to exert its geo-strategic muscle, then the others will respond in a manner that removes the vital cog that is the Dollar's status as the world's most acceptable reserve currency and replace it with several currencies.

When that happens, the US Debt will come home to roost as the World's appetite to underwrite US spending will start to ease off.

The current trajectory of events seems to suggest this. Hence Putin's warning in the recently held Energy conclave where he alluded to the US actions being akin to cutting the branch one is sitting on is a crucial signal of how things are likely to take shape.

There is a lot of ground to be covered before such a thing like the replacement of the Dollar as the universal reserve currency can happen. but it is now more likely to happen than not. It a more question of when and how that shift and change in the global financial system will happen and not whether it will.

Just a ramble! Take it for what it is worth!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

India and China – Reading the Tea Leaves – A new start?

India and China – Reading the Tea Leaves – A new start?

The events related to Dalai Lama are a signal that needs to be understood. I have tried to piece together if the GoI’s reticence of late is a function of certain international understandings and developments. It is not easy to piece together a narrative based on observed actions on this but a few things have to be considered carefully:

1. PRC have time and again protested vehemently about Dalai Lama visiting Arunachal Pradesh and GoI has not paid heed to any such noise and simply went ahead with it.

2. PRC was vehemently opposing the development projects, especially road and rail links in Arunachal Pradesh; the GOI not only went ahead but doubled the intensity and pace

3. PRC vehemently opposed visit by PM, not only did the PM visit he also toured extensively and made sure a Cabinet Minister was touring the place every month

4. Dalai Lama accorded a traditional and ceremonial welcome in Arunachal Pradesh with full government support

5. There were more than one instance of intense standoff both during visit by Xi and during Modi's visit to PRC across different theatres and the IA did not back down. On more than one instance, it demonstrated speed and increased ability to bring in force capability to theatre zone and never backed down

6. The CPEC - Not only did the GOI register objections, but acted swiftly to circumvent through Char Bahar. GOI also clearly stated that it would not allow CPEC in disputed territory and activated a Balochistan campaign across the world as a message to China on what can happen.

7. Surgical strike inside Myanmar and then on Pakistan clearly demonstrated the willingness and operational capability to strike across border if needed

8. Doklam - This was a test case where India, in a sense, initiated a stand off, by not acting as per established pattern. It was India which went in and stopped construction activity at force. The Chinese did not expect this (since 1950, India only used to take up such protests over border meetings - old Nehru era policy, which it sought to break away from in 1962 disastrously) change of policy. Tried all their tricks bilaterally, trilaterally and internationally. PRC failed in both diplomatic and military fronts to make India budge.

9. China's Israel - Pakistan has been isolated and is being hounded through a series of well-timed interventions, the latest being the FATF. Whenever Pakistan has tried to break free or tried to inflict high cost, India has publicly punished Pakistan with Surgical Strikes being the latest. In this one fact that needs to be noted, that Indian punishment has been almost always following any act by the Chinese in supporting Pakistan.

10. Well planned series of demonstration of both Theatre Defence and improved arsenal and delivery capability in the nuclear sphere have been made to the Chinese with China specific missile capability.

11. Straight challenge to Chinese assertions to South China Sea area with increased participation and patrolling jointly and bilaterally with nations of the region and coordinating with Indo Pacific powers to provide a strong counter point to China power projections and ambitions

12. On the engagement side too, there has been a lot of activity to build better people to people relationship with China, growing exchange of views and common stance wherever possible such as environmental and trade and investment arrangements; strong pitch for mutual investments in each other's economy, bringing up and nurturing a financial network to balance the stranglehold of the west on international financial network through initiatives like BRICS Bank

13. Energy is another area where, besides competition for energy sources, there has also been cooperation in terms of Solar energy

It is in this light, that we can and must evaluate and examine the Dalai Lama celebrations being moved out of Delhi and the governmental "non-endorsement".

The steps mentioned above have had a deep impact on Chinese governmental positions. Coupled with the internal and international dynamics at play inside China and the tough economic choices it faces, there has been a recalibration of Chinese attitude towards India.

Chinese culture and their sense of history does not allow for any overt acceptance of change in policy and acceptance of the reality that India is not a pushover anymore. The concept of "face" will not allow for the same. However, equally important is the innate Chinese penchant for being realistic and practical.

It is this aspect, along with the other factors mentioned above, that I believe, that has forced the Chinese government to reach out to India.

1. China, for the first time, started acknowledging that the Indian economy is on a strong path of growth and it called out that India is emerging as a leading power in Asia. In typical back handed fashion, it "advised" India that it should not believe that it can be a power by throwing its weight around.

2. China has time and again, tried to reiterate that it is not opposed to India's economic growth and development and said it wants to partner with India. It has reiterated its desire to close out difference on border at the earliest.

3. China's has called for CPEC to be even renamed and invited India to its OBOR initiative and officially went on record to state that any misgivings on this with India can be discussed and solved.

4. Despite bravado and crude threats, it backed down on Doklam and agreed to a practical resolution after its failure to elicit support against India

5. Despite its many attempts to support Pakistan against India, especially on designation of Masood Azhar and Hafeez Saeed as terrorists, it has stopped short of antognising India by going too far despite many attempts by Pakistan - latest being its refusal to stall Pakistan entry into grey list at FATF

These are real changes in Chinese stand and posture, despite their strenuous attempts to mask it, the same has been acknowledged by India and the rest of the world.

In this context, China perceives that Tibet will reach an inflexion point sometime in the future and the trigger could be the inevitable demise of Dalai Lama at some point. An increasingly powerful and willing India can create tremendous challenges for China, if China tries to harm India through proxy (Pakistan) or directly.

Contrary to the facade of stability, China too has simmering and strong fault lines that can explode. Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan and the existing disparity of wealth, corruption and tremendous economic improvements that leads to an increasingly aware and demanding population are all there.

Added to this is the generational change in leadership and the new elite power struggles. All this in the context of economic long term issues coming to roost.

This assessment and reality has, I believe, forced China to not only recalibrate its equation with India but also engage discreetly with a powerful Indian government to push through a broad arrangement that allows for the peaceful rise of China as a rival to the US in the world order.

In this recalibration, China may have finally come to the conclusion that it is far better to have a good relationship with India rather than trying to compete or contain India, thereby pushing it away to the US side and making India a rallying point across ASEAN and Indo-Pacific region for other powers who are wary of China's ambitious plans.

In my view, this could mean preparing for a post Dalai Lama settlement for Tibet that is supported and endorsed by India. Now only India can make that happen, as it is one country that has the leverage over Dalai Lama. Dalai Lama too would be anxious to see some sort of an arrangement that allows for him a modicum of self-rule in Tibet in his lifetime.
That can happen very well if there is a Sino-Indian detente. If the benefits of such a detente far outweigh a the so called benefits of containing/breaking India with the help of the likes of Pakistan, then China and India have the civilizational maturity to actually make it happen.

It is this logical extension that gives meaning and a reasonable explanation to the "downgrading" of Dalai Lama anniversary and the governmental sponsorship of the same. The indications are that China and India have engaged themselves to recalibrate their relationship and there is some kind of rapprochement planned with regard to Tibet. I am also venturing to guess that this is being done with the Dalai Lama being kept in the loop as is evidenced by the lack of any official disappointment on the GOI stance from the side of the Tibetan Government in Exile.

As usual a ramble, take it for what it is worth!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jaya Jaya Shankara! Hara Hara Shankara - Pranaams to my Guru Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Shankarycharya!

Pranaam to my Guru! Vande Guru Paramparam!

Memories coming flooding back. As a 11 year old, I remember going and having his darshan when he was camping at Secunderabad (where we stayed at that time) near Skandagiri temple (built by him). It was in a workshop shed that he stayed for more than a month. Almost every alternate day, parents would take us (elder brother and me) and we would watch with interest as he performed Chandramouleswara puja.

Easily approachable, He would always have  a word with us youngsters, he would ask what we had for lunch/tiffin etc and give us sugar candy and drakshai (dry grapes) as prasadam. But when he went for his Snanam and after doing his Japam proceeded on stage to do the Puja it was a transformation. His face would be radiant, eyes flashing as he looked at everyone and then he would remain still as he did the 2 hour plus puja (five times a day). He used to walk everywhere. We were fascinated to see the elephants, horses, camels, cows that accompanied the camp.

Many people would throng the venue! I also distinclty remember the Mahaperiyava, his guru, Chandrashekara Saraswathi join the camp, to see him was to see Eswara himself. There used to be lectures by Swamijis and I also remember that one day Mahaswami made the great poet Kannadasan speak in his presence. I was too young to recollect what he said, but Kannadasan spoke with tears streaming his face.

He then went on to Ramchandrapuram BHEL complex and stayed for a few days there. At the end of it he proceeded further and we had to bid him goodbye. The entire crowd walked with him and did not want to leave him. He stopped, spoke gently to us and reminded us to be truthful and follow Dharma at all costs. "Protect and worship the cows, protect Vedas and Veda Vidwans, Be contended". He asked us not to follow him or feel sad. He said he was a Sanyasi and he had to travel as per his Guru's Agnya. He smiled and walked on. When he reached an elevated spot, he stopped suddenly and turned around and smiled his famous smile and blessed us all. That image is now before me as I type.

Later on many years later, I myself had a 11 year old son, and as is custom in many Tamil Brahmin homes, any function has to be first informed to Acharya Gurudeva and on his benediction only, things must commence. He was visiting Chennai and it so happened he was camping near my house in the next road in Kamakshi Temple.

My wife and I went along with our kids and did Vandanam and informed him of the intention to perform Upanayanam to my son. He asked what was his name and said, "so you have named the young lad with a name similar to mine." He enquired about our ancestry, blessed us and my wife sat in front of  him and sang Soundarya Lahiri. He closed his eyes and sang with her!

I gently submitted to him that I wanted to be given an opportunity to spend an equal amount of money that I intended to spend on my son's Upanayanam for a righteous cause. I sought his directions on what I should do. He closed his eyes for some time and then said, " Do one thing, there is an organisation started by Paramacharya called Veda Pata Nidhi Trust, that provides pension to indigent priests and Veda Vidwaans in their old age and also takes care of Antima Samskara of these people as they cannot afford it. You donate it to them. Their benediction will protect and bless the child with all that is good."

He then asked someone to give me the name of the concerned person and his number. Foolishly, I lost it and for many years that pledge was unfulfilled until 2 years ago. Both Acharyas (Sri Jayendarar and Shankara Vijayandarar) returned to the same place near my house. My son was in his 12th grade. We went and did Vandanam, Sri Jayendarar was withdrawn and was quite weak but he looked at us benignly and blessed.

I gathered courage and approached Sri Vijayanderar and told him of my unfulfilled promise. I told him I did not remember the name of the trust nor the person's name. In a flash, he told me the name and the person and made sure that I got the contact details. I then called Sri Jayaraman of the Trust and that very evening fulfilled the promise to Guru and payed the money to the trust. Since then I keep paying the amount every year.

In my life, I have seen his relentless energy to fulfill every Agnya of his guru, the great Mahaswami. He traveled relentlessly across the length and breadth of India till his very last. Never stayed in the same place beyond 2 days. Earlier it was by padayatra that he went around India. In later years it was by the famous saffron Innova. Even during the last year, when he was visiting Chennai, again near my house, he would do the first puja without fail as per the Agnya of his guru. Sharp at 5:30 AM.

Two days ago he was fully participating in the ongoing Brahmaotsavam of Kanchi Kamakshi. Maybe the Divine Mother wanted to give him a Kailasa Darsanam this time and he transcended his mortal coils to reach Siva-Paravati.

I will miss the physical presence of my Gurudeva, but the continued legacy of Guruparampara lives on with the divine presence of Sri Shanakara Vijayendra Sarawsathi Shankaracharya. Sri Jayendrar has joined his Guru, Chandrashekarenda Saraswathi in the Spiritual Plane and  will continue to shower the impartial grace and compassion (Karunavilasam - the matham is) that is the very badge of the Guru Parampara of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, on us all.

In particular, Sri Jayendarar's stupendous contributions to the cause of Dharma will live on through the multi various institutions and movements that he initiated across the length and breadth of this ancient land called Bharath, much like his first preceptor Adi Shankaracharya once did!

Jaya Jaya Shankara! Hara Hara Shankara!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Connecting the Emerging Dots – A Govt. finally getting its Act together on Terror Networks

Connecting the Emerging Dots – A Govt. finally getting its Act together on Terror Networks

If the message coming from the UAE is indeed true, that Dawood’s financial assets there will be seized, then it is clear that the broad counters of the Doval- Modi Doctrine on Pakistan and the terror machine are well in execution mode now.

My own take is that at a very broad level it has three components which are classic strategic and tactical moves

1. Reduce Operating Space: One thing that the recent past has shown that the GoI has shown clear signs of proactive diplomacy to secure the support of the governments that are currently the operating areas of the Pakistani terror operatives and ISI operating bases against India. Towards this, the Modi-Doval duo have been working assidiously at many levels. Right from setting up a network of information gathering and sharing protocols with regard to specific targets and assets, being alive to the opportuinities that the fast changing Middle Eastern geo-political scene and exploiting that (the role of India in securing the Iran nuke deal, has meant also creating a shared agenda that Iranians will work with India; the opening that was created by the Yemen crisis quickly capitalized in UAE, the extensive links being established across several Central Asian states; the increased working arrangements with ASEAN countries) all are evidence that the GoI is finally working to a plan. It is not fully down but it is clear that there is a tremendous coordination between Home, MEA and PMO on this.

2. Shutting of the Money Supply: The second leg, and by far the most crucial, seems to be a clear and concerted effort to go after money sources and financial hubs of targetted people. The passing of a stringent Black Money bill also has a component of neutralising money supply to the terror network. Given the past experience in actual cooperation (largely negative) on counter terror moves with the West, the Modi-Doval duo seem to have calibrated this aspect of cooperation with the western powers in terms of sharing of financial movements tracking and tracking of assets. The operational aspects of tracking and sharing information on specific high value targets seem to be going at a slower pace. What is evident from of the publlic statements made by the GoI, is that they are now tracking and sharing financial operations far more closely and are getting the inputs and cooperation from the West. I think this had a lot to do with Shri Doval staying back post Modi's US visit and having extensive interactions. If the UAE action is indeed true, it is a clear proof that they are going after the oxygen supply

3. Building and extending covert reach: This aspect, for obvious reasons, will not be in public domain, and will have to be estimated in terms of extending some of the actions that are visible to announcements and assertions and connecting a lot of dots. What is clear however, is that under Modi-Doval doctrine, there seems to be three concentric rings of networks that are being equipped to expand and extend the covert capabilities. 

One is the re-building the internal intelligence network and reducing the operating space for the terrorists inside conflict zones. 

Second network is the building up of technical capability including TechInt and HumInt networks across the operational zones of Pakistani ISI and their terror workers. 

The third is a Geo-Political network of world powers that will act in concert with India on terror directed against India, that is being established by Modi personally. It is clear from his first foreign policy initiative of inviting SAARC heads that he has integrated cooperation in anti-terror operations of India as an integral part of all relationship. In exchange he is providing them the access to Indian market, technology, skills and investments, in a deft combination. 

For the first time, National Security is fully integrated into bilateral and multilateral frameworks including economic ones - case in point making Terrorism as a point of discussion in G20; in BRICS, at Ufa, with Japan, Germany, US. Earlier this level of integration was not visible at least.

This is of course a reading that I have made based on observation of Modi's foreign visits and the clear articulation of goals for each and every relationship. The imprint of strategic National Security thought in the conduct of foreign policy is very evident and the efforts made by a more galvanized and action oriented MEA, Home, Finance and Intelligence agencies are begining to make an impact. These are welcome changes that arrests the policy of drift and stop start, siloed and hesitant approach that marked the era of Manmohan Singh.

The signs that efforts are begining to yield results are yet to emerge, but the signs that these efforts are being executed well by a competent team in Modi-Doval-Sushma Swaraj-VK Singh-Rajnath Singh is clearly visible for those who wish to see.

Just the usual ramble. Take it for what it is worth.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shed Not a Tear!

Bharat Ratna Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam has reached the heavens! God granted his wish of taking him back whilst he was doing his life’s karma – teaching and sharing his wisdom! The exit was a fitting one to this modern Bheeshma amongst men!

Is it possible for any eulogy to capture the life, time and thoughts of a great man who lived his entire life for the sake of the nation? More so, if he was a man of not only great accomplishments in myriad fields but also a man who was responsible for capturing the imagination of millions, are mere words enough to capture the enormity of the legacy he leaves behind?

Yet, as an ordinary Indian, who has never had the opportunity to meet him in person, except from afar, I do feel that the message that his life’s work and achievements have meant for me personally should be shared.

What then was his life’s message? For me there are many dimensions to this question.

His life was a message of the eternal India  - As we look back at the phenomenal journey of this son of a boat man’s rise from the southern shores of Rameshwaram to the Himalayan heights of high office, we can see that the best and noble ideals of this ancient civilization have shaped him. It was as if Mother India ensured that the upbringing of Kalam was influenced by the best and brightest of individuals that captured the diversity of thoughts and systems of this land.

Starting from his parents, his father’s friend the Priest of the Rameshwaram temple, the Primary school teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer who introduced him to Aerodynamics, or Iyyadurai Solomon of Scwartz School, his professors in St Joseph’s College Trichy and Madras Institute of Technology, his mentors Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan, Brahm Prakash and UR Rao – each one of them shaped his thinking and development and each one of them were themselves dedicated Indians, representing the best work ethic and noble values of this land.

It is therefore as if his life is, in essence, a product of the best elements of our heritage and legacy. In that sense, his life is a message of eternal India!

Positive Karma Yoga as a way of life – By the same token, his approach to life has been one of a practicing Karma Yogi who went on undeterred by failure and criticism and unswayed by adulation and high office. It is not as if he that he did not feel the ups and downs of his life. Growing up his ambition was to fly and join the IAF, yet when he met with failure during selection trials, and as a despondent young man, wandered aimlessly to the ashram of Swami Sivananda, it was the Great Master who instilled him in the confidence of a Karma Yogi.

The many other incidents that he faced in his long career at ISRO, DRDL and the many mentors who demonstrated to him by their example qualities of leadership and Nishkamya Karma Yoga, the instinctively philosophical and spiritual Kalam became a consummate Karma Yogi – a fantastic transformation of Karna into an Arjuna – if one were to draw a parallel.

Inspired by his mentors and gurus, as well as by his idols of Gandhiji, Vivekananda and Kalifa Umar, shaped by their thoughts and his deep study of all spiritual philosophies, he had tutored his soul and mind to become a true Stithapragnya of our times

He combined the art of being impelled by noble thoughts, to do practical purposeful action without attachment to the results and resolute faith in the grace of God to help achieve the impossible! If such a life is not a worthy example of a Karma Yogi in action what is?

Life lived as journey on the path to excellence – His long and distinguished career had many achievements to his credit and many failures too. He understood very early in his career that a life well lived must necessarily mean a lifetime dedicated to the pursuit of excellence.

He never allowed negativity and constraints to come in the way of taking on the biggest of challenges. He believed that we are all capable of much more than we think we can. Not for him was the safe and risk free, for he believed that he must throw himself, with all the talent he could muster, at the greatest of tasks with the greatest of risks.

Nor was he, satisfied with success, for he was ever seeking out for the next challenge, the bigger dream and how he could make a positive difference in every field that came his way. He, more than anyone, realized that his persona and image itself could be used in a positive way to inspire and make others dream and take on the challenges that the nation faced.

His personal quest for excellence and his persistent articulation of the need for that quest for excellence, extended till his last breath. This example held out the message that life is a journey on the path to excellence!

Life dedicated to building Leaders – Kalam was a leader who was shaped by leaders amongst men. Therefore it was no surprise that his life to was spent in building Leadership. It takes a leader to recognize the need for creating leaders. One can cite numerous occasions where he has demonstrated leadership and even more so the kind of leaders he has developed have demonstrated it themselves.

He developed a brand of leadership that was not dependent on just individual capabilities and brilliance, or merely on the strength of collective endeavours of talented teams. His was a brand of leadership that was founded on something more than mere traits of character or function of habits.

It was based on the strength of inspiring vision, on values and empowering belief in the Almighty. He was at once able to combine the more practical and visible aspects of leadership, with the more difficult to perceive and tap, yet real, aspects of leadership.

Not only was he able to practice that kind of leadership, he was able to impart that to a whole army of Indians ranging from children to women, from scientists to farmers, from soldiers to saints, from businessmen to politicians, from sportspersons to movie stars.

It is this life message of Leadership that he has bestowed on himself and others that will continue to burn bright in the hearts and minds of a new resurgent India and its young Indians for years to come!

Life as a Unifier – India is a country that has been truly blessed, in that it has from time immemorial borne witness to the advent of great unifiers. Kalam is definitely in that list.

He conducted his affairs based on stressing what unites all of us, not only Indians but also all of us in this world. His worldview was that of building on the harmonious while leaving behind that which are negative and divisive. One cannot forget that inspired speech to the Parliament of the European Union, which represented his soaring aspirations of an indivisible world, anchored in the reality of positive, harmonious and purposeful action.

He travelled, to every corner of India and across the world, and gave his message of harmonious vision with practical suggestions. He spoke to children, he spoke to political leaders, to businessmen, to international leaders. Power point presentations and talks left everyone amazed and touched by the nobility of his vision and the sincerity and passion of his belief in that vision. Presidents, Princes, Children and Commoners were all touched by that vision and his living example. They saw in him and his life the living example of that vision and thus he became a unifier across all barriers. It pushed them towards their own inherent nobility and into purposeful action.

He sought out harmony, practiced it with all his heart and mind, and shared that unifying vision of harmonious living that was rooted in the Indian way of Vasudeiva Kutumbam –A world for all species and nature, living harmoniously

A Rasika of Life – I do not want to use the word Connoisseur for the word Rasika means much more than that. He was a true Rasika of life. The way he found time for his passion for playing the Veena or listening to music, or his passion for getting into the cockpit of Sukhoi or into the Captain’s bridge of a Submarine, he did not waste his time of thinking about these things. He just did them and enjoyed that moment.

If he wanted to walk, he did, anytime of the day, if he wanted a garden or a hut built, he just did it. If he wanted to read or write a book or a poem he just did. He liked his dose of comedy and humour and he ensured that he watched such movies and plays. He enjoyed it and was not at all bothered about what it meant for others.  He loved nature and gadgets and celebrated life itself. That is the true Rasika.

To many an ordinary Indian, he was the distant Acharya who taught us all the many dimensions of a life well lived. As an ordinary Indian, as I read the many articulate eulogies, I am reminded of the immortal Subramanya Bharati’s poem Agni Kunju

Agni kunjondru kandaen – adhai
angoru kaatil Or ponthidai vaithaen;
Vendhu thanindhathu kaadu

thazhal veerathir kunjendru moopendrum undO
thatharikida thatharikida thithom!

Agni’s fledgling spark, I saw once,
That I place in a tree hollow in a forest nearby;
Burnt to a cinder was the forest;
In the furious blaze; Is there
a difference between the spark and the inferno? (translation by me)

So too is the message of the life of APJ Kalam; a spark of Mother India’s Agni. He has placed his life and message in the forest of our minds; may it burn to cinder negativity and ignorance and let there be no difference between the teacher and the taught.

I am sure that in the many villages, cities and towns of this vast nation, there are many more Kalams inheriting the legacy and values as he once did, being molded by great teachers and mentors, as he once was, inspired by heroes as he once was, getting themselves ready to achieve that impossible dream as he once did.

As I grew up, I watched from a distance, at first drawn to him by my interest in Defence related matters, his emergence as a leader of men, as a President and finally as a teacher. I shared with him my inspirational heroes and saw how he himself became an inspiration. I also witnessed first hand his effect on children and how he capitalized on their admiration to plant within them the courage to dream and transform India.

When such a person, whose very life was a message, passes on to eternity, I do not see the reason to shed a tear or feel any sorrow. As he himself had said, “Your birth may be just an incidental event, but let your passing away be a history”. He is one of those rare persons who has entered in some way or form into our very thoughts and indeed our soul. Knowingly or unknowingly we have all learned a lesson or two from him and it will issue out in our thoughts and actions.

May many more Kalams arise with the flame of his life’s message in their hearts and minds.

Shed not a tear, nor lament his absence,
For he lives through his life’s message
And through us in our Billion dreams 
After all, his death is but a passage
For him to reach the heavens

And take his place amongst the immortals!