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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 08 December 2023

  1. India’s Growing Neighborhood Dilemmas
  2. Natural Calamities: India’s Preparedness is Exemplary


Context:

The persistent challenge for Indian foreign policy lies in its relationship with neighboring countries. While India aspires to a robust global role, aiming to lead the global South, mediate in global geopolitical conflicts, and establish itself as a significant player in world politics, its immediate neighborhood remains a stumbling block.

Relevance:

GS2- International Relations

  • India and its Neighborhood- Relations.
  • Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Mains Question:

What are India’s primary neighborhood dilemmas at this point in geopolitics? How should the government approach them to build a long-lasting relationship with South Asian countries? (15 marks, 250 words).

Challenges in India’s Neighborhood:

Anti-India Governments:

  • Despite India’s ambitious foreign policy goals, South Asia not only resists aligning with India’s narrative but also seems to be indirectly hindering India’s progress.
  • The emergence of politically anti-India governments in South Asia, exemplified by the Maldives where the new administration is effectively urging Indian residents to depart.
  • Additionally, the prospect of a Khaleda Zia-led government in Dhaka, with upcoming elections, could pose an ideological challenge to India.

Rise of Beijing:

South Asian Nations and China:

  • Noteworthy factors include the increasing involvement of smaller states in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other Chinese projects, Beijing’s proactive engagement with South Asian nations even when the international community distances itself for normative reasons, and China’s efforts to resolve border disputes with neighboring countries, excluding India.
  • China’s deeper financial resources contribute significantly to the overall impact of its outreach compared to India’s efforts.
  • The potential outcome, or a scenario that may evolve over time, is somewhat disconcerting. Without innovative measures, there is a substantial risk of India becoming geopolitically confined within an unfriendly South Asia.
  • In the present era, South Asia is marked by the diminishing influence of the United States, which had long been a constant geopolitical factor in the region.
  • While New Delhi did not always find Washington’s presence in South Asia entirely advantageous, its departure is unquestionably detrimental, especially considering China’s assertive role in filling the power vacuum left by the U.S. exit.
  • The rapid and formidable ascent of China serves as a geopolitical buffer, at least for the time being, providing smaller states in the region with the means to leverage the “China card” in their foreign policy.
  • Although neighboring countries express a desire for strategic autonomy with India, there is notably less inclination to pursue such autonomy in dealings with China.

Dependency on China:

  • In one of the world’s least interconnected and economically disadvantaged regions, it is natural for the inhabitants to lean towards a power capable of fulfilling their material needs.
  • Given India’s limited capacity to meet these needs, China emerges as the dominant power.

Beijing as a Norms-Free Zone:

  • India has traditionally approached the region with a normative and political perspective, with regional states either acquiescing, rebelling, or falling in line due to a lack of alternatives.
  • Beijing has altered this India-centric calculus by presenting itself as a no-frills, non-normative alternative. For the first time in modern South Asian history, the region operates as a “norms-free zone.”

India’s Singular Approach:

  • The second factor contributing to India’s regional challenges is linked to its policy stance, which reflects a deep-seated inclination towards maintaining the existing state of affairs when dealing with the domestic politics and diverse power centers within the region.
  • While it may seem prudent and less risky to primarily engage with those in power in the regional capitals, be they elected or otherwise, such a singular approach creates path-dependencies that often result in the alienation of other centers of power or opposition leaders. Bangladesh serves as a potential example of this dynamic.

India’s other Complications:

  • Throughout much of its independent existence, New Delhi enjoyed unparalleled primacy in the region. However, the challenges of being the resident power in South Asia, with its associated cultural, ethnic, refugee, and other complications, are now felt more acutely than the advantages of being the primary power.
  • In contrast, China, as a non-resident power in the region, benefits from the absence of complications—ethnic, linguistic, religious—that typically arise from being a resident power.

Unmet Expectations:

  • Moreover, India’s predicaments are fueled by two longstanding misconceptions. Firstly, there has been a persistent belief in India that South Asia, excluding Pakistan, would be receptive to Indian geopolitical reasoning, prompting proactive engagement with the region while sidelining Pakistan. However, in hindsight, it must be acknowledged that this policy has not unfolded as India envisioned.
  • Secondly, there was a mistaken assumption in New Delhi that India’s special relationship with the region, rooted in culture, soft power, history, and ethnicity, would enable the country to handle its neighbors more effectively than those lacking intimate knowledge of the region, such as China.

Way Forward:

  • It is imperative for India to undergo a mental shift and recognize that South Asia’s power dynamics have undergone fundamental changes. The era of India’s primacy in the old South Asia no longer exists.
  • The emergence of ‘Southern Asia’ signifies a space where China has become a significant contender for regional dominance.
  • Accepting this realistic and pragmatic perspective would enable India to navigate the current reality instead of holding onto the outdated notion of Indian primacy.
  • New Delhi should actively seek the involvement of friendly external actors in the region to counter the impending possibility of it becoming Sino-centric.
  • Indian diplomacy needs to exhibit flexibility by engaging with multiple actors in each neighboring country.
  • The essence of diplomacy lies not in antagonizing anti-India elements but in mitigating their hostility. Similarly, while engaging with those in power is a sound policy, exclusive focus on them is detrimental.
  • Addressing a well-discussed issue, India must urgently address the shortage of diplomatic personnel. The glaring insufficiency of diplomats to execute the foreign policy of a nation with a population of 1.4 billion is poised to become India’s most critical challenge.

Conclusion:

As India plays an increasingly prominent role in global affairs, the shortage of personnel will be keenly felt. If the current situation persists, there may be no one available to represent India when opportunities arise or crises emerge.



Context:

Cyclone Michaung struck Southern India, specifically Andhra Pradesh near Bapatla, on December 4, 2023, with winds reaching 100 kmph. Before making landfall, intense rainfall led to destructive flooding in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, resulting in at least nine fatalities.

Relevance:

  • GS1- Important Geophysical Phenomena
  • GS3- Disaster Management

Mains Question:

From Tsunami of 2004 to the recent Cyclone Biparjoy, India has made remarkable progress in dealing with natural calamities. Analyse. (10 marks, 150 words).

About Cyclones:

  • General Description: Cyclones are extensive atmospheric systems revolving around a central low-pressure area, frequently accompanied by severe storms.
  • Extratropical Cyclones: Located beyond the tropics, these cyclones possess a cold core and derive energy from the interaction of cold and warm air masses. They can originate over both land and water.
  • Tropical Cyclones: Originating in tropical areas, these cyclones are fueled by the condensation of water vapor. Devoid of associated warm or cold fronts, they are referred to as hurricanes or typhoons in various regions.

About Cyclone Michaung:

Michaung marks the fourth tropical cyclone in the Bay of Bengal this year.

Details about Cyclone Michaung:

  • Unusual Intensity: December cyclones in the North Indian Ocean typically do not achieve high intensities; however, Michaung, classified as a severe storm, stands out as an exception.
  • Intensification Upgrade: Initially categorized as a tropical cyclone, Michaung was upgraded to a ‘severe’ storm by the IMD due to its unexpected strengthening.
  • Contribution of Heat Index: The intensification is linked to higher-than-normal heat index values observed off the southern Andhra Pradesh coast.

Overview of Indian Tropical Storms:

  • Annual Cyclone Average: The North Indian Ocean basin sees an average of about five cyclones annually, primarily occurring in the Bay of Bengal.
  • Arabian Sea Cyclones: While less frequent, cyclones in the Arabian Sea often reach higher intensities and have the potential to cause substantial damage.
  • Peak Cyclone Seasons: Cyclones are most prevalent during the pre-monsoon (April-June) and post-monsoon (October-December) months, with May and November experiencing more intense storms.

More on the Cyclone:

  • The Indian Meteorological Department issued ‘severe cyclonic storm’ warnings, prompting the suspension of various activities, including industrial operations, transport services, businesses, and schools.
  • Chennai airport temporarily closed due to flooding, and 29 additional National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams were deployed along the Andhra coast for ongoing rescue operations.
  • The state’s response to ‘Cyclone Yaas’ in Odisha serves as a model, significantly reducing casualties through technological integration, strategic planning, and the establishment of disaster management authorities.

India’s Journey in Disaster Management:

Following the 2004 Tsunami, India recognized the necessity for a comprehensive disaster management framework, resulting in the enactment of the ‘Disaster Management Act of 2005’ and the establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

Regarding the Disaster Management Act, 2005:

  • The Disaster Management Act, 2005, is a legislation enacted by the Indian Parliament to facilitate the effective handling of disasters and related matters.
  • The act comprises 11 chapters and 79 sections and received approval from the President of India on December 23, 2005. However, it officially came into effect in January 2006. Section 2 of the Disaster Management Act provides a definition for disaster, describing it as a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity, or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes.”

Key Features of the Disaster Management Act, 2005:

  • The act designates the Ministry of Home Affairs as the central ministry responsible for overseeing national disaster management.
  • It establishes a structured framework of institutions at the national, state, and district levels. At the national level, four crucial entities include:
  • The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA): Headed by the Prime Minister, it formulates disaster management policies and ensures prompt and effective response mechanisms. The NDMA comprises a maximum of nine members, including a Vice-Chairperson, each with a tenure of five years.
  • The National Executive Committee (NEC): Comprising secretary-level officers from various ministries, it assists the NDMA in home, health, power, finance, and agriculture.
  • The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM): An institute dedicated to training and capacity development for managing natural calamities.
  • National Disaster Response Force (NDRF): Comprising trained professional units for specialized disaster response, led by a Director-General appointed by the Central Government.
  • The act also establishes state and district level authorities tasked with formulating plans for the implementation of national and local disaster management plans.
  • State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA): Responsible for devising the disaster plan for the respective state, with the Chief Minister as the chairperson and eight members appointed by the Chief Minister.
  • District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA): Led by the Collector, District Magistrate, or Deputy Commissioner, the DDMA serves at the district level.
  • These provisions empower the designated authorities to prepare, implement, and coordinate disaster management plans at various administrative levels.
  • Emphasizing early warning systems, the Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre (ITEWC) was set up in 2007, equipped with advanced technology to monitor seismic activity and issue timely alerts, crucial for India’s vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • The Indian Tsunami Early Warning System (ITEWS) was established in 2007 and is situated at and operated by INCOIS in Hyderabad. It represents a collaborative initiative involving various organizations such as the Department of Space (DOS), Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Survey of India (SOI), and the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).
  • ITEWS incorporates a real-time network consisting of seismic stations and tide gauges, along with a 24×7 operational tsunami warning center.
  • Its primary objectives include detecting tsunamigenic earthquakes, monitoring tsunamis, and issuing timely advisories to vulnerable communities.
  • Indian scientists can detect substantial undersea earthquakes in the Indian Ocean in real-time and provide a tsunami warning within 10-20 minutes of the earthquake occurrence.
  • India’s approach to disasters involves community-based responses and national solidarity. In instances like the 2018 Kerala floods, involving local communities in planning and response mechanisms has proven effective.
  • Integrating traditional knowledge with modern technology, as witnessed during the 2019 earthquake in the Andaman Islands, showcased the efficacy of early warning systems.
  • Flood management in India has seen technological interventions, with the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) utilizing satellite imagery for monitoring river basins and assessing flood risks. During the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, geospatial technology aided accurate mapping of affected areas, facilitating rescue operations.
  • The INDRISHTI application developed by the NDRF allowed real-time information sharing among agencies for a synchronized response.

Conclusion:

Despite these advancements, ongoing efforts are crucial, especially in vulnerable regions like the Himalayas, susceptible to earthquakes. Continued research and preparedness are essential to address persistent vulnerabilities.


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