The Asian Voice

Modi faces challenges on international and domestic fronts: The Statesman columnist

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second from left) and army officials arriving in Ladakh, India, on July 3, 2020.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second from left) and army officials arriving in Ladakh, India, on July 3, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In the article, the author says that while Mr Modi faces the Covid-19 trial, the big challenge is dealing with India's neighbours.

NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Modi government is facing multiple challenges on the international as well as domestic fronts including the border tensions, Covid crisis and the economy.

There is the unprecedented Covid challenge, there is the face-off with China in the Ladakh area, neighbouring Pakistan is creating trouble on the border and even a small country like Nepal is flexing muscles with a cartographic war.

Some security experts say that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is equally serious.

India's security forces have claimed they have killed 127 "terrorists" in the first six months of the year, about 30 per cent more than a year ago.

The Prime Minister was able to implement most of his party's core agenda in the first six months of his second term, but the unexpected outbreak of Covid since January has taken him by surprise.

Mr Modi faces the big challenge of dealing with the neighbours. China is fighting for Arunachal Pradesh and now Galwan while Pakistan wants to grab all of Kashmir, and Nepal is claiming Kalapani as its territory.

Indian army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said in May, "As far as twofront war is concerned it is possible," which has stressed the seriousness of the current face-off with China.

China, Pakistan and India are nuclear powers. In response to China's increased deployment of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the Indian Army has also now deployed about four divisions in East Ladakh following the violent clash on June 15 in the Galwan valley, which is an unofficial international border between the two countries.

India has fought four wars cumulatively with China and Pakistan since Independence but it has never had to defend both borders at the same time.

India has expressed concern that Pakistan might show its support to Beijing after Islamabad moved 20,000 soldiers to the line of control (LoC).

The move matches a similar deployment authorised by Beijing along the line of actual control (LAC) in the Ladakh region in June. Incidentally, China is not only assertive with India. Beijing is currently engaged in tensions with six countries - Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia.

 
 
 

Even with Japan right now, there is tension after Beijing's ships entered Japanese waters.

Then there is Hong Kong, and its ongoing pro-democracy movement. China is now an economic superpower that has modernised its military and is far ahead in biological warfare, space and artificial intelligence as compared to India.

But India too is not the India of 1962, when soldiers were ill equipped to fight the Chinese.

Over the years New Delhi has been spending money on acquiring new weaponry and has also become a nuclear nation. No doubt Mr Modi sent a strong message during his surprise visit last week to the Galwan valley to boost the morale of the army.

He said India will not take aggression lying down but military option should be the last.

Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Pangong Tso seem to be three main areas that are still tense. While talking tough, Mr Modi is also negotiating at the diplomatic levels. On the military side, so far talks have not yielded expected results but they will continue.

As far as diplomacy goes, engagement is at various levels including those by the Foreign Minister and the National Security Adviser. A good thing is both sides want to keep the dialogue going.

For decades there has been a political consensus on pursuing a policy of engagement with Beijing but without letting down out our guard.

Mr Modi is also pursuing this with high-level engagements and dialogue. Simultaneously, he has also had briefed the US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and others while trying to mobilize their support.

 
 
 

On the border issue, he can either engage China and Pakistan or continue the diplomatic dialogue, which was what Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee did.

Here he might use the personal rapport he had established with Chinese president Xi JInping during his 18 meetings in the past six years. There is also need to follow a pro-active strategy that includes strengthening future modernistic strategies like the cyber space. The economic challenge no less intimidating.

It will take some time to come back on the rails although the government has pumped in a lot of money to boost the economy and help create jobs.

With the global economy also on the slide, it might take even a year or two for our economy to recover. The most important fall out of the pandemic is the need for vastly improving the health infrastructure.

There must be a longterm plan and more allocation of funds for this area. There is a huge requirement of funds and public-private participation could be an option.

Mr Modi is facing unenviable challenges. The next few months will prove his leadership qualities, which is under tremendous strain.

The writer is a senior journalist. The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.