We must recognise that a world dominated by Biden, Trudeau Jr and Macron is different from the “strongman” world of Trump, Roy Harper and Hollande
The official circles in Delhi are right in emphasising India’s progressive stand at the Paris negotiations.
Compared to the Trump presidency, the Biden Presidency will put additional pressure on India. This will be on human rights, national security, environment, climate change, WTO and multilateralism. The Biden presidency will be very sensitive to minority rights. The US official human rights agencies are, thus, expected to have more clout. VP-elect Kamala Harris has commented on Kashmir in election debates. Interestingly, Indian media and commentators have concentrated on the bilateral trade, technology and financial resonance aspects of the Biden presidency. Its political, environmental and global institutional implications have been ignored. Those who are well-informed prefer to remain quiet, as the “Khan Market gang” knows the establishment’s propensity to shoot the messenger.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) has been doing a lot of work on how to proceed on global and national issues when the consequences can be visualised but not quantified. Before pulling out of Paris accord, one of the Trump administration’s primary argument was that quantified data was not available on global warming.
The removal of restrictions on mining projects in forests or on land use in the natural forests of Kashmir is now expected to become the target of global discussions. The official circles in Delhi are right in emphasising India’s progressive stand at the Paris negotiations. However, going forward we would need more sensitive implementation of our environmental laws. Pressure from corporate interests will have to be resisted more firmly. Adivasi’s rights—habitation, livelihood, spiritual affiliation with trees and the jungle—will need greater attention.
Climate change does exist, and is affecting our life. But the policy has to go further in recognising this. Scientists often invoke sympathy but cannot quantify the impact of environmental actions. India has to assume a central role in global debates. But the pulling out of the US from climate accords shows how important other actors are.
Environmental issues are becoming a ‘style statement’. How can we make our policy thinking apparatus serious on a non-exactly defined disaster?
One method is the use of game theory. Countries, like India, China, Brazil, the US, along with other groups, including business investors and the media, can set up the larger global context, clearly defining roles for each participant. This would involve collaborative games between countries. If land, water and energy, have to be placed in a globally competitive regime, this exercise would very soon develop an exciting realistic paradigm and given the professional commitment of the groups involved, almost realistic processes of communication and trade-offs.
A positive outcome would evolve from this cooperation of different actors and nudge them out of short-term zero-sum policy stances. The organisers of the game can come out with their detailed profile of the exercise and its outcomes. The mechanism would reduce the uncertainty of data and, therefore, outcomes.
Avoiding severe water shortages, improvements in irrigation efficiency and cropping intensity will have to be much faster. The focus will need to shift to renewables. If these kinds of links cannot be established in concrete terms, the concept of an enduring future will remain an empty box. If communities are out of balance with their resource endowments, there can be no question of a significant advance in global concern areas like climate change, carbon sequestration or biodiversity.
This question was raised at the CAP meeting organised in Washington, where I was an invitee. The meeting allowed different participants from many countries (groups of countries) to negotiate using games as an instrument. It led to interesting outcomes. Incidentally, there was a practical aspect to the exercise, since John Podesta, the Chairman of CAP, went on to advise the US delegation at the Paris Climate Change negotiations.
These issues have contemporary relevance in India, as argued in a recent piece by the West Indian diplomat Avinash D Persaudh. In my reply to Persuadh’s piece in the Economic and Political Weekly, I have argued that games can address such issues. Three decades ago, we had faced similar methodological problems and I had analysed them in my Survey of Research Methodology in Economics for ICSSR.
We need to be nuanced about our approach. There are, of course, lobby groups for Indian minorities in Washington. It is legal to lobby in the US. These groups have access to Democratic Party caucuses, just as there are powerful Hindutva groups which were influential during the Trump presidency—the Hindutva groups had supported Trump in the election and arranged for his very successful India visit. It would be naive to ignore these political groups and consequent field realities.
Our government had already given up the food security and livelihood clauses as preconditions for discussing “other issues”, basically tariff reduction. Murasoli Maran, who was then India’s commerce minister, had at Doha, stuck to this position. Suresh Prabhu took this position at the WTO ministerial in Argentina (2017) but later gave up the stand, agreeing to discuss tariff reduction, much to the disappointment of the G-77. The present situation calls for adept handling since there is rising unemployment and excess capacity. The pandemic has only made matters worse. Instead of saying mechanically that the “next quarter will be better”, we need a serious turnaround plan, with local and global angles worked out.
Canadian political scientist Andy Cooper, who visited India on my invitation, mentioned that international relations in modern communication are Bismarckian. This is the world of Bono and his global message. We must recognise that a world dominated by Biden, Trudeau Jr and Macron is different from the “strongman” world of Trump, Roy Harper and Francois Hollande.