The Big Story: Speak softly

The Indian diplomatic corps is rejoicing this weekend, having notched up a relatively significant victory over a First World power, a victory that seems even more significant because that nation was the United Kingdom. In a one-on-one contest to fill an empty seat at the International Court of Justice, India garnered sufficient support and pushed enough buttons to convince its former colonial ruler to drop out of the race. That ensured re-election for India’s candidate, Justice Dalveer Bhandari, and also marked the first time in the court’s seven-decade-long existence that one of the P-5 – the five permanent nations on the Security Council – would not be at the table.

Fed by diplomats speaking mostly anonymously to journalists, the Indian press is full of triumphal stories, reporting on how one diligent junior officer’s dogged work highlighted the technicalities that bolstered India’s cause and how embassies around the world were pressed into action. Even the British recognised the significance of India’s win, with the local press seeing it as evidence of the UK’s diminished global stature and a ruling party Member of Parliament telling the Foreign Secretary it is a sign of a failure.

However, there are some who insist this is just a consolation prize because India failed to win the spot that traditionally goes to an Asian nation. (That went to Lebanon.) Others are quick to point out that this will not help India’s case in Khulbushan Jadhav matter, where India is currently tussling with Pakistan at the International Court of Justice about a former Indian Navy man jailed for allegedly being a spy. Islamabad will get an ad-hoc judge of its own to balance the fact that New Delhi has one at the table.

But those arguments miss the point. This is not a judicial victory, but a diplomatic one. Breaching the P-5 wall is a greater achievement than simply securing the Asian votes. From either perspective, India has pulled off something significant, one that strikes a small blow in a bigger war: reforming the United Nations Security Council and getting the world to acknowledge the balance shifting away from the traditional powers.

For India, it is important to contrast this with the extremely public diplomacy around the push last year to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group. That effort, like this one, came with plenty of determined action from embassies, the External Affairs Minister and even the prime minister. But it also saw politicians and diplomats constantly feeding the press, helping create a climate where it seemed as if India was going into a do-or-die battle with China even though the outcome would be mostly symbolic.

In the event, India lost the battle and, because it had been so vocal about the effort, some face as well. Speak softly, and carry a big stick, US President Teddy Roosevelt said decades ago. Even though that adage has come to be seen as an endorsement of bellicosity in America, Roosevelt actually meant it as a call for careful diplomacy that will be much more fruitful. The difference of outcomes in the International Court of Justice and Nuclear Suppliers Group battles should inspire India’s foreign policy corps to consider Roosevelt’s advice.

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  1. “The controversy over the film Padmavati once again reminded us that the fragility of our identities, the layers of resentment that constitute our sense of self, the emboldening of the most lumpen elements in our society, intellectual confusions over the law, and the sheer lack of constitutional courage in most of our politicians make India increasingly unfit for liberty,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express.
  2. “Now we have the inspiring spectacle of a Rajput monk who runs Uttar Pradesh, a Maratha queen who rules Rajputana and a Thakur chief minister in charge of India’s central province, asking that a film be banned or bowdlerised because a medieval Muslim poet created a fictional Hindu heroine and turned a real Muslim ruler into a proper villain. What could be more secular than that?” asks Mukul Kesavan in the Telegraph.
  3. Vivek Kaul in Swarajya explains that the government cannot do very much if restaurants choose not to reduce their prices after the GST rejig.
  4. In the Hindu, Narayan Lakshman explains why the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s desire to stay in power at all cost is deeply dangerous for Tamil Nadu.
  5. “All over the world, governments subsidise and take care of their farmers. Here we push them to suicide,” writes Colin Gonsalves in the Indian Express.


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Arti Das explains why Goa’s famous Mapusa market is a perennial source of inspiration for artists.

“Mapusa market is an important reminder of the fact that Goa is an agrarian society, not just a tourist destination. Here, in the relatively small space, mainly women bring produce from their farms along with handmade things like chorizo, pottery, cane baskets, vinegar and pickles. Anyone can sell their produce here. One merely has to just pay a sopo or rent.

‘The first thing you notice about Mapusa market is the riot of colours,’ said Niyati Patre, a regular at the market. ‘Even though it is crowded and messy, I love to shop here mainly for the local produce, medicinal herbs, plant saplings, coconut jaggery. This place is a must-see during the purumed or provisions market, just before the monsoon. At that time it is filled with spices, kokum and local rice. The market has remained the same all these years.’

It was partly this vibrancy that inspired photographer Assavri Kulkarni, author of the book Markets of Goa, to begin documenting it over a decade ago.”