Saturday, June 22, 2024

Biden, G20 & Bharat

Musings by Shekhar Nambiar

The week gone by has been significant in many respects. India, that is Bharat, was the cynosure of all eyes. The renaming of the country has had people – from ordinary citizens to political leaders and our ubiquitous netizens – joining in the debatable debate. All this has also come to the fore in the backdrop of the special session of Parliament ostensibly to consider, debate and adopt a combined national and state elections for the country.

Leaders at G20 summit

The G20 Heads of State Summit went without a glitch. Each and every detail had been carefully thought through and the Prime Minister’s hand in it all was evident.

The Summit, no doubt, got India and Mr Modi enough eyeballs across the world. Coming as it did after India’s successful moon venture earlier in August, it was a double whammy.

The optics were carefully planned as were the fairly long walk for the leaders to reach the stage were the PM waited for the handshake and photo-op. Some leaders did the walk sprightly, others less so. At least three of them tripped and nearly lost their balance ahead of the ramp leading up to the dais. President Biden too tripped but managed to regain his balance and composure.

India as Bharat 

Come to think of it, the debate on Bharat is strictly uncalled for and unwarranted. For centuries, the country – nay the region beyond present-day Pakistan and India’s northeast – has been known as Bharatavarsha in Sanskrit.

Our scriptures have referred to the country as such. So, where is the need for the debate?

For a country that has followed the three-language formula, calling itself Bharat is logical. After all, the founding fathers of our Constitution thought it fit to describe the country as ‘India that is Bharat’.

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Renaming states and places is nothing new for us. Madras state became Tamil Nadu decades ago and Haryana, along with Himachal, was carved out of the erstwhile East Punjab. Some of these were thought to be necessary in the states reorganisation on linguistic lines and following the merger of princely states in the Indian Union after independence, and thanks of course to the untiring efforts of the likes of Sardar Patel.

The argument that India as a brand should be adhered to is perhaps justified. Much waters have flowed down the Ganga and Yamuna since independence. And the name ‘India’ has become synonymous with the subcontinent and as a powerful symbol of democracy, unity and relative stability in a region otherwise torn between separatism and chaos.

So, let the debate on the name flow along with the tide and take shape at the right time and juncture.

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Biden in Vietnam

On his way back from India, President Biden visited Vietnam where during a press conference, he fumbled and rambled causing a flutter among his aides, who abruptly called off the session. All this has led to enough speculation about the President, even talk of the return of Trump in the next US elections.

Biden talking to the media in Hanoi

The American media, particularly the pro-Republican conservative types, have a penchant for going hammer and tongs at anything and everything Biden does or says. The brouhaha over the President’s performance at the Hanoi news conference last Sunday is one such example.

Biden may not be the greatest of public speakers – he’s certainly not in the same league as JFK or even a Reagan – but he cannot be faulted for a faux pas or a slip of the tongue once in a while. Republican George Bush had the reputation for making repeated gaffes in public. During his India visit, Trump made mincemeat of Indian names and words, much to the embarrassment of his team.

Coming back to Biden, he certainly cannot be faulted during this tour outside of the US. He was at his happiest best in Delhi, both at the bilateral meeting with Mr Modi at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg and later during the Summit. At Rajghat, Mr Modi received him and other leaders at a sombre wreath-laying ceremony at the rain-soaked samadhi of Gandhiji. The Prime Minister received the world leaders against the backdrop of an image of Bapu kuti from Sewagram ashram near Wardha. The Father of the Nation spent his last years – from 1936 to 1948 – at Sewagram leading the independence struggle from the ashram. Sewagram was the hub of activities, where the Mahatma inculcated in the inmates the habit of service and tenets of community living.

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Mr Biden and his team’s contributions to the Summit’s was unequivocal and without strings as is normally the case at fora such as the G20, barring exceptions.

Biden’s aides criticise the opposition’s jibes at his age and health. A New York Times article has cited his achievements during this Asia tour, among them a fund for developing countries, “fortifying” Ukraine against Russian assaults, and strengthening Vietnam to counter the Chinese offensive.

Trudeau receives a snub from Modi

Strategic corridor 

While Ukraine may not have been openly discussed at the G20, it may have figured during the bilateral meetings.

Prime Minister Modi is believed to have conveyed to Trudeau India’s displeasure in no uncertain terms about the activities of extremist elements in Canada, as he did with Rishi Sunak of the UK.

Mr Modi was quite upfront with Trudeau, displaying the seriousness with which India views the developments in Canada.

Canada has long been a haven for anti-India activities. The country is known to harbour extremist elements inimical to India’s interests. At the height of Sikh extremism, on June 23, 1985, an Air India plane plying the Montreal-London-Delhi-Mumbai route was brought down by a bomb near Cork in Ireland, killing all on board.

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More recently, in the UK, miscreants raising slogans against India and burning the Indian national tricolour have become regular occurrences. 

Although these are issues that are not allowed to be discussed at the summit, they were taken up bilaterally on the margins of G20.

India-Middle East-Europe corrido

A significant milestone achievement was the India-Middle East-Europe corridor, assiduously worked at and led by India. It would in time, if it has all-round support, work as a wonderful opportunity to developing trade around and beyond the corridor. International observers also consider this as an answer to China’s ambitious ‘Belt’ initiative, without mentioning it in so many words.

Biden, G20 and Bharat are all flavours for the month. These can at best be temporary, a reprieve from more important and serous business in the running of a country such as ours.

Rober Frost

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

(‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, 1923, Robert Frost).

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Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"



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