Indian elections double victory for democracy – Asian Media Report

Jun 8, 2024
Ruling Bhartiya Janta Party BJP Releases Election Manifesto Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing Bhartiya Janta Party leaders during the release of Party s election 2024 manifesto in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, April 14, 2024. New Delhi Delhi India. Image: Alamy Author / Credit IMAGO/Sondeep Shankar / Contributor: Imago / Alamy Stock Photo

In Asian media this week: Voters teach Modi a lesson. Plus: Graham Allison on Thucydides’ Trap latest assessment; China, US switch off the megaphones; IMF, World Bank warn of system break-up; summit opens way for rules-based competitive order; tobacco companies control smoking-law narrative.

India’s national elections were a double victory for democracy – a massive representative exercise, with 640 million people voting in seven phases over six weeks and rejecting the risk of authoritarian power exercised by one man in the name of one religious tradition.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party lost their majority in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament. They will continue to govern but only with the support of uncertain allies.

Modi had campaigned as a Hindu nationalist, employing divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric. The voters plumped for a vision of a more tolerant, cohesive nation.

The Hindu newspaper said in an editorial people were at the centre of democracy. “The verdict of the people cannot be clearer than this – it wants the BJP to be more conciliatory and less confrontational towards the aspirations of various communities and regions of India.”

The Opposition INDIA alliance, led by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party, campaigned broadly on social justice issues. It also raised the fear that Modi wanted a big BJP majority so he could change the constitution and turn India from a secular state to a Hindu state.

Economics professor Jayati Ghosh, writing in The Hindu, said Modi had largely ignored economic issues, such as unemployment, low wages and the rising prices of essential goods.

India’s The Statesman newspaper said Modi was likely to be sworn in on Sunday. Leaders of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance had elected Modi as the coalition leader on Wednesday.

Experienced commentator Ravi Velloor, a senior columnist with Singapore’s The Straits Times, said voters had sent a message about the kind of nation they wanted to live in. “It is that India, deeply influenced by the Hindu ethos of tolerance and inclusion, can only be governed by a centrist approach, not a divisive or one-sided one,” Velloor wrote.

He also said Rahul Gandhi had emerged as a credible, caring voice for millions of disaffected poor people.

Dawn, a Pakistan national newspaper, said in an editorial Muslim-baiting seemed to have backfired, even in the “Hindi belt” – the BJP’s heartland. “Instead of praising the glory of a new Hindu rashtra [nation], Indian voters were more concerned about pressing issue, such as jobs and the cost of living,” the paper said.

John Dayal, a veteran commentator writing in ucanews.com, the pan-Asia Catholic news outlet, said there was a collective sigh of relief in South Asian security, human rights and economic circles as the election halted Modi’s arrogant ambition to win more than 400 seats.

A victory of that magnitude would have empowered Modi to change the constitution and lay the foundations for a Hindu nation in which religious minorities were disenfranchised, Dayal said.

A commentator called Apoorvanand, who teaches Hindi at the University of Delhi, wrote in the Al Jazeera website that voters had given secular India hope there was potential for political change. “They have reaffirmed that democracy is opposed to the complete dominance of one idea and one voice,” he said.

The Diplomat, an Asian news and analysis website, quoted author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay as saying the vote was a rejection of highly centralised system of governance, where government was synonymous with one person. “The June 4 verdict signifies a victory for the people of India,” Mukhopadhyay said. “They have taught Modi a lesson.”

Superpower-supremacy war 75 per cent ‘baked in’

Graham Allison, the academic who popularized the term the Thucydides’ Trap, applying it to the struggle for supremacy between China and the US, believes factors making war inevitable are 75 per cent “baked in”. The other 25 per cent depends on human agency – what the leaders of the two countries might do to avoid war.

“I think Thucydides would say that at the largest level we’re still more or less on track,” he said in a recent interview with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. “China and the US are indeed classic Thucydidean rivals.”

Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard University, said Xi Jinping was determined that China should become all that it could be – “and very understandably so”.

On the other hand, the US was a colossal ruling power committed to the international, and Asian, order it created in the aftermath of World War Two and which it believed provided stability that allowed countries to focus on their own development.

If China grew to have half the per capita GDP of the US, it would have a total GDP twice as large – with defence and intelligence budgets twice as large and with twice the economic leverage.

“So, the inevitable impact of an irresistible rising power on an immovable ruling power is the main reason Thucydides would be pessimistic,” he said. “On the other hand, since that is only 75 per cent of the picture, 25 per cent of the picture is human agency…

“… [C]ould they together find some way to have a rivalry that, at the same time, stopped short of war? And could they manage a rivalry that continues for another 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years? Maybe. And if they could then each of the societies would have a chance to show which of the two societies can better deliver, which type of government can better deliver what citizens want, and I would say that would be a good long-term outlook.”

Allison said last November’s San Francisco summit between Xi and Joe Biden was not just another meeting. The two leaders had laid a foundation on which to building a more constructive relationship. The key elements were: fierce competition; continuous, candid, high-level communication; and co-operation in areas where survival made it necessary.

“I would be hopeful… because I am a congenital optimist,” Allison said. “I think Thucydides would say 75 per cent is already baked in. Governments tend to be short-sighted [so] though there is some promise in what Biden and Xi did in San Francisco, he would still be sceptical.”

No more wolf-warriors: Beijing softens tone

China and the US both toned down the rhetoric in speeches at last weekend’s Asian Security Forum, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue. Lin Suling, senior columnist with Singapore’s The Straits Times, wondered if there might have been something in the water supplied to delegates.

“It seems to have tempered aggression,” she wrote. “There is a palpable shift in approach.”

Lin noted that US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin did not mention China by name in his address. Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, also decided not to wag his finger at China. He mentioned China once – and used broad platitudes in describing its influence in Southeast Asia.

Early speeches by Chinese delegates did rebuke the US for its policies in Asia but Defence Minister Dong Jun struck a statesman-like tone, talking about the value of peace and the need for countries to find ways of getting along with each other.

“There is a growing self-awareness in US foreign policy circles pf the superpowers’ limitations,” Lin said. “The US remains influential and powerful yet is incredibly stretched…

“China must reach two audiences – demonstrating to a domestic audience that it has done its patriotic duty…while being mindful of appearing belligerent and unreasonable to an international audience.”

Commentator Su-Lin Tan, writing in the South China Morning Post, noted that Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles spoke to China’s Dong in direct terms about maritime incidents involving the two countries’ defence forces. But she also quoted Marles as saying the vast bulk of interactions between the two navies were safe and professional.

“It underscores the pull-and-push in the newly stabilised China-Australia ties,” Tan wrote.

An editorial in The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Austin and Dong had agreed to set up a working group to discuss a system of communication in times of crisis. This was a step forward – especially for the US, where Republicans and Democrats, in the heat of the coming presidential election, were vying to outdo each other in being tough towards China.

Five forces straining global economy

The international economic system is founded on a strange marriage: an interdependent global economy meshed with a geopolitical system containing almost 200 nation-states. The system has operated since the end of World War Two but the foundations are now eroding rapidly and global integration is going into reverse.

Two authors, Bertrande Badre, a former managing director of the World Bank, and Yves Tiberghien, a visiting scholar at the Taipei School of Economics and Political Science, say the mood at recent meetings of the World Bank and the IMF was sombre.

“Two global institutions that normally speak in banalities issued strong warnings about the growing risks of economic fragmentation,” they say in an article published by The Japan Times. Their article was distributed by the expert writers’ group, Project Syndicate.

They say five factors are driving this trend. These are:

  • RISING geopolitical risks have fueled mistrust and reduced the will of important countries to co-operate.
  • KEY nations are letting security considerations shape economic policy.
  • THE rift between the Global North an Global South is getting wider.
  • CLIMATE risks and disasters are getting worse and the world lacks a global safety net.
  • ARTIFICIAL intelligence is growing exponentially, stirring national competition rather than global co-operation.

“Leaders are so preoccupied with wars, power struggles, social tensions and political polarisation that they appear largely unwilling to invest in saving the integrated global economy,” Badre and Tiberghien say.

“But history, economic theory and current empirical trends indicate that this is a mistake.”

Three-way North Asia meetings focus on business

China, Japan and South Korea have held their first three-way summit in five years, with one commentator saying its impact should be neither exaggerated nor downplayed: the meeting focused on economic co-operation without resolving security disagreements between the three countries.

Political scientist Lee Jong-eun suggested the US insistence that China (along with Russia and North Korea) should accept the rules-based international order was unrealistic. “A more realistic outcome may be establishing a rules-based competitive order,” Lee wrote in The Korea Times. International conflicts could be mitigated and compartmentalised from areas of policy co-operation.

“Future East Asia Trilateral summits may serve as an institutional pillar for maintaining such an international order,” Lee said.

The trilateral summits started in 1999 and were made regular events from 2008 onwards but the meetings were interrupted by the COVID pandemic.

Wang Son-taek, a former diplomatic correspondent, said the summit was welcome as it restored a platform for co-operation in Northeast Asia.

The US would feel uncomfortable because it opened up the possibility that Japan-US-Korea co-operation might crack, he wrote in The Korea Herald. But viewing the summit as hostile to the US was a mistake.

“If the US aims to ruin China, the summit will disadvantage the US,” Wang said. “However, if the US goal is to make China obedient to the US-led international norms, the summit will rather be helpful.

“Taming China is a far better option for the US because ruining China is impossible in this interdependent world.”

An editorial in The Japan Times took a sceptical view of China’s participation in the summit. The US, the editorial said, had worked hard to promote reconciliation between Tokyo and Seoul.

“It has succeeded and that newfound sense of purpose has unnerved China,” the paper said.

Industry-lobby tales cloud health evidence

Effective cigarette regulation in Indonesia, a country with one of the highest rates of smoking, is thwarted because tobacco companies control the public narrative, says an opinion article published in The Jakarta Post.

“The narratives they create are so powerful that they can overshadow clear medical and scientific facts showing the dangers of tobacco on health,” says Ahmad Fanani, program director of the Indonesian Institute for Social Development.

“The grim reality shows how oblivious our nation is.”

The article says an analysis published seven years ago put the cost of smoking to the Indonesia economy at $US45.9 billion. Government revenue from tobacco sales last year was $US18 billion.

“The tax contributions donated by the tobacco industry are often exaggerated without taking into account the health costs that the government must bear due to smoking-related diseases,” Fanani says. “Pitting economic interests against health needs is a shallow logical fallacy.

“Scientific evidence demonstrating the harmful effects of tobacco on public health is often ignored or opposed by powerful industry lobbies.

“Regulations and policies that could save millions of lives are hindered and efforts to reduce smoking prevalence among the population become increasingly challenging.”

Fanani’s article was published to mark World No Tobacco Day.

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