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- Recent foreign policy moves by India at SCO Summit indicate an inflexion point.
- Combining orthodox ideas from the Cold War era along with 21st century pragmatism, it appears that India has decided that the emerging multipolar world is becoming far too complicated for the binary choices.
- Not only has it recast its approach to the maritime Indo-Pacific but as the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit exemplifies, it is also building deeper and more constructive links with continental Eurasia.
Our Evolving Foreign Policy for a Multipolar Order
- First, the central theme was that at a time when the world is facing power shifts, uncertainty and competition over geopolitical ideas and political models, India would project itself as an independent power and actor across Asia.
- One of the most important parts of the speech was when PM described India’s ties with the three great powers. Russia and the United States were called as partners with whom India has relationships based on overlapping interests in international and Asian geopolitics.
- And, India-China relations were portrayed in complex terms as having “many layers” but with a positive undertone, that stability in that relationship is important for India and the world.
- This implies that India will not be part of a closed group of nations or aggregate Indian power in a bloc, but will chart out its own course based on its own capacity and ideas.
India bats for Strategic Autonomy
- When nations stand on the side of principles, not behind one power or the other, they earn the respect of the world and a voice in international affairs.
- For some, this portends a renewed emphasis on non-alignment.
- The PM himself used the more agreeable term “strategic autonomy”.
- In essence, it means that India has become too big to be part of any political-military camp whose design and role in Asian affairs are being conceived elsewhere, upon ideas that India might not fully share, and where India has a marginal role in strategy and policy implementation.
The China factor
- Second, even as China’s rise has undoubtedly increased the demand and space for India to increase its region-wide engagement, India’s role in the vast Indo-Pacific is no longer envisaged as a China-centric one.
- Our PM removed any lingering impression of an impeding crusade or an ideological sub-text to India’s Act East policy in the coming years when he remarked.
- India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members.
- In other words, India’s democracy is far more comfortable with a world of diversity than the spectre of a clash of civilisations or great powers locked in ideological contests
The Way Forward
- Without mentioning either, PM urged both the U.S. and China to manage their rivalry and prevent their “normal” competition from descending into conflict.
- He made it clear that while India would pursue many partnerships “in the region and beyond”, it was not going to choose “one side of a divide or the other” but would remain wedded to its principles and values that emphasise inclusiveness, diversity and of course its own interests.
- After drifting towards the U.S. for the past decade, Delhi is rediscovering a posture and policy for a multipolar world as well as taking greater responsibility for its own future and destiny.
- Reflecting its unique geographical position at the rimland of Eurasia and at the mouth of the Indo-Pacific, India’s foreign policy is likely to be driven by a dual attention to the balance of power and order building in the continental and maritime environment around the subcontinent.
A Counter-Terrorism Exercise
- India will host the first military exercise of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) group focussing on counter-terrorism in September.
- As part of this, a conclave of the Army chiefs of all seven member-states is being planned.
- The exercise is scheduled to be held in Pune in the second week of September.
- The aim of the exercise is to promote strategic alignment among the member-states and to share best practices in the area of counter-terrorism.
- The theme includes “counter-terrorism in semi-urban terrain and cordon and search”, and each side will bring in some 30 soldiers.
What is so special?
- The conclave of Army chiefs is scheduled on the last two days of the exercise.
- The chiefs will debate the challenge of terrorism and transnational crime, which is a major concern among all the states and on how they can promote collective cooperation.
- BIMSTEC countries held a disaster management exercise in 2017, but this is the first military exercise of the grouping which brings together important neighbors of India in South and Southeast Asia
- The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organization comprising seven Member States lying in thelittoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
- This sub-regional organization came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
- The regional group constitutes a bridge between South and South East Asia and represents a reinforcement of relations among these countries.
- BIMSTEC has also established a platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN members.
- The BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of the global population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.7 trillion economies
Programme picking up after a slow start + Huge Backlog
- After initial hiccups in implementing the maternity benefit programme Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), the government has finally made some headway and provided cash incentives to nearly 23.6 lakh beneficiaries out of an estimated 51.6 lakh a year.
- However, until January 2018, the government programme had covered only 90,000 women — a mere 2% of the target.
- However, due to a huge backlog from last year, the government needed to provide cash benefits to over 100 lakh estimated beneficiaries by the end of the financial year 2017-18.
States are yet to come on board
- Many States like Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha and West Bengal have not yet come on board to implement the scheme.
- These States account for nearly 25% of the total beneficiaries
- These states have their own maternity benefit schemes and have been reluctant to implement the PMMVY
- But they were bound to comply because the scheme was a by-product of the National Food Security Act.
Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY)
- The maternity benefits under PMMVY are available to all Pregnant Women & Lactating Mothers (PW&LM) except those in regular employment with the Central Government or State Government or Public Sector Undertaking or those who are in receipt of similar benefits under any law.
- The scheme is being implemented on a 60:40 cost-sharing basis with the State governments.
- It is for first living child of the family as normally the first pregnancy of a woman exposes her to new kind of challenges and stress factors.
- The Government of India has approved Pan-India implementation of PMMVY in all districts of the country under which the eligible beneficiaries get Rs. 5,000/- under PMMVY
- The remaining cash incentive as per approved norms towards Maternity Benefit under Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) after institutional delivery so that on an average, a woman gets Rs. 6000/-
- The objectives of the scheme are:
- Providing partial compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the woman can take adequate rest before and after delivery of the first living child; and
- The cash incentives provided would lead to improved health seeking behaviour amongst the PW&LM.
- However, to address the problem of malnutrition and morbidity among children, the Anganwadi Services Scheme, which is universal, is available to all PW&LM including the second pregnancy.
- Further, in order to address the malnutrition and morbidity during pregnancies a number of interventions are provided to the pregnant women viz. universal screening of pregnant women for Anaemia and Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) supplementation, Calcium supplementation in pregnancy, Deworming in pregnancy, Weight gain monitoring and Counselling on nutrition, family planning and prevention of diseases.
- To realise India’s potential in the field, a strong buy-in from policymakers is needed
- The NITI Aayog has published an ambitious discussion paper on kickstarting the artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem in India.
Meaning of Artificial intelligence
- The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
- AI is the use of computers to mimic human cognitive processes for decision-making.
Framework for AI tools
- The paper talks of powering five sectors — agriculture, education, health care, smart cities/infrastructure and transport — with AI.
- It highlights the potential for India to become an AI ‘garage’, or solutions provider, for 40% of the world.
- To pull this off, India would have to develop AI tools for a range of applications: reading cancer pathology reports, rerouting traffic in smart cities, telling farmers where to store their produce, and picking students at high risk of dropping out from school, among them.
- It is a tall order, but several countries have similar ambitions. The U.S., Japan and China have published their AI strategy documents and, importantly, put their money where their aspirations are.
- China, for example, plans to hand out a million dollars in subsidies to AI firms, as well as to run a five-year university programme for 500 teachers and 5,000 students.
- The NITI Aayog does not talk about how India’s ambitions will be funded, but proposes an institutional structure to get things going.
- This structure includes a network of basic and applied research institutions, and a CERN-like multinational laboratory that would focus on global AI challenges.
- These are lofty goals, but they beg the question: can India bring it to pass?
- In answer, the NITI Aayog offers a sombre note of caution. India hardly has any AI expertise today.
- The paper estimates that it has around 50 top-notch AI researchers, concentrated in elite institutions like the IITs.
- Further, only around 4% of Indian AI professionals are trained in emerging technologies such as deep learning.
- And while India does publish a lot, these publications aren’t very impactful;
- India’s H-index, a measure of how often its papers are cited, is behind 18 other countries. This is not encouraging, considering that returns on AI are not guaranteed. The technology has tripped up as often as it has delivered.
- Among successes, a recent study found that a Google neural network correctly identified cancerous skin lesions more often than expert dermatologists did.
- India, with its acute shortage of specialist doctors in rural areas, could benefit greatly from such a tool.
- studies have found that AI image-recognition technologies do badly at identifying some races, because the data used to train them over-represent other races. This highlights the importance of quality data in building smart AI tools.
- India lacks this in sectors such as agriculture and health. Where data exist, this is poorly annotated, making it unusable by AI systems. Despite these formidable challenges, the scope of NITI Aayog’s paper must be lauded.
- The trick will be to follow it up with action, which will demand a strong buy-in from policymakers and substantial funds.
Bringing in private sector talent can buttress the bureaucracy but far-reaching reforms are needed to revitalize it.
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