The Big Story: Cautionary tale

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out his country’s vision for the Indo-American partnership in a speech on Wednesday, declaring that the “emerging Delhi-Washington strategic partnership” offers “bookends of stability on either side of the globe”. Speaking at an American think-tank on the US relationship with India over the next century, Tillerson described a partnership that is built on commerce and military objectives, explicitly painting India as the American ally that will stand as a counter to China.

“China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international, rules-based order even as countries like India operate within a framework that protects other nations’ sovereignty,” Tillerson said. “The United States seeks constructive relations with China, but we will not shrink from China’s challenges to the rules-based order... In this period of uncertainty and somewhat angst, India needs a reliable partner on the world stage. I want to make clear: with our shared values and vision for global stability, peace, and prosperity, the United States is that partner.”

Much of that sounds good to India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi where, after initial bonhomie, the Indo-China relationship has become increasingly strained. This was visible most prominently in the Doklam standoff earlier this year, when Indian troops stared down Chinese ones on territory New Delhi believes belongs to Bhutan. From trade practices to support and investment in Pakistan, India has many bones of contention to pick with Beijing at the moment. Xi Jinping’s comments at his country’s ongoing National Congress that “no one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests”, also serve as a warning, even if he also said that the rise of the East Asian giant should not threaten any other country.

As has been clear for some time now, India will be drawing closer to the US, in part because China has made its position evident – particularly through Doklam, backing Pakistan on terror-suspect Hafiz Saeed and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. That said, New Delhi must be careful not to simply be a tool in American foreign policy. In the age of US President Donald Trump, international allignments take a different colour.

Trump has never proven to be consistent and indeed, few people believe that Tillerson is still going to be Secretary of State a year from now. The US president has made it clear that he sees international relations in transactional terms, saying, for instance, in a speech earlier in the year that India should do more in Afghanistan, because it makes billions of dollars in trade with the US – and not because of its natural interests in the region. After breathing fire against Pakistan earlier in the year, Trump has cooled down, saying last week that relations with Islamabad are better. Tillerson too took that line in his speech, saying the US is working to improve the situation in South Asia, without calling out much of Pakistan’s inconsistencies.

With this in mind, it is imperative for India to be wary of embracing the US too obviously as Washington attempts to undermine Beijing on the world stage. On the ground, India has to deal with a giant, disputed border with China, while the Americans sit oceans away. Besides China is India’s largest trading partner. It seems most prudent to support the US cause of containing China, even as India works to build its economic relations with the country and attempts to settle disputes. But most importantly, it should use the opportunity of a Trump administration that is willing to work closely with India on many aspects, without necessary turning into its instrument in the region.

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  1. A leader in the Hindu Businessline calls for caution in the markets going into the new year, saying lofty valuation and elusive growth call for tempered expectations from Samvat 2074.
  2. Located a stroll away from the Parliament, Jantar Mantar is the most convenient platform for both the ruling party and the Opposition to feel the pulse of the nation. To ban it for dissenters, on the plea of noise pollution, is not a wise move, write Gurinder Singh & Dilbag Dabas in the Tribune.
  3. “Ideally, India should leave most of the political and economic costs of containing China to the US and its immediate allies,” writes Rohit Prasad in Mint. “Hence, the recent renewal of disputes is an undesirable irritation.”
  4. This government announced big ideas, each promising to disentangle public need from structural Centre-state issues, writes Shankar Aiyyar in the Hindustan Times. “The outcomes fall between the unknown and the unstated.
  5. Narayani Gupta in the Indian Express reminds us of the work of Lotika Varadarajan, who died on October 9: “Her own work was only partly driven by archival collections. Equally important were conversations with craftsmen and with custodians of museums and handicrafts repositories. For her, the past was not a foreign country and she hunted tirelessly for skills and objects which carried traces of long histories.”


Don’t miss

This Diwali, Priyadarshini Chatterjee tells us how the food associated with the festival goes far beyond mithai – and many dishes come with delicious myths.

“Culinary rituals such as this are part of festivals and religious ceremonies in India, and Diwali is no exception. Across the country, Diwali celebrations mean a mindboggling range of sweets and savouries, such as the karanjis stuffed with coconut and dried fruits, shakkarparas, anarsa laced with poppy seeds, and saffron-tinted kheer. But apart from these, there are also dishes circumscribed by religious mandate or time-honoured traditions that come with a tale to tell.

Often, such culinary rituals are commemorative of mythological tales that are at the core of the festival. Take, for instance, the slaying of demon Narakasura by Krishna. The legend is immortalised in symbolic rituals in various parts of the country during Diwali. In coastal Maharashtra, and especially in Goa, effigies of Narakasura are paraded on the roads and burnt, and a small bitter fruit called Karit is crushed under the toe to symbolise the destruction of Narakasura. According to one account of the legend, when the victorious Krishna returned home after killing Narakasura, he was offered his favourite meal comprising poha (flattened rice). Among Goan Hindu households it is mandatory to eat poha during Diwali.”