When Pen Pals Visit

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When you become an early non-believer in religion, you find creative ways to dodge religion. But when your pen pal from a different country comes to India, you give her home food and show her the sights. That’s how you find yourself at some religious shrine explaining 8th standard history. Our Prime Minister found himself in a similar place this week when the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe visited Gujarat for two days.

One of the highlight of Abe’s visit to India was the foundation of a bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Japan is financing the project providing India about 80,000 crore with 0.1% interest over 50 years and the deal sounds good. Of course, the project will be touted by the BJP in the Gujarat elections later this year as well as the 2019 general elections. There is another side to the discourse that few seem to be worried about. While the Japanese metro is infamous for reliability and speed, Sidin reminds us that Japanese ethos is not the only factor that led to the success of the project in Japan. It’s important to remember that questions about land acquisition, route design and future expansion will need to be addressed.

India’s relationship with Japan has also gained importance in the aftermath of the Doklam standoff. Some analysts suggest that India should make its partnership with Japan the cornerstone of its Asia-Pacific strategy. Raja Mohan says that Modi and Abe should not fail on implementation as they have set high expectations amidst the current geopolitical churn. An important part of the relationship is the nuclear aspect. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster and North Korea’s missile tests, it required intense political capital on Japan’s end to conclude a civil nuclear deal. All of this is well and good but Shyam Saran points out that the scope of Indo-Japanese relations has not reached the full potential of a partnership.

While ties with Japan seem to progressing splendidly, all’s not well on the eastern front. With the crackdown in the Rakhine state, more and more Rohingyas are fleeing the country. There are stories of Bangladeshi boatmen who are extorting refugees in return to ferrying them across to Bangladesh- an act that Bangladeshi officials describe as extortion. The United Nations has described the situation as an ‘ethnic cleansing’. The person who has come most under fire is Aung San Suu Kyi who was the face of Myanmar’s suffering through the years of military rule. There is an online petition calling to strip her of the Nobel Peace Prize and people from around the world including Desmond Tutu have criticised her stance of silence. Perhaps, Suu Kyi is just a reflection of the current state of politics without a conscience

India too received much criticism by the UN Human Rights Commission at the UN Human Rights Council last week for violence against minorities and in Kashmir as well its treatment of Rohingya refugees. Many believe that India is failing moral obligations by not responding to the humanitarian crisis in the Rakhine state. As India is set to deport thousands of Rohingya refugees, the state of Arunachal Pradesh is planning on implementing the 2014 Tibetan Refugee Policy which would give them a few privileges accorded to citizens that they currently do not get. However, policies towards refugees have largely depended on relations with neighbours.

Beyond the human rights issue of Rohingya refugees, that there are also political and economic factors like land grabbing by governments for the purpose of development. The Chinese goverment has backed the Myanmar Government in its actions against the Rohingyas. This is an important move because it recalls memories of the Chinese government’s support to the military junta while India chose to isolate Myanmar leading to years of strained relations between the two countries. Perhaps the reason that the Indian government has chosen to be silent is that it directly bears the costs of refugees spilling into eastern border states which could make open arms unpopular domestically.

As we’re speaking of domestic discontent, the economy is a good place to begin. It is unlikely that growth this year will exceed 6.5% and the achilles heel is private investment. The most worrying part however is the lack of outrage over the “technical reasons” that have led to the state of the economy. Pratap Bhanu Mehta says,

The lack of focussed intellectual and political outrage at what is at best a very modest economic performance should be worrying. It is of a piece with the government’s constant success in trapping us in an air of unreality.

Orlando Ruthven suggests ways in which to skill workers to meet industry standards when the job market is bad. As the national skills mission reports abysmal new numbers, maybe we also need to wean people away from the ideal pursuit of white collar jobs which are shrinking currently.

While elections don’t seem to be on national mindset, millennials across the country were actively involved in their respective campus elections this month. If, like me, you’ve never experienced campus politics first hand, this may make you feel like you missed out. In the Delhi University elections, the student’s movement was about politics, economics, morality and education. Jawaharlal Nehru University remains the only bastion of hope for the Left as it swept the elections once again even when larger leftist politics outside its gates has largely failed. The huge margins by which the ABVP lost to the United Left could be attributed to its failure to protect students. No longer are our universities enclaves immune to what’s happening in the real world. As events over the last two years have shown, politics outside the gate have stepped inside centres of learning. Perhaps, it will teach students the bearings of citizen activism once which they can use once the semester is complete. We can only hope.