India: Locusts and Other Challenges
By Ashok Dixit
Columns of crop-eating desert locusts marked their presence in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Delhi over the weekend, surviving an eradication operation in the neighbouring Rajasthan State. It was a sight to behold the swarms appearing over the skies of the satellite townships of Gurgaon, Faridabad and the western part of Delhi and a challenge for the local administration and citizens. Residents were quick to shut their windows and doors to avoid the pest onslaught.
Some engaged in the clanging of utensils and playing of music loudly to drive the menacing locusts away. They are hovering over the skies of the State of Uttar Pradesh as per latest reports. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has provided some useful information in that locusts would be in a hurry to return to the warmer climes of Rajasthan to lay their eggs as they can’t survive in monsoon rains.
Climate change is being attributed as the major cause for the excessive breeding of locusts and the FAO has been quick to warn all countries that lie in the flight path of these insects that they can travel hundreds of kilometres every day (approximately 150 km) and consume agricultural crops meant for at least 35,000 people in one day.
According to reports, chemical repellants such as Malathion 96, Lambda Cyhalothrin and Chlorpyrifos were used extensively sprayed via drones over the weekend to control the swarms. However, there are alarming signals that these aggressively breeding pests may cause food insecurity in the second half of 2020.
Disregard for Social Distancing
We continue to witness a complete disregard for social distancing norms in India as the third month of the COVID-19 related global lockdown/phased un-lockdown draws to a close. With 548,000 cases and 16,475 deaths, India is confronted by a monumental public health crisis.
It would not be wrong to say that there is a major health emergency that we are struggling to overcome with an apology of a health infrastructure. The public health crisis is further compounded by a contracting economy that is stuttering to revive itself. Demand continues to remain low, while supply chains are facing frequent disruptions.
A national security crisis created by China’s alleged land transgressions in eastern Ladakh is showing no signs of ending soon with both India and China beefing up their military and aerial might.
There are also fears that the US’ insular move to restrict issue of H1B visas to aspiring Indian students and other immigrants till December 2020 could in fact lead to a ‘dumbing down of the world’.
Though the Trump administration should be primarily preoccupied with the November presidential polls, it seems to be leaving no stone unturned in its attempt to wean India further away from China and Russia, notwithstanding the fact that the latter is a time-tested ally. Foggy Bottom’s (the popular name of the US State Department) former career diplomat and former point’s person for South Asia Alice Wells is of the view that New Delhi would serve its interests better should it step up investment in the “Quad” grouping (an informal interactive strategic forum comprising of the US, Japan, Australia and India) instead of being involved with institutions such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and RIC (Russia, India and China).
Washington’s latest suggestion emphatically points to its continuing trust deficit with Beijing. Wells, who retired as the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia last month, seemed to be endorsing the argument that New Delhi must be seen and accepted more than ever as a significant player on the global stage, and not be projected as being cornered by China. She described the ongoing engagement with BRICS/RIC as ‘discordant’ at best.
The possibility of India having a rethink and upping its participation in the Quad in the near future can’t be ruled out, especially in the wake of New Delhi unhesitatingly taking couched digs at China and other developed nations to “act in an exemplary manner by respecting international law and recognising the interests of partners.”
BRICS foreign ministers last interacted on 28 April, while RIC foreign ministers engaged with each other virtually on 23 June.
China Warned by ASEAN
The South China Sea is once again in the news with the 10-member Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) (a regional inter-governmental organisation comprising of Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) cautioning China to observe the 1982 UN Oceans Treaty (UNCLOS) in letter and spirit, and abstain from insisting on its sovereign maritime entitlement over South China and East China Sea waters.
The regional bloc’s latest assertion of the rule of law with regard to use of strategic oceanic waters is likely to raise Beijing’s hackles. Naming China directly as the aggressor for the first time is a new normal in ASEAN-China ties and will be noticed by others in the emerging geo-political space.
India wary about Pakistan offer on Kartarpur
Pakistan’s unexpected offer to India to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib corridor for Sikh pilgrims from June 29 at a time when diplomatic engagement between both Nations has been downgraded further with the withdrawal of staff, has been met with a degree of wariness. New Delhi has rightly informed Islamabad that large scale to and fro movement of people in the border areas can’t be done at short notice. It has further cited the dangers posed by exposure to the COVID-19 virus to buttress this view.
There has been no movement of Sikh pilgrims to the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara since 16 March. The corridor acts as a link between the Dera Baba Nanak Gurudwara in India’s Punjab State and the Durbar Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan’s Punjab province. It was declared open on 9 November 2019.
(Ashok Dixit is a New Delhi-based former senior editor/journalist with leading multi-media news agencies Sputnik, ANI & IANS. He is also the son of India’s former National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit.)