The Big Story:
A fake news incident was not the only thing to come out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s West Asia visit over the last few days. He also signed an agreement in Oman that could have a significant impact on how India projects its power in the region. Following a meeting with the country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos, Oman agreed to let India’s military vessels use the strategically located Duqm port and dry dock. Combined with plans to carry out joint naval exercises with the United Arab Emirates, the developments suggest that New Delhi is finally upgrading its presence in a region that is crucial to it – not just because vast amounts of India’s energy needs are met by importing oil from West Asia, but also since as many as seven million Indian citizens are residents of the region.
India is late to the Duqm party, in a sense. The port sits at a strategically useful spot on the Arabian Sea and is not too distant from either the Gulf of Oman, through which important oil supplies are shipped to India, as well as the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which has become a key part of the Chinese presence in the area. The US added its presence to Duqm in 2013-’14 and the United Kingdom followed, with even the Chinese investing in some of the port’s commercial operations. India’s navy will now be permitted to use the port, allowing it better access not just to areas in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf, but also further west towards Africa.
But this belated agreement, coming at a time when India is dithering over what to do in the Maldives, is a useful reminder of how much catching up New Delhi has to do if it wishes to even be seen as a credible regional power, let alone a global one. As many have pointed out, India’s bark in recent years has been much nastier than its bite. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporters are frequently bellicose, particularly on prime time television, without accounting for the fact that India’s neighbourhood policy has entirely fallen apart. Although it is an open question whether India should intervene in the Maldives, the fact that it has let things come to this stage and has not communicated a clear approach regarding what is, after all, a tiny but strategic neighbour speaks volumes.
The same goes for overall military preparedness. Analysts have mentioned how, despite talk of Modi’s power projection, the armed forces themselves have barely seen any improvement under him and are still woefully unprepared for a major conflict. This heightens India’s vulnerability, given that the government and the ruling party freely speak the language of war without having the military goods to back it up.
India needs to build on its achievement in Oman and its increased engagement with other West Asian nations, especially at a time when matters in the region are even more unsettled than they usually are. India’s underpowered diplomatic corps have often spent more time looking to the UK and US than West Asia. A change in that is welcome, but it needs to become a stepping stone rather than an achievement in and of itself.
- “Student attendance is a non-issue in JNU, which has retained its focus on creating serious scholars, not docile subjects,” writes G Arunima in the Indian Express. “The move to impose it is symptomatic of a larger administrative malaise.”
- A leader in Mint asks, can the Congress stage a comeback in the 2019 elections?
- “New developments and alignments in the world have allowed India to dehyphenate ties with Israel and Palestine on the one hand, and forge independent links with estranged players in West Asia,” writes Anil Wadhwa in Hindustan Times.
Prerna Singh Bindra writes about India’s vulture population, which is at death’s door and could end up causing a human health crisis when it disappears.
“In just over a decade, they were gone, their numbers plummeting to near extinction. Among three of India’s vulture species of the genus Gyps, the long-billed (Gyps indicus) and the slender-billed (G tenuirostris) had crashed by an astounding 97%, while in the white-rumped (G bengalensis), the decline was even more catastrophic, at 99.9% between 1992 and 2007.
‘This is the fastest decline of any bird species ever reported anywhere in the world,’ said Asad Rahmani, former director of the Bombay Natural History Society. The slide is more dramatic than even the much-cited passenger pigeon. At 3 billion, the passenger pigeon was once considered the most numerous bird on the planet, but by the early 1990s, none remained in the wild. The last captive bird, Martha, was found dead in September 1914, in her cage in the Cincinnati Zoo.
Initially, few noticed the vulture decline, with stray reports coming in from researchers and villagers who noticed that the birds were ‘simply nowhere to be seen’.”