Author: Dr. Samir Saran

Writer, commentator, analyst and a food junkie

In pursuit of autonomy: AI and national strategies

Samir Saran| Nikhila Natarajan| Madhulika Srikumar

Industry leaders and politicians the world over are scrambling to lead the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) for the power and value it accrues. However, AI promises to implicate more than just politics and economics. It poses fundamental questions on how societies and communities will be organised in the future–capable of radically transforming workforce and work-life as we know it.

While some countries are beginning to explore the competitive advantage across the full spectrum of AI deployment; others are studying the potential benefits that this predictive technology can offer. Even as governments may be unaware of what the full connotation of AI might be, they are determined to drive the debate and deployment around this new suite of technology and life. If governments are unable to foresee changes in the jobs landscape that the technology will bring about — and fail to deliver on its responsibility of providing opportunities for its people, especially the youth — they will have to bear the political backlash.

In the last 24 months alone, more than a dozen countries have devised national strategies on AI; many of these tomes run into several hundred pages. This publication examines 12 of these national strategies: the US, UK, EU, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, India, France, China, Canada, UAE and Japan.

To read the full brief, click here.

Exclusive Interview: For a multipolar Eurasia, Russia must cooperate with India

Original Interview with RT can be found here

India is buying Russia’s S-400 air defence system, and only recently the USA sanctioned China for it. What can India expect now?

Given President Trump’s rather vague response on the question of exemptions for India, it is clear that the foreign policy establishment in Washington is still uncertain on how to proceed.

Having said that, India is both an attractive market for American arms dealers, and is the lynchpin of America’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy. Both weapons manufacturers and the strategic community in Washington will probably weigh in favour of India.

Whatever the near term consequences for India, therefore, Washington will be compelled to accommodate India’s interests in the long term.  

What are the military reasons for India to want to buy the S-400 from Russia at all?

The S-400 is a sophisticated anti-access/area denial missile system—a platform that no other country is likely to provide India, not even Washington. It will act as a crucial force multiplier in India’s border areas.   

In addition to signing the S-400 agreement, economic and energy policy decisions were also taken. What was discussed in detail and what was agreed?

For me, the important takeaway was Russia’s offer to allow India to participate in energy and trade projects in the Arctic. This is an emerging, if often ignored, theatre of geopolitics. There will be a race to exploit the regions commercial opportunity and to define its governance architecture. It remains to be seen what India’s response to this will be. I hope the mandarins in New Delhi see the strategic importance of being a stakeholder in this geography.

What are the geopolitical considerations of the USA be if they were to make an exception in the case of India with waiver? After all, India is one of the most important geopolitical players in the Sino-Pacific region alongside China and Russia.

In the long term, India is an invaluable partner for Washington. Indeed by mid-century, India will emerge as one of the world’s largest economies—a process that will foster a gradual and organic rise in its strategic capabilities.

Two expectations will underpin Washington’s’ choices going forward. First, that investing in India’s defense industry will help Delhi balance China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific. And second, that India will eventually be able to anchor democratic norms and free trade in Asia by its own desires and design.    

Some analysts claim that Russia is gradually beginning to change its position on the Kashmir issue because of growing cooperation with Pakistan. To what extent is this true and is there a realistic chance that India will politically prefer Russia to the US in the future?

Russia is not changing its position on Kashmir—Moscow’s courtship of Pakistan is based on two realities. First, that Pakistan will remain an interlocutor in Afghanistan, and will be important to Russia’s ambitions in Central Asia. Second, geopolitical equations in the region are changing rapidly— and just as India is reaching out to new partners, so is Moscow.  

It is too early to pass judgement on these evolving partnerships. They are often driven by near term interests and global political uncertainty. It is very unlikely, however, that Russia will upset India over a highly sensitive issue like Kashmir.  

India will not politically prefer Russia to the US—rather it must learn to work with both. In the Indo-Pacific, India’s equities lie with Washington, who’s economic and security presence can balance China’s rise. In Eurasia, Moscow will be its most important partner.

Meanwhile, the arch-enemy of India, Pakistan, is separating itself from the USA and is cooperating ever more closely with China, a close partner of Russia in turn. How does growing Russian cooperation with these two states affect the regional dynamics and decision-makings in India?

In the face of American sanctions, Russia’s only real choice is dependence on and partnership with China. While the close partnership between Moscow and Beijing certainly poses a problem for India, Moscow must also introspect on the sustainability of its arrangement.  

Russia should be anxious about being economically and militarily displaced by China in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The fact is that if Moscow seeks a multipolar Eurasia, it will have to bring India into the arrangement or risk acquiescing to China’s design.

India is cooperating closely with the US in Afghanistan to keep the Afghan government alive against the Taliban. What role does India’s position in Afghanistan play in the talks between Putin and Modi?

While both countries agree that peace in Afghanistan is a priority, they differ over political arrangements that need to be made. Further, with the US, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan all in the mix, the situation in the region remains complex.

With Putin, India likely reiterated its long standing position that any initiative in Afghanistan must be led by the government. India might have also pushed forward the agenda agreed upon in Sochi—of pursing joint development projects in Afghanistan with Moscow.  

Last year Russia called on India to join China’s Silk Road Project. India, however, seems to have reservations. This is mainly due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For what geopolitical reasons does India reject a mega-infrastructure with China because of its cooperation with Pakistan?

CPEC is one amongst many objections that India has about the Belt and Road Initiative. The real issue, however, is that the BRI is a project designed, funded and executed only by China. As a key actor in the Asian century, India cannot allow China to dictate the terms of Asia’s governance.  

China must adopt a more multilateral playbook if it wants Indian support for the BRI. India and other Asian powers must have a legitimate voice in creating the rules and institutions of the region and in benefitting from the commercial and trade opportunities.   

The collision of these 3 geographies is creating a new world order

Samir Saran

For the past seven decades, the world has been moulded by a strong, transatlantic relationship with the US and EU underwriting the terms of peace, stability and economic prosperity.

The success of this order has created its own existential challenge. Its rising beneficiaries in Asia and elsewhere increasingly challenge the validity of these arrangements and the efficacy of rules that have managed global affairs. While the historian John Ikenberry described the liberal world order as a “hub and spoke” model of governance, with the West at its centre, it is now clear that the peripheries of the system are developing wheels and engines of their own.

Indeed, the rise of Asia as a whole is recasting the physical and mental map of the world. Proliferating transnational relationships and new flows of finance, trade, technology, information, energy and labour have created three new strategic geographies which are already escaping the shadow of transatlantic arrangements. They essentially represent the collision of erstwhile political constructs – and their management requires new ideas, nimble institutions and fluid partnerships.

The Indo-Pacific

The first collision, which is already well underway, is the union of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Popularly defined as the Indo-Pacific, it is a construct encouraged by the rise of China but defined in equal measure by regional actors responding to Beijing’s proposition. Maritime Asia is now larger than the US, ASEAN and China – earlier organized under the Asia-Pacific construct. Its frontier is not limited to the eastern Indian Ocean. From Nantucket to Nairobi, conversations on security, development and trade in this region will now include actors from three continents.


The second is the conflation of Europe and Asia into one coherent strategic system: Eurasia. This is an old idea, steeped in history, but it has a new vocabulary. The interaction of markets and communities from these once separated geographies is creating a new super-continental-sized interdependence.

Yet this interdependence is not without friction: China’s shadow looms large over Europe and its promise to underwrite the continent’s prosperity has proved too difficult to resist. Moscow, meanwhile, is exhibiting a new zeal to reclaim its place as the archetypical Eurasian player and members of NATO continue to bicker over their future role in the region. As these geopolitical tectonic plates both clash and merge, it is clear that East and West will set new terms of engagement.

The Arctic

And finally, we have the Arctic. Born as an unintended consequence of climate change, this geography will, for the first time, merge the politics of the Atlantic and the Pacific, even as it stimulates a clash between the arrangements that exist in these regions. The Northern Sea Route has been a tantalising theory; global warming is renewing it as reality. The global shipping giant Maersk, for example, completed its first voyage unassisted by ice-breakers this August (even though the company expresses scepticism about the near-term viability of the route). The emergence of this geography, however, will be far from frictionless and may well create a new distribution of wealth and power in the region.

While most Western governments currently share Maersk’s ambivalence, Moscow and China are investing heavily in building commercial infrastructure, naval capacity and military capabilities. As part of its Polar Silk Road ambitions, in fact, Beijing now actively encourages its enterprises to utilize the Northern Sea Route. Additionally, de-facto control over shipping routes in the region currently rests with Moscow, which has arrogated the power to grant shipping permits – a position that American officials have already warned might contravene the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas. In 1956, Britain went to war with Egypt to regain control of the Suez Canal; without appropriate arrangements for Arctic governance, history may well repeat itself a few latitudes north.

The collision of these three geographies will shape the 21st-century world order. Yet this process has no historical parallels. The post-war order and its predecessors were born after a revolutionary and catastrophic churn in global politics – and devastating, large-scale conflicts.

Today, this change is likely to be gradual, interdependent and evolutionary. There will be no single defining moment when a new order will be born. Instead, global politics will operate in 50 shades of grey for the foreseeable future.

As these three geographies discover themselves, then, there are five trends that deserve attention:

1. The the risk of separate cold wars across geographies. Unlike the 20th century, this tension will not be bipolar and each actor’s motivations, means and goals will differ. Whether it is the Himalayan cold war between India and China, the Arctic chill between Moscow, Europe and Washington, or the Mediterranean melee between the EU and China, multiple powers will exercise influence over these geographies and will compete at the intersection of social, commercial and military domains.

2. More “coalitions of convenience” are likely to emerge across these geographies. In an uncertain and fluid world order, issue-based partnerships may well have outsized influence over certain conversations. Russia, for example, is entering the fray in Afghanistan after nearly three decades with help from Iran and China, while India and France are cooperating on maritime security and development. China is partnering with Greenland – amid much anguish in Denmark – to cement its Arctic claims. If global institutions fail to manage emerging geographies, such coalitions will likely multiply.

3. The possibility for new institutional dialogues. Already, the EU is claiming a stake in the Indian Ocean Rim Association and ASEAN states are making overtures to the Arctic Council. These actors and organizations are transcending their 20th-century mental maps in search of new commercial and strategic opportunities. It is not entirely inconceivable that NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), for example, might one day have a conversation on Eurasian security and connectivity.

4. The opening up of the Arctic will test the ability of powers to provide security as a public good in other parts of the world. In other words, with geostrategic conduits like the Suez Canal and the Malacca Straits possibly approaching their expiry dates, the imperative to secure Arctic sea lanes may well leave erstwhile routes bereft of powers willing to protect them. Are parts of the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia, then, destined to become ungoverned spaces – as in the Gulf of Aden – or will regional powers craft an arrangement of their own?

5. Finally, the institutional matrix will also evolve in response to these changes. It is clear that existing international institutions do not fully respond to the needs of developing countries and emerging regional powers. Which institutions, then, will be critical to these geographies? Will the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) usurp the role of the World Bank in Asia or will new multilateral propositions emerge from countries like India, America and Japan? Will the UN be central to conversations on peace and security, or will regional institutions like the SCO (perhaps in a different guise) and the Arctic Council strengthen their own norms and rules?

In the 20th century, multilateral institutions were perceived to be mitigators and managers of conflict. That conventional wisdom may be turned on its head now, given that competing centres of power will, for the first time since the Peace of Westphalia, create their own institutional arrangements for exerting influence. An organization like the SCO, may, therefore, posit itself as the guardian of Eurasian stability, in contrast to an OSCE or NATO, that has hitherto played this role.

How nation states imagine the world is significant; their mental maps dictate diplomatic priorities, economic partnerships and security arrangements. The collision of new geographies is compelling states to reimagine their worldview.

In the 21st century, East and West are meaningless constructs. More important is how actors and institutions resolve the contradictions that will inevitably arise in Indo-Pacific, Eurasia and the Arctic. This is that strange and rare moment when global governance is more than the sum of its parts or individual regional configurations.

This commentary originally appeared in World Economic Forum.

दक्षिण एशिया 2.0 के लिए जंग

Samir Saran| Sushant Sareen

उदारवाद का आकर्षण दक्षिण एशिया में व्यापक रूप से धूमिल पड़ चुका है। राजनीतिक पार्टियां या तो चरम वामपंथ या चरम दक्षिणपंथ की ओर बढ़ चुकी हैं।

दक्षिण एशिया, बदलती परिस्थिति, भारत, महत्वपूर्ण, समीर सरन, सुशांत सरीन, सामंजस्य, एजेंट, प्रभाव, धार्मिक, सांस्कृतिक, सभ्यतागत, राजनीतिक, भौगोलिक इकाई, आर्थिक, राजनीतिक, उदारवाद, वामपंथ, दक्षिणपंथ
फ़ोटो: Ricardo Resende/Unsplash


वर्तमान सदी के आरंभिक दौर में एक संसदीय समिति ने पड़ोसी देशों के साथ भारत के व्यापार की स्थिति के बारे में अपेक्षाकृत निराशाजनक रिपोर्ट जारी की। इस रिपोर्ट पर सरसरी निगाह डालने से ही क्षेत्रीय व्यापार के प्रश्न पर भारतीय नौकरशाही की संकीर्ण सोच और व्यापारिक बुद्धि वाला पुराना नजरिया स्पष्ट हो जाता है। उदाहरण के लिए, श्रीलंका के साथ मुक्त व्यापार समझौते पर हस्ताक्षर होने के लगभग तीन साल बाद भी इस दिशा में मामूली प्रगति ही हुई। कारण? कृषि क्षेत्र से संबंधित भारत की लॉबियों का कड़ा विरोध,जिन्हें डर था कि श्रीलंका से मिलने वाली जबरदस्त प्रतिस्पर्धा के कारण वे कारोबार से बाहर खदेड़ दिए जाएंगे। क्षेत्र में भारत के सबसे बड़े व्यापारिक साझेदार बांग्लादेश के मामले में भी ऐसा ही हुआ । भारत ने हिल्सा मछली और जमदानी साड़ियों जैसी वस्तुओं के लिए बाजार तक व्यापक पहुंच देने की बांग्लादेश की मांग स्वीकार नहीं की। इन देशों के पाकिस्तान के साथ व्यापारिक वार्ता शुरु करने के बाद ही भारत ने इन संबंधों पर गौर करना शुरु किया।

यहां तक कि अब, जबकि भारत ने अपने संबंधों की शर्तों पर नए सिरे विचार-विमर्श करने का प्रयास कर रहा है, तो भी यह स्पष्ट है कि उभरती भूआर्थिक और भू राजनीतिक वास्तविकताएं क्षेत्र की दिशा बदल रही हैं।

पिछले 70 बरसों के दौरान ज्यादातर समय दक्षिण एशिया का विचार भारत पर आधारित था, जिसे सामंजस्य का वाहक (एजेंट) माना जाता था । भारत का प्रभाव महज धार्मिक, सांस्कृतिक और सभ्यतागत ही नहीं था, बल्कि दक्षिण एशिया के राजनीतिक चिंतन और आर्थिक मॉडलों के केंद्र में भी था।

अब यह आज के दौर में सच नहीं रह गया है। यूं तो दक्षिण एशिया आज भी एक भौगोलिक इकाई की तरह मौजूद है, लेकिन इसके आर्थिक और राजनीतिक महत्व का केंद्र लगातार भारत से दूर खिसकता चला गया है। इसके परिणामस्वरूप, दक्षिण एशिया की पुरानी संरचना अगर मिटी नहीं है, तो मिट रही है। इस प्रक्रिया की शुरुआत के लिए क्षेत्र में भारत की प्रभावहीन शासनकला के अलावा, दो प्रमुख परिपाटियां भी उत्तरदायी हैं।

पहली, उदारवाद का आकर्षण दक्षिण एशिया में व्यापक रूप से धूमिल पड़ चुका है। केंद्र के समाप्त या गायब हो जाने के कारण क्षेत्र की ज्यादातर उदार पार्टियां सिकुड़ कर हाशिए पर जा चुकी हैं। राजनीतिक पार्टियां या तो चरम वामपंथ या चरम दक्षिणपंथ की ओर बढ़ चुकी हैं। क्षेत्र में जहां एक ओर लोकतांत्रिक शासन के चिन्ह अब भी दिखाई देते हैं, वहीं देशों में अनुदारवाद के दौर ने उन्हें उदारवादी लोकतंत्र की विशेषता वाले मूलभूत नियमों से दूर कर दिया है — भले ही पाकिस्तान में जेहादवाद और इस्लामवाद हो, बांग्लादेश में एक दल का वर्चस्व हो, मालदीव में ढीला लोकतंत्र हो (हाल के चुनाव के नतीजों के बावजूद),या नेपाल में कट्टर राष्ट्रवाद हो। ये मूलभूत नियम काफी हद तक, क्षेत्र के लिए नेहरुवादी विज़न के अनुरूप हैं — और भारत लम्बे अर्से तक क्षेत्र की लोकतांत्रिक सामर्थ्य का सहारा रहा है। इस विजन को अब सिर्फ भारत में ही नहीं, बल्कि उसके आस-पड़ोस में भी चुनौती मिलने लगी है।

चीन ‘बेल्ट एंड रोड इनिशिएटिव’ के जरिए एशिया की औपनिवेशिक विरासतों — समुदायों को बांटने वाली एकपक्षीय राजनीतिक सीमाओं को — निरंतर मिटा रहा है। चीन की योजना में, दक्षिण एशिया, ढांचागत परियोजनाओं के जटिल नेटवर्क की महज एक गांठ भर है, जो आखिरकार अखिल यूरेशियाई व्यवस्था का सृजन करेगी। चीन इस उपमहाद्वीप में सुरक्षा, विकास और आर्थिक विकास के अकेले निर्णयाक के तौर पर उभरना चाहता है। चीन नहीं चाहता कि क्षेत्रवाद इस उद्देश्य का ध्यान बंटाए — न ही वह भारत जैसी ताकतों को अपना प्रभाव क्षेत्र कायम करने देना चाहता है। चीन के लिए, ऐसे में किसी तरह की विशिष्ट दक्षिण एशियाई पहचान कोई मायने नहीं रखती । इसकी बजाए वह पाकिस्तान और मालदीव जैसे मुट्ठी भर ग्राहक (क्लाइंट) देशों और बांग्लादेश, नेपाल और श्रीलंका जैसे देशों के साथ आर्थिक संरक्षण की व्यवस्था से उसकी महाद्वीपीय महत्वाकांक्षा की सुरक्षा और आर्थिक हितों की पूर्ति हो सकेगी। वास्तविकता तो यह है कि चीन के मानसिक विश्व मानचित्र में स्वतंत्र दक्षिण एशियाई संरचना के लिए कोई स्थान नहीं है।

लगभग सत्तर बरस के बाद दक्षिण एशिया 1.0 बहुलता की ओर बढ़ रहा है, ऐसे में भारत को हर हाल में दक्षिण एशिया 2.0 की दिशा में प्रयास करने चाहिए, जो आखिरकार बीटा वर्जन का स्थान ले सकेगा, जिस पर वर्तमान में चीन का वर्चस्व है।

चीन की शिकायत या नकल करने से कुछ खास मदद नहीं मिलेगी। लेकिन क्या चीन से प्रतिस्पर्धा करने या उसका मुकाबला करने से कुछ हासिल होगा? आर्थिक, तकनीकी और सैन्य क्षेत्रों में चीन और भारत की ताकत के बीच फासला आज और निकट भविष्य के लिहाज से बहुत ज्यादा है।

ऐसे में सामरिक प्रश्न यह उठता है : भारत इस क्षेत्र में अपना वर्चस्व और प्रभाव कैसे दोबारा हासिल कर सकता है?

सबसे पहले, तो भारत को रणनीतिक संयम प्रदर्शित करना होगा। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें, तो भारत को चीन से सबक सीखने और तेंग शियाओपिंग के कथन ”सही समय आने तक अपनी क्षमताओं को छुपा कर रखो” का अनुसरण करने की जरूरत है।

मौजूदा सत्ता समीकरण को देखते हुए, भारत के लिए अपनी अर्थव्यवस्था का आकार दुगना करने यानी अगले दशक तक मौजूदा 2.6 ट्रिलियन डॉलर से बढ़ा कर 5 ट्रिलियन डॉलर करने तक ज्यादा व्यापक भूमिका निभा पाना नामुमकिन होगा। आवश्यक आर्थिक भार उठाए बगैर अपना प्रभाव आजमाने से सिर्फ पड़ोसियों के साथ रिश्तों में जटिलता ही आएगी। ऐसे में भारत के लिए अच्छा यही रहेगा कि वह फिलहाल कदम पीछे हटा ले। इस समय क्षेत्र के लिए नयी योजनाओं की घोषणा करने की बजाए, भारत को अपनी मौजूदा प्रतिबद्धताओं को पूरा करना चाहिए और तब तक इंतजार करना चाहिए, जब तक भारतीय क्षमताओं में मूलभूत वृद्धि स्वाभाविक तौर पर आस-पड़ोस में उसकी भूमिका और प्रभाव में इजाफा न कर दे।

दूसरा, भारत को दूसरे देशों के मामलों में हस्तक्षेप न करने के नेहरू के सिद्धांत का पालन करना चाहिए। ताकत और प्रभाव के बिना दूसरों को उपदेश देने से पड़ोसियों के साथ सिर्फ नफरत और फासले ही बढ़ेंगे।

भारत को जहां एक ओर अधिकारों पर आधारित एजेंडे के लिए अपनी प्रतिबद्धताओं से समझौता नहीं करना चाहिए, वहीं दूसरी ओर उसे इस एजेंडे को व्यापक रूप देते हुए नैतिकता का एंग्लो—सैक्सन संस्करण (या पाखंड) बनाने की लालसा त्याग देनी चाहिए।

तीसरा, भारत को दक्षिण एशिया भर में चीनी निवेश के लिए सहयोग करना चाहिए, उसे बढ़ावा देना चाहिए और उसका माध्यम बनना चाहिए। यह बात समझने में मुश्किल लग सकती है, लेकिन यदि लक्ष्य-क्षेत्र में भारत के प्रभुत्व को बहाल करना है, तो यह बहुत बड़ा सामरिक बोध है। चीन का अधिकांश निवेश बुनियादी ढांचा और विनियामक व्यवस्था भी तैयार करेगा, जो इन अर्थव्यवस्थाओं के साथ भारत के बाजार को भी जोड़ेगा। अगले दशक में, जब भारत की अर्थव्यवस्था को 5 ट्रिलियन डॉलर के निशान को पार करेगी, तो इस तरह के निवेश भारतीय मुद्रा को क्षेत्र में अपना प्रभाव बहाल करने में मदद करेंगे। ऐसा तभी हो सकेगा, जब चीन के धन के कुछ हिस्सा भारतीय माध्यमों के जरिए प्रसारित किया जाए। उदाहरण के लिए — एशियन इंफ्रास्ट्रक्चर इन्वेस्टमेंट बैंक की तर्ज पर साउथ एशियन डेवलपमेंट बैंक (एसएडीबी)की स्थापना की जाए। केवल इसी मामले में, संस्थागत व्यवस्था से भारतीय नेतृत्व को मदद मिलेगी, जबकि चीन उसका सबसे बड़ा साझेदार होगा। आखिरकार इंडियन ओशन डेवलेपमेंट बैंक की स्थापना के जरिए एसएडीबी के विचार का विस्तार किया जा सकता है, जो हिंद महासागर के तटीय देशों की विकास संबंधी जरूरतें पूरी करेगा।

वक्त आ चुका है कि भारत पीछे हटे और पड़ोसी देशों को चीन के बारे में अपने फैसले खुद लेने दें।

अंत में, भारत को अमेरिका और चीन के साथ अपने संबंधों में संतुलन कायम करने की जरूरत है। दक्षिण एशिया के लिए अपनी जंग जीतने के लिए, चीन और अमेरिका दोनों ही विरोधाभासी तरीके से भारत के लिए महत्वपूर्ण साझेदार है। भारत के दीर्घकालिक आर्थिक विकास के लिए भारतीय बाजारों में चीन का निवेश महत्वपूर्ण बना रहेगा, जबकि अमेरिका की सैन्य क्षमताएं चीन के उदय को संतुलित रखने और मैनेज करने में भारत की मदद करेंगी। एक तरफ, भारत को दक्षिण एशिया में अपने प्रतिनिधित्व को सीमित किए बिना अमेरिका को अपना सुरक्षा साझेदार बनाना होगा। अमेरिका अब ज्यादा महत्वपूर्ण ब्रांड नहीं रह गया है, ऐसे में दक्षिण एशिया से संबंधित भारत की व्यापक रणनीति के दायरे में अमेरिका को लाना प्रतिकूल भी साबित हो सकता है। वहीं दूसरी तरफ, भारत को चीन की क्षेत्रीय योजनाओं को चुपचाप स्वीकार किए बिना उसके धन को स्वीकार करना चाहिए। वास्तव में, यदि भारत को चीन से मुकाबला करना है, तो उसे चीन के ही कंधों पर सवार होना पड़ेगा। यह फैसला बेहतरीन मिसाल बन सकता है: भारत को चीन की महत्वाकांक्षाओं का लाभ उसी तरीके से उठाना चाहिए, जिस तरह चीन के उदय को अमेरिका की अर्थव्यवस्था से सहायता मिली थी। आने वाले दशकों में यही संतुलन कायम करना भारत की प्राथमिकता होनी चाहिए।

वास्तविकता तो यह है कि उपनिवेशवादी लालसा के विरोध के प्रति गहन, गंभीर और भावनात्मक प्रतिबद्धता होने के बावजूद, भारत बेपरवाही से मानता आया है कि भूराजनीति के केंद्र बिंदु आने वाले दशकों में भी यथावत रहेंगे।

दुनिया में कहीं भी ये हकीकत नहीं हैं और काहिरा और बगदाद जैसे शहर अपने अतीत की परछाइयां भर हैं। दक्षिण एशिया 2.0 बनने के लिए भारत को इस क्षेत्र को ब्रिटिश राज के साम्राज्यवादी प्रिज्म से देखना बंद करना होगा। क्षेत्र में भारत की व्यापक नीति के मार्गदर्शक पुराने नारे नहीं, बल्कि नई वास्तविकताएं होनी चाहिए। भारत को आजादी के संक्रमण काल में जो संस्थागत कमजोरियां विरासत में मिली हैं, उन्हें सुधारना होगा, ताकि वह आधुनिक अर्थव्यवस्था की जटिलताओं का 5,000 साल पुराने सभ्यतागत लोकाचारों के साथ मिश्रण कर सके। भारत का दृष्टिकोण उदारवादी लोकतंत्र के प्रति संकल्पबद्धता के साथ त्वरित आर्थिक वृद्धि और क्षेत्रीय अखंडता के निरंतर प्रयासों से मार्गदर्शित होना चाहिए। अपनी प्रगति होने पर, भारत को क्षेत्र की प्रगति पर भी ध्यान देना चाहिए।। कहना आसान है, लेकिन करना मुश्किल है, भले ही क्षेत्र के लिए भारत की ओर से व्यक्त की गई कुछ प्रतिबद्धताएं उसके अपने कारोबारों के लिए कुछ अवधि के लिए देर के लिए मुश्किलों भरी हो सकती हैं। वे उपाय करने के लिए उदार हृदय, साहसपूर्ण दृढ़ता और दूरदर्शितापूर्ण प्रबंधन की जरूरत है, जो केवल नकली पक्षपातरहित राजनीतिक सर्वसम्मति की उपज हो सकती है।

ये लेखक के निजी विचार हैं।

India-Pakistan relationship is held hostage by many structural impediments

Samir Saran

It will take a very prolonged series of successful trust building before more sensitive issues like Kashmir are even discussed with any credibility.

India-Pakistan, Samir Saran, Narendra Modi, backburner, India, Pakistan, New Delhi, credibility, Kashmir, identity, UNGA, Wagah

Beating retreat ceremony in the India-Pakistan border at Wagah. Photo: Press Trust of India

India and Pakistan made some significant overtures since the formation of new government in Islamabad, which rekindled hopes of peaceniks in both the countries. But the parleys proved short-lived. The battle lines are drawn again as accusations and counter-accusations fly thick and fast. This week, the foreign ministers of the two countries took their war of words to the UN General Assembly.

The following is an interview of Samir Saran with the Tehran Times.

The formation of a new government in Islamabad had rekindled hopes of peace and reconciliation between India and Pakistan, after the two sides made a series of overtures and looked interested in opening a new chapter in their bilateral ties. But, now it has again been put on the backburner. What makes this relationship so fragile?

The relationship remains fragile for structural reasons. Issues of identity and a shared sense of historical animosity have hardcoded themselves into both countries’ politics. And in today’s polarised media environment, opinions on these issues are sharper and more amplified than ever before. These factors make any true reconciliation very difficult.

Imran Khan in his victory speech said he will take two steps if India took one. And Narendra Modi had called to congratulate him on his thumping victory in Pakistan general elections. Do you think the two leaders were really sincere in improving bilateral ties?

No, it is unlikely that they were. This welcoming rhetoric is often visible when new administrations take office, but rarely lasts very long for the reasons outlined in my first response.

Everything seemed to be going as per the script until India called off foreign minister level talks on the side lines of UNGA, citing killing of policemen in Kashmir and release of stamps in Pakistan commemorating a Kashmiri militant commander. Do you think there are shadowy forces working overtime to sabotage peace process?

The Pakistani Army remains a key interlocutor in Pakistan-India relations. Their overwhelming control over most aspects of Pakistan’s political and social life is built on a hardline Islamic identity and hostility towards India. Prospects of peace with India always threaten these realities — and the Army has often attempted to sabotage any attempts at constructive outreach.

Some experts opine that PM Modi decided to call off talks since he doesn’t wish to antagonise his loyal Hindu vote bank in India ahead of next year’s general election. What is your take on it?

Talks with Pakistan are always politically sensitive in India — irrespective of which party is in power. Having said that, no administration has ever hesitated to take this risk if real and constructive outcomes were on the horizon. At this time, it is evident that there was no such possibility — and any administration in India would have rather called off talks.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaking at the UN accused India of “financing, facilitating and orchestrating terrorism in Pakistan,” citing the case of Kulbushan Yadav, who he called “Indian state-sponsored terrorist.” How would you react to that?

This is not new rhetoric in Pakistan, nor will it be the last time it is used. It is merely a very weak attempt to delegitimise India’s credible complaints over the extent to which terrorism has been mainstreamed in Pakistan.

The crossborder shelling and ceasefire violations continue unabated. In recent years, the violations of the ceasefire accord the two countries signed in 2003 have assumed alarming proportions. What according to you is the most important trigger for it?

Unlike 2003, the global order today is far more strained and uncertain. With Pakistan now being bankrolled by the Chinese and India preparing to take on a global leadership role, both countries are likely more confident in their strategic capability to gain the upper hand against the other.

The civil society and think tanks in both the countries, including yours, are very strong and they have been relentlessly campaigning for peace and dialogue between the two countries. Do you think the strong political will is missing to resolve outstanding issues including Kashmir?

Political will is certainly important. As I have said earlier, however, the India-Pakistan relationship is held hostage by many structural impediments. It will take a very prolonged series of successful trust building before more sensitive issues like Kashmir are even discussed with any credibility.

Russian President Vladmir Putin visited India this week for 19th India-Russia summit. How do you view prospects of India-Russia defense cooperation taking into account US sanctions?

Russia is, and will remain in the foreseeable future, India’s primary defense partner. And American sanctions are unlikely to change India’s choices. In fact, India is likely to make a strong case for exceptions from Washington’s sanctions even as it continues security cooperation with Moscow.

India is yet to take the final decision on oil trade with Iran, although reports suggest that New Delhi will seek waivers from US to continue importing oil from Tehran. Why is there so much suspense and delay?

India will continue to expand its energy and development cooperation with Tehran. Unfortunately, however, Indian firms and businesses are quite dependent on the American financial system. Therefore, while the political rhetoric makes clear that India will pursue its independent strategic interests, commercial realities are often difficult to overcome.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

The Future of Work in India: Inclusion, Growth and Transformation

Samir Saran| Terri Chapman|Rakesh Kumar Sinha|Suchi Kedia|Sriram Gutta

The future of work in India is uncertain, but full of opportunities. This report attempts to answer key questions around the present and future of transformative technology in India and its impact on job creation, workplaces, employment trends and relations, and the nature of work itself.

Our research reveals that companies in India are optimistic about the future and are open to the possibilities presented by new technologies and digitisation. This optimism is likely to stimulate innovation and adoption of new technology and drive transformation, growth and progress. This report sets out a roadmap for an inclusive future of work in India that capitalises on the opportunities presented by technological disruption and digitisation. By using the opportunities at hand, India can:

  • Generate sufficient new employment opportunities for the existing and growing labour force.
  • Create decent jobs with better wages, security, protections and safety, necessary for improving individual and household welfare and well-being.
  • Ensure equal opportunities for women, youth and other marginalised communities previously unable to participate equally in the paid economy.
  • Establish an ecosystem better equipped to prepare the workforce for changing skill and educational requirements.
  • Create of an inclusive policy environment which balances the need for job creation with the interests of workers.

This report outlines findings from the Future of Work, Education and Skills Enterprise Survey. Data was collected from 774 companies in India, from micro-sized firms to those employing more than 25,000 workers. It presents findings on the pace of technological adoption and digitisation among Indian companies, and its impact on job creation, displacement and nature of work. In addition to the effects of the changing nature of jobs on wages, contracts, protections and security. Finally, the report includes recommendations on policies, programmes and action needed for India to leverage the possibilities of technological disruption, manage the associated risks, and enhance its preparedness for the future of work in the digital age.

To read the full issue, click here.

In a pluralist Asia-centric world order, Russia has a crucial role to play

Samir Saran

As Russia repositions itself as an Asian power, it has a unique role to play in the region.

Russia, Vladimir Putin, Russia, China, Asia-centric world, world, Samir Saran
File Photo

The following is a recent interview of Samir Saran with Valdai Club. Saran shares his view of the emerging Asia-centric world order and Russia’s place in it.

“Russia always identified itself as a European power, and Eurasia was a compromise,” he said on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok earlier in September. “It is now starting to see itself as a key actor, interlocutor and power in the Asian century.”

“Russia is a continental and maritime power simultaneously,” said Saran. “Which is why there can be no Asian order without Russia being a central part of the bargain,” he added. “There can be no Eurasian integration, and no Pacific or Arctic arrangement without Russia having an important stake in framing the rules.”

According to Saran, Russia must closely consider whether it is prepared to play this role. “Sometimes I think that Russia does not fully realize its own potential: it often sees itself as a disruptor; but not as a manager — a benefactor that must sustain and stabilize the system,” he pointed out.

“For that to happen, Russia’s economy has to grow in the coming decade to about four trillion dollars. Otherwise, Russia will be tempted to play the role of a political interrupter rather than that of a political guarantor — a responsibility it must bear if it is be a consequential actor in the 21st century. To guarantee the Asian order, Russia will have to grow its ambitions, its economy and its institutions.”

That said, the two crucial powers defining the future Asian order are China and India. The question is whether they will try to create something new or adopt existing institutions and practices. According to Saran, the answer is both. “India and China have grown exponentially in less than three decades. India still has a journey to complete — maybe another 15 years before it becomes a 10 trillion dollars economy. Still, neither are fully capable of upending the rules of international institutions altogether. They will have to, in many ways, rely on the old ones, and maybe change and reform them.”

This means that the old institutions will work in new ways. “If one looks at some of the Western institutions like the OECD, the UN, and the World Bank — many of them are operating in consonance with China’s infrastructure projects and international agenda,” Saran said. “In that sense, China’s rise has changed the very character of international institutions.”

According to Saran, the same will happen with India within the next 15 years: “Size matters, and both India and China have reached their critical point. It is impossible for the world to be stable and prosperous without these two actors having an important role in the order of things.”

However, it would be wrong to suggest that the Asian order will be dominated by a few powers. It should be more plural than the current one, Saran believes. According to him, it will take seven or eight countries for the Asian order to finally emerge. Apart from China, India, and Russia, these would include Japan, some of the ASEAN states, and possibly Iran and Saudi Arabia.

On the institutional level, “any organisation that allows the countries to talk and synthesize diverse political systems, economic models, and ideas on peace and security will work,” Saran said. But since Asians are “highly sovereign,” any such arrangement has to be democratic and plural; it must be based on the “one country-one vote” principle.

Asked if the Shanghai Cooperation Organization could serve as a prototype for such an institution, Saran said that in its current version it is a “good beginning.”

“I think that institutions like the SCO are important, but this does not mean than the SCO is the best option. If is starts serving only Shanghai, then it will lose its meaning. But if it becomes a ‘round table,’ where seven or eight large countries could sit down and discuss key questions, then it is becomes useful and meaningful,” he pointed out.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

Digital Debates — CyFy Journal 2018

Samir Saran| Lina Sonne

The last few years have exposed faultlines in what was once considered an integrated and seamless digital realm. These cracks have origins beyond the usual suspects. The “walls” dividing cyberspace have sprung up from within liberal democracies, throwing in question their commitment to — as the cliché goes — a “free and open” internet. The United States withdrew in 2017 from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and in the absence of its most powerful votary, the TPP’s promises on interoperability and uninterrupted flows of digital information ring hollow. The European Union has enacted one of the most far-reaching regulatory impositions on the flow of data to and from the continent in the form of the General Data Protection Regulations and the murmurings around control of the flow of technology have gained traction in the past weeks.

The GDPR, some have argued, will have the consequence of “exporting” strong privacy laws to emerging economies, which are yet to craft data protection legislations. A more likely outcome is that these economies will wean themselves away from, or script exceptional standards to manage digital commerce with the EU. Of course, opposition to the further integration of digital networks has also emerged from cybersecurity regulations in China and Russia. India’s own experiment with the data protection bill is promising to upend some old assumptions around doing business with the largest digital democracy.

This year’s Digital Debates picks up the pervasive distrust with Big Tech and the reactive regimes that have sprung up. It also discusses the often-negative spillover effects of digital communities on the real at an unprecedented velocity, emphasising the need to extend solutions beyond the virtual. Stephanie MacLellan explores this confluence of offline and digital tools to mitigate the effect of disinformation on social order across national boundaries.

Rajeev Mantri’s “Reassessing Received Wisdom”, as promised, calls for thinking through ownership, portability and control of data more carefully – not against the background of extant theories of regulation. Specifically, he recommends reimagining competition law for the digital economy. Fittingly, KS Park, author of “Data Socialism”, moves the needle and warns against over-regulating the data market or granting ownership of data to subjects if the effect is to the detriment of realising societal benefits from data sharing.

India’s recent data protection framework is the country’s first attempt to balance some of these competing priorities – protecting a nascent but fast-growing digital economy and the rights of a billion users. Laura Sallstrom et al. argue that the Indian iteration is “GDPR-lite” – mimicking their EU counterpart but not sucessfully. Data localisation, according to the authors, was considered and discarded by Europe since it poses economic risks. An approach they advocate India must follow—being an economic beneficiary to the incidence of cross-border data flows.

Instead of localisation, India can consider an alternative mechanism such as a data sharing agreement under the rubric of the US Cloud Act in accessing electronic information held in the US – Justin Hemmings et al. have elaborated on this workaround in “Foundations of a Potential Executive Agreement between India and the US”. Finally, Sidhant Kumar writes on the day-old judgement delivered by the Indian Supreme Court holding the world’s largest unique digital identity project to be constitutional. Conscious of performing a balancing act, the Supreme Court, according to the author, favoured dogged pragmatism and not ideological dogma. All of this indicates that property rights, sovereignty and virtual territoriality continue to vex the global stakehokders and are de jeure creating a splinternet.

The world is witnessing, therefore, comprehensive attempts by states to govern data, the infrastructure that it is hosted on, the platforms that harvest it, and even the people who use it. The recent sight of Silicon Valley CEOs making a beeline to testify and placate US Senate Committees underlines the reality that governments, whether good or bad, autocratic or democratic, are fundamentally skeptical about the social, political and economic consequences of new technologies, and will always seek to manage them.

Given this climate, it should not surprise anyone that the Indian state too has pushed – not without opposition or controversy – for data localisation. The main trigger for this proposal has been the ceaseless troubles of Indian law enforcement agencies in securing data from abroad for criminal investigation or prosecution. But the idea has easily found takers from within India’s digital companies, which are keen to insulate themselves from foreign competition and create institutional architecture that can help leverage their data analytics capabilities with locally available data. Here too, the Indian state (and established players in the private sector) are pushing for certain favourable political and economic outcomes by altering the basic DNA of the internet. Time will tell whether those outcomes materialise, but the regulatory impulse is here to stay.

If regulatory decrees are to be implemented, home-grown legal and technical standards that can function as reliable and predictable metrics for businesses and digital platforms are necessary. Amber Sinha et al. drive this point home in “Reading ‘Necessity’ in India’s New Data Protection Bill”. The principle of necessity, for instance, is critical to determine if the information sought by the data fiduciary or collector is necessary for the purpose it seeks to achieve. The authors argue that while the term “necessity” is copiously used in the draft law and would be critical to its enforcement, the same principle is not well-defined in Indian jurisprudence. Anushka Kaushik reasons that technical yardsticks, specifically encryption, in the face of competing objectives of stakeholders must be the product of mutual trust and responsibility.

Securing cyberspace or safeguarding rights online is not the only prerogative of the regulator or the state in the digital economy. Governments hold the mandate of ensuring that those at the bottom of the pyramid can exercise their agency online, perhaps in ways more impactful than in the real world. As low-cost smartphones and data bring about an entire generation of first-time internet users, policymakers must strive to grant access and security in addition to rights. Lina Sonne evaluates this trend through the increasing democratisation of content production, distribution and viewership online – mobile phones have doubled up as TV screens providing entertainment on the move, bringing “primetime” to an end. Even as local language content online increases in volume, Ashwin Rangan notes that the internet is still predominantly “English”. In his contribution titled, “Breaking the Linguistic Barriers to Accessing the Internet”, he identifies the challenges to achieving a truly global internet.

Motivated by increasing inclusion, governments’ digitisation drives are determined to push digital payments. Sidharth Deb proposes that any such policy approach to increase adoption must be combined with promoting ecosystem integrity and building trust with end-users.

Just as we witness the internet being “weaponised” to serve different ends, we must be humble about the transformative potential of technology. The same tool of freedom can quickly turn into a tool of oppression, manifesting socio-economic inequalities found offline. Vidisha Mishra argues that while the flexibility of the gig economy may bring more women into the workforce, these platforms may not be empowering. Withoutaddressing structural inequalities, such as the wage gap, women stand to be disproportionately affected even after transitions in the labour market. Mihir Sharma in his contribution, “A 21-Century Social Contract”, believes that a new form of social protection must be designed to adequately address these labour transitions. He points out that the increasing individualisation of labour must be met with a 21st-century economy that can work for everybody. Amina Khairy further argues that education and skilling in STEM must increase offline to truly reap the benefits that the internet offers.

Crystal-gazing is seldom an advisable pursuit, especially to discern trends in technology policy, but two issues on the horizon bear mention. Efforts to craft technology restriction regimes have recently (re)gained momentum, although export controls are unlikely to have any meaningful effect in keeping “bad” technologies from “bad” actors. In most of the developing world, export controls are perceived as technology “denial” regimes, and only facilitate the creation of networks and communities that have a vested interest in suppressing democratic aspirations or destabilise digital and physical infrastructure. Creative and agile arrangements are required to tackle the problem of proliferation of malicious ICT tools: such an arrangement has to involve the concerns of the private sector, both from developing and advanced economies. While responses that will work are hard to fathom, it may be safe to suggest that they would be technological in essence and unlikely to work if they are premised on treaties or legislation.

And finally, developments in “intelligent” platforms and services throw up — with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld — two “known unknowns” and two “unknown unknowns”. The first “known unknown” is the effect of AI on bias. Pundits and technocrats both acknowledge that intelligent algorithms could perpetuate bias along the lines of race, gender and class. But we do not know what causal pathways of bias will look like and whether AI will simply mirror or exacerbate existing problems.

The second “known unknown” is the geopolitical consequences of differential access to AI. It is one thing to say some states will have lethal autonomous weapons and others won’t, but access to AI translates to more than just military superiority. It is also crucial to governance platforms and services. The North-South divide in technology is already grave, but will the effect of sentient machines, with their ability to disrupt supply chains, labour markets and livelihoods compound it?

The first “unknown unknown” is whether the current conversation on “ethics” in AI will eclipse a rights-based approach to developing intelligent machines. Just as the international community appears to be close to a consensus on the promotion of human rights online, the ethical “front-loading” of AI governance could well derail that conversation. Do we share universal ethics? If not, whose “ethic” does the machine represent? The developer, business or region in which it is developed?

The second “unknown unknown” is the interweaving of identity between human and machine. Reports have recently surfaced of men trying to pursue sexually laden conversations with smart assistants and even of brutalised treatment of synthetic lifelike toys. If we engage machines in any activity that involves “human” emotion, what does that make machines? More importantly, what does our engagement with them tell us about ourselves? The digital debates of today focus on how humans should govern machines — their data, infrastructure and stability. Those of tomorrow may well focus on the new identity discourse framed around our conversations with a new intelligent being albeit shaped in our image.

Digital Debates, the journal that chronicles contemporary thinking and dialogues and along with “CyFy: The India Conference on Technology, Security and Society” will continue to seek new voices, ideas, solutions and concerns.

To read the full issue, click here

The Future of Work in India: Inclusion, Growth and Transformation

Samir Saran| Terri Chapman| Rakesh Kumar Sinha|Suchi Kedia|Sriram Gupta

The future of work in India is uncertain, but full of opportunities. This report attempts to answer key questions around the present and future of transformative technology in India and its impact on job creation, workplaces, employment trends and relations, and the nature of work itself.

Our research reveals that companies in India are optimistic about the future and are open to the possibilities presented by new technologies and digitisation. This optimism is likely to stimulate innovation and adoption of new technology and drive transformation, growth and progress. This report sets out a roadmap for an inclusive future of work in India that capitalises on the opportunities presented by technological disruption and digitisation. By using the opportunities at hand, India can:

  • Generate sufficient new employment opportunities for the existing and growing labour force.
  • Create decent jobs with better wages, security, protections and safety, necessary for improving individual and household welfare and well-being.
  • Ensure equal opportunities for women, youth and other marginalised communities previously unable to participate equally in the paid economy.
  • Establish an ecosystem better equipped to prepare the workforce for changing skill and educational requirements.
  • Create of an inclusive policy environment which balances the need for job creation with the interests of workers.

This report outlines findings from the Future of Work, Education and Skills Enterprise Survey. Data was collected from 774 companies in India, from micro-sized firms to those employing more than 25,000 workers. It presents findings on the pace of technological adoption and digitisation among Indian companies, and its impact on job creation, displacement and nature of work. In addition to the effects of the changing nature of jobs on wages, contracts, protections and security. Finally, the report includes recommendations on policies, programmes and action needed for India to leverage the possibilities of technological disruption, manage the associated risks, and enhance its preparedness for the future of work in the digital age.

To read the full issue, click here.

Suchi Kedia is Community Specialist, Regional Agenda — India and South Asia, World Economic Forum.

Sriram Gutta is Community Lead, Regional Agenda — India and South Asia, World Economic Forum, Geneva.

Battle for South Asia 2.0

Samir Saran|Sushant Sareen

Around the turn of the century, an Indian Parliamentary committee released a rather pessimistic report on the state of India’s trade with its neighbours. Even a brief glance through the report would reveal the small minded and antiquated mercantilist approach of Indian officialdom when it comes to regional trade. For instance, almost three years after signing a free trade agreement with Sri Lanka, very little progress was visible. The reason? Stiff resistance from agricultural lobbies in India who feared that competition from Sri Lanka would drive them out of business. In the case of Bangladesh, India’s largest trading partner in the region, the story was the same. India would not concede to Bangladesh’s demands for greater market access for goods like Hilsa fish and Jamdani sarees. It was only when these countries began to talk trade with Pakistan did India pay some attention to these relationships.

Sitting in New Delhi nearly two decades later, it is hard to argue that this report has produced any new wisdom in India. The fact remains that India has failed to serve as an engine of economic prosperity for the entire subcontinent. South Asia remains one of the least integrated subregions in the world. Without benefiting from India’s markets or investments, its neighbours see India as an unattractive and increasingly unwelcome partner. And unlike two decades ago, a more ambitious power is willing to fill the void left by India: Beijing. Unsurprisingly then, India has been pushed to second place by the Chinese who are now the largest trading partners and investors in most of the region.

Even as India now attempts to renegotiate the terms of its engagement, it is clear that emerging geoeconomic and geopolitical realities are altering the course of the region.

For most of the last 70 years, the very idea of South Asia was premised on India as the agent of coherence. Its influence was not just religious, cultural and civilizational, but was also central to the political thought and economic models of South Asia.

This is no longer true today. While South Asia continues to exist as a geographical entity, its economic and political centre of gravity has inexorably shifted away from New Delhi. As a result, the old construct of South Asia is dying, if it is not dead already. And apart from India’s ineffectual statecraft in the region, two key trends have engendered this process.

First, the appeal of liberalism has considerably diminished in South Asia. Most liberal parties in the region have been reduced to the fringe because of the death or disappearance of the centre. Political parties have either moved to the extreme left or the extreme right. While the trappings of democratic governance are visible in the region, the march of illiberalism has seen most countries move away from the Grundnorm predicated on liberal democracy—whether it is jihadism and Islamism in Pakistan, single party domination in Bangladesh, an enervated democracy in Maldives (notwithstanding the results of its recent elections), or ultranationalism in Nepal. To a great extent, this Grundnorm conformed to a Nehruvian vision for the region — and India has long anchored the region’s democratic potential. That vision is now not just being challenged in India but also in its neighbourhood.

Second, China’s ambitions are eroding the very identity of South Asia. Through the Belt and Road Initiative, China is steadily erasing Asia’s colonial legacies — the arbitrary political boundaries that separate its communities. In China’s design, South Asia is but one node in a complex network of infrastructure projects which will ultimately create a Pan Eurasian system. The Middle Kingdom intends to emerge as the sole arbiter of security, development and economic growth in this supercontinent. China cannot afford to let regionalism distract from this objective — nor can it allow powers like India to carve out their own spheres of influence. For China, then, a distinct South Asian identity is purposeless. Instead, a handful of client states like Pakistan and Maldives, and a system of economic patronage with countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka serve the security and economic interests of its continental ambition. The fact is that there is no space for an independent South Asian construct in China’s mental map of the world.

Since South Asia 1.0 is heading for redundancy after 70 odd years, India must work towards a South Asia 2.0 which ultimately replaces the beta version currently dominated by China.

Complaining or cribbing about China is not going to be of much help. But will competing or confronting China serve any purpose? The power differential between India and China in the economic, technological and military spheres is just too great today and for the near term.

The strategic question, then, is: How should India regain its prominence and influence in the region?

First and foremost, India needs to display strategic patience. In other words, India needs to learn from the Chinese playbook and follow Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of ‘bide your time, hide your capabilities’.

Given existing power equations, it will be impossible for India to play a sufficiently expansive role until it doubles the size of its economy from the current $2.6 trillion to over $5 trillion over the next decade. Trying to exercise influence without the necessary economic heft will only complicate relations with neighbours. It would therefore be a better idea for India to step back for now. Instead of announcing new plans for the region at this point in time, India should meet existing commitments and bide its time until the organic rise of Indian capabilities naturally enhances its role and influence in the neighbourhood.

Second, India must follow the Nehruvian dictum of non intervention in the affairs of other countries. Preaching without power and influence only invites disdain and increases the distance between neighbours.

While India must not compromise on its commitment to a rights based agenda, it must abjure the temptation to make this agenda an extension of the Anglo Saxon version of morality (or if you will, hypocrisy).

Third, India should collaborate, catalyse and become the conduit for Chinese investments across South Asia. While this may appear counterintuitive if the aim is to restore India’s preeminence in the region, it makes great strategic sense. Most of China’s investments will also create infrastructure and regulatory ecosystems that will ease integration of these economies with India’s own market. Over the next decade, when India’s economy exceeds the $5 trillion mark, these very investments will allow Indian money to reclaim influence in the region. This will work if a portion of Chinese money is also routed through Indian instruments — for example, by setting up a South Asian Development Bank (SADB) along the lines of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Only in this case, the institutional arrangement will support India’s leadership role while China will be the largest partner. The SADB idea can eventually be expanded by setting up an Indian Ocean Development Bank, which will address the development requirements of the Indian Ocean littorals.

It is time for India to step aside and let the neighbours reach their own conclusions on China.

Finally, India will need to balance its relations with the US and China. Paradoxically, both the US and China are critical partners for India to win the battle for South Asia. China’s investments in India’s markets will remain critical to Delhi’s long term economic growth; while the United States’ military capability will help India balance and manage China’s rise. On the one hand, New Delhi will have to embrace Washington as a security partner without limiting its own agency in South Asia. The US is not a very sellable brand today, and bringing the US into India’s grand strategy for South Asia may be counterproductive. On the other hand, India must accept Chinese money without acquiescing to its regional design. Indeed, India will have to ride on China’s shoulders if it is to compete with Beijing. This decision would have the best possible precedent: India must leverage Chinese ambition in much the same manner that China’s rise was supported by America’s economy. Finding this balance must be India’s priority in the coming decade.

The reality is that, despite its profound, sincere and emotional commitment to the anti-colonial impulse, New Delhi lazily assumed the focal points of geopolitics will remain the same for decades to come.

Nowhere in the world is this true and cities like Cairo and Baghdad are mere shadows of their former selves. Incubating South Asia 2.0 will require India to stop looking at the region from the imperial prism of the British Raj. New realities and not old shibboleths must guide India’s grand policy in the region. The institutional weaknesses that India inherited at the cusp of independence will need to be fixed for India to be able to blend the sophistication of its modern economy with a 5000 year old civilisational ethos. Rapid economic growth combined with a commitment to liberal democracy within and sustained efforts at regional integration must guide India’s approach. As it grows, India must take the region with her. This is easier said than done, given that some economic commitments to the region may be painful in the short run to India’s own businesses. Those measures require a large heart, bold conviction and far-sighted stewardship, which can only be the product of a forged non-partisan, political consensus.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).