Grand Tamasha

Kashmir, the Indian Economy, and the PM’s Independence Day Speech

Episode Summary

It's season two! Milan breaks down the news of the summer with Sadanand Dhume and Tanvi Madan.

Episode Notes

In the season premiere, Milan hosts an end-of-summer news round-up with Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute and Wall Street Journal and Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution.

Milan and his guests discuss three topics: the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Section 370 of the Indian Constitution granting semi-autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, the slumping Indian economy, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address.

Programming note: this season we're changing up our format to allow us to dig deeper into the issues you care about. Each episode will either break down the news of the week, or feature an interview with an expert. Thanks for listening!

Episode Transcription

Introduction: 00:00 Music plays interspersed with clips of news anchors saying the following"Unabashedly" "The most unpredictable becomes a headline." "The most volatile outrageous behavior." Unsubstantiated" "A battle of personalities."
Milan Vaishnav: 00:11 Welcome to the Grand Tamasha podcast. I'm your host, Milan Vaishnav. We're excited to be back for a new season of timely commentary and analysis on Indian politics and policy. A quick programming note to let you know that we're updating the show's format for the new season. Each weekly episode will now be an interview or news roundup, but not both. We hope this change will allow for greater in depth discussion now that the election season is behind us. With that, we hope you enjoy Season Two of Grand Tamasha. We've been off the air since June, so we have a lot to catch up on. Joining me back in the studio this week, are Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Tanvi Madan senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Guys, welcome back to the show.
Sadanand Dhume: 00:52 Good to be back.
Tanvi Madan: 00:52 Good to be back. I hope everybody's had a great summer.
Milan Vaishnav: 00:55 So before we start, we have to discuss some personal updates. Sadanand, since we last saw you, you have become a Netflix star apparently? Tell us a bit more about your turn on Netflix.
Sadanand Dhume: 01:08 Netflix star by proxy. You know, my former boss, Arthur Brooks made a documentary called The Pursuit which is really a bit about three countries. It's about - mostly about three countries India, Spain, and the U.S. and he sort of looks at poverty and the role of free enterprise and alleviating it and so on. And so I have a bit part on the India section of it.
Milan Vaishnav: 01:32 And this is a Netflix special. It's, it's on -
Sadanand Dhume: 01:34 It's own right now. People can go and watch it.
Milan Vaishnav: 01:36 And, Tanvi, not only have you been promoted, congratulations to senior fellow -
Tanvi Madan: 01:41 Thank you.
Milan Vaishnav: 01:41 You also have an announcement forthcoming about a book. Tell us more about the book.
Tanvi Madan: 01:46 I do. I just finished looking at copy edits for my forthcoming book, which will be out in January, 2020. It's called "=Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations During the Cold War.
Milan Vaishnav: 01:59 So, look forward to a* Grand Tamasha* episode on "Fateful Triangle." I hope come January, 2020. On the show this week, we're going to discuss three topics. The Modi government's surprise decision to abrogate Section 370 of the Indian constitution. What does it mean for Kashmir, for India, for the neighborhood? Then we'll discuss the sad state of the Indian economy and we'll wrap up by talking about Prime Minister Modi's Independence Day address, which he delivered last week on August 15th. So let's start with the events unfolding in Kashmir after weeks of speculation that something really big was going to happen in Kashmir on August 5th, the Modi government announced that it plan to use Article 370 of the constitution to essentially gut Article 370 of the constitution, thereby fully integrating Jammu and Kashmir into India and ending at 70 years of constitutional autonomy. Sadanand, let me start with you. There's a lot to unpack here, but maybe it'd be useful just to walk our listeners through what exactly the Modi government has done.
Sadanand Dhume: 02:56 So it's essentially done two big things. The first is that it has stripped the former state of Jammu and Kashmir of, uh, a measure of autonomy that it enjoyed under the Indian constitution, at least in theory, if not in practice. The second is that it has ended statehood for Jammu and Kashmir and divided, uh, instead divided the state into the two different Union Territories, which will be directly administered by someone appointed by New Delhi. So it's a double whammy. So not only is - so not only has Jammu and Kashmir gone, virtually overnight from being - from enjoying at least in theory - more autonomy than most of the rest of India to enjoying less.
Milan Vaishnav: 03:00 Now you wrote a piece in the Atlantic, which I want to quote from, um, which describes a little bit the domestic and international ramifications of this move. And you wrote "whatever the cocktail of ideology, domestic politics, and security concerns that drove India’s decision, it does not change the fact that the move reveals a certain brittleness in India’s constitutional arrangements." What do you mean by that?
Sadanand Dhume: 04:01 I'm getting a ton of flack of, I don't follow on Twitter. As you can imagine being accused of being anti national by that, you know, great repository of excellence in journalism "Opp India." but you know, in the question for me, and I think that this is something we're going to be discussing for a long, long time because the ramifications are, you know, too vast to be unpacked over a matter of weeks or months is really how does India's how do India's democratic institutions - deal with something like this? Now, I'm not a legal expert and I'm sure that there are reasonable arguments about whether this is constitutional or not constitutional. But it's quite telling that the Indian Supreme Court has essentially ignored this for now. They've sort of put it off. They're not willing to address it. Right? They seem to be willing to address all kinds of things of great urgency such as the height of a Dahi Handi in Mumbai during Janmashtami, and whether or not India really urgently needs a direct flight from Delhi to Shimla. But somehow this grand, - this huge constitutional question with, not just domestic but also international ramifications - is perhaps just not important enough to make it to the docket. And so I think that that's one issue. The other really is how weak the opposition has been. Now you had some opposition from the Congress, but even the Congress has been really divided on this. And what happens, what seems to be happening is that the government has, made a popular decision. Let's make no mistake there. A very popular decision. It has much of the media on its side and under these circumstances, when you have this, you know, absolutely triple distilled populism at play to op, - are opposition parties able to stand up and play the role of an awful responsible opposition, or will they be steamrolled? And the evidence here suggests that they can be steamrolled quite easily. So these are the kind of the two major ones.
And of course a third is the media which has, you know, to a large extent, not counting a few, you know, principled people here or there. Much of the media is just cheer-leading this exercise. There is, hasn't been too much push-back, especially on television. So the question is whether you agree with this particular decision or not. The question is if you were to apply - if you were to just look at the health of Indian institutions in the face of populism, what does this tell us about Indian democracy? I'd say it shows a certain brittleness.
Milan Vaishnav: 06:31 But surely some of that has to do with the way in which this decision was implemented, right? You essentially enact a lockdown of the state. You round up all opposition leaders, you put them under house arrest, you shut down the internet, you shut down landline phones. You essentially give them an information blackout. There's some people who have argued that, like demonetization, - your other favorite subject - that you couldn't have done this unless you caught people by surprise and you had to, these were the facilitating or necessary a necessary necessitating conditions. Do you think we can separate means from ends?
Sadanand Dhume: 07:08 No, I think the, I actually disagree with you. I think that the, it's certainly true that the harsh means that were used probably, you know, amplify the importance of this issue. But it, - to me - it's a sort of, it's a simpler issue about whether or not the average voter really conceptualizes democracy as encompassing checks on executive power or whether they really see democracy as purely about the popular will. And that's what this is. Do you know, to me about it very strongly, and I think, I guess demonetization was that also, especially in the beginning - before people sort of, you know, finally woke up and realized that it was a disaster. - Uh but it is similar to that extent. How do you check how do you check power? And I think what we're finding in India is that the checks on executive power at least as to this government are extremely limited.
Milan Vaishnav: 08:03 So, Tanvi, let me bring you in and ask you about the international implications of this move. You know, there's a lot of speculation that President Trump's musings are kind of loose. Talk about the U S mediating the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could have spurred the Modi government to act. In your mind, is there any truth, is there any connectivity between what President Trump is on the one hand and what India has decided to do in Kashmir?
Tanvi Madan:* 08:27* So I think, you know, some of the speculation that it was his kind of Kashmir comment in particular that he, you know, would kind of love to get involved and mediate this that there's been some speculation that that itself sparked it. I think what con - what is a contributing - factor? I don't think that in and of itself sparked this or, or dictated styling. I think what did play a role is what essentially caused or facilitated the Imran visit itself - the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. And perhaps more importantly, the Pakistani Army Chief General Bajwa who just got an extension of three years. Their visit was, was facilitated and frankly would not have been possible without the U S desire to draw down/withdraw from Afghanistan. And I think there is, -there has been - a sense in India for a while, it's not like this has been a secret that this is coming.
Tanvi Madan: 09:25 They were expecting this during the Obama administration as well. And so this idea that when a U.S. withdrawal or draw-down, which would require certain amount of Pakistani cooperation or buy-in at least in the initial phase to get certain factions of the Taliban to the table. And then after that to help during the actual draw-down and withdrawal itself. If nothing else by holding back some of its fire. And that this US need for Pakistan would then give Pakistan more flexibility both in terms of expecting less pressure on itself to contain some of these terrorist groups that attack India but also potential carrots as well. And so I think this, this factor would have played into the Indian decision in terms of timing. Maybe. I think they would have planned to do this regardless in a second term because not only to have this kind of majority in the Lok Sabha but coming pretty close to a majority in the Rajya Sabha- maybe not a two thirds - but also getting a lot of Opposition support on board.
Tanvi Madan: 10:27 I think the other factor that might have played a role in terms of timing related to the Afghanistan, Pakistan, dimension is that the Indian government would have known that yes, this might mean that Pakistan will then try to either start using or pushing their proxy groups, towards taking certain actions, but at the same time there's a financial action task force meeting later this fall, which will - could potentially - blacklist Pakistan. So they know this is kind of timed in a way that it's before the U S draw down, but it's also before this meeting so that it could you know, contain some of these tendencies.
Milan Vaishnav: 11:02 I'm going to ask you about the events in New York. At China's behest, the UN Security Council held a closed door discussion on Kashmir. Everyone suspected that Pakistan really was was behind this. Truly. Given that they're such close allies of China's. The Security Council decided at the end of that meeting not to convene a formal session on the matter. And this was - has been seen and has been hailed widely as a kind of master stroke for Delhi's diplomacy. Tell us a little bit more about the significance of what happened in New York.
Tanvi Madan: 11:33 Sure. What is interesting is, I mean, in some sense is, we've seen, we saw both after the terrorist attack in Pulwama in Kashmir in the, in February. It was a Valentine's Day attack, if I remember correctly. And then in the Indian response then and the UN action around that. And now with this UN Security Council that we are seeing kind of this, these India/Pakistan issues come up at the UN again after a number of years. We haven't seen it for a long time that in that sense these issues are being discussed. But to me what's been really interesting is what these debates do. Not that what they tell us about India, Pakistan bilateral relations, but what it tells us about India's and Pakistan's relations with the major powers and where they stand geopolitically now in a way that's very different from where they were 20, 30 years ago.
Tanvi Madan:* 12:31* So yes Pakistan has got the backing of China. We're still trying to kind of figure out what Russia is doing. Initially it came out in support before this UN action was taken and said, look, this is India's internal matter. Esentially gave the Indian government point of view. But then around this UN Security Council closed session, we've seen kind of different views where on the one hand, they didn't push for an open session. But they did apparently, at least from one report, the Russians kind of stayed silent on whether it did support or oppose the decision to even release the statement afterwards. But also their UN - kind of their UN representative - did use language about UN resolutions, et cetera. So it kind of tells you what Russia has been doing, which is playing a little bit more middle of the road than they used to. Partly because they need Pakistan's support and cooperation for their interests in Afghanistan as well.
Tanvi Madan: 13:26 But on the other hand, I mean, look at the U.S. I think it says a lot that the, the countries that Indian commentators and diplomats, at the UN who are seen as their biggest backers at the UN have been the US and France. And outside of the UN Security Council context, you're seeing Pakistan's - other than China - their main supporters used to be the Middle East countries, particularly the Arab countries. But you've seen the Saudis, the UAE not really, - not just not come to Pakistan's defense, but or take its point of view, but actually actively side with India and it's got gotta hurt Pakistan that yes, the UN security council discussion they couldn't get kind of a public statement from the council as a whole from the council president, the Poles have the chair. But also the, this weekend Prime Minister Modi will be in UAE and he's been given the highest, highest civilian honor.
Tanvi Madan: 14:22 So, you know, that kind of thing where at the end of the day it's "the economy, stupid." that one thing that tells you how people's - these countries'- fortunes have changed. All you have to look at is that their GDP numbers.
Milan Vaishnav: 14:34 So that was a great segue to the next segment, but before we go there, one last question for you, Sadanand. How do the Pakistanis respond to this?
Sadanand Dhume: 14:41 Do you know? They're in a bit of a tight spot. They have very limited support. They have the support of China. They seem to have a certain amount of support in the UK where obviously there's a large Pakistani Diaspora They would be very tempted to play the terrorism card, but that of course carries risks because of the fear of sanctions. I think for now they're going to focus on the, on, on human rights and civil liberties. And frankly, so far, at least the Indian government has not exactly covered itself in glory. And they are helped - Pakistan is helped - to the extent that the, the way this is being discussed in India is so I would say hyper nationalistic and almost sort of blind to how this is being viewed in the rest of the world. And I'd say that from an Indian perspective, probably the smartest thing they could do would be to restore normalcy. And by that I mean they've already started restoring phone lines. Which is a good sign. Restore all the phone lines and release political prisoners. You know, by some accounts they've arrested up to 4,000 people uh - Lay out some kind of road map to - toward normalcy that they can present to the international community. And also perhaps a point as a governor - or now lieutenant governor since these are now Union Territories - figures, who would, you know, perhaps attract some, some amount of empathy or known for some amount of empathy for the community people.
Tanvi Madan: 16:09 I will say, I mean one of the things is while we are at this point where the Indian government could be if not pleased, at least relieved at the way the kind of international reaction has played out when this is not the end. We will see Pakistani efforts at the UN General Assembly and probably as is usual with Pakistan, a pretty vociferous speech by whoever the Pakistani kind of by whenever the Pakistani prime minister gives his speech at the UN. But I think at the end that might not matter as much to India, but what will could make a difference in terms of how the international community reacts and whether that could change from the current kind of quasi support to kind of sitting aside is one, how things play out as Sadanand's saying in Kashmir if you see kind of some level of violence and particularly not just, you know, people, if people aren't allowed to protest, I mean it is a democracy.
Tanvi Madan: 17:06 This is what makes India different from China after all the the ability to dissent and the ability to protest that if there is then kind of a violent response and there are images of this et cetera, you start - and then this becomes a more public you start to have this discussion again. And I think the second thing is if India, Pakistan tension increases then because of the nuclear aspect of both countries that they are nuclear weapons states, then you do see kind of countries start to worry. We saw this during Balakot as escalation was possible. Suddenly you start hearing calls of restraint. On the flip side, if there is a major terrorist attack by groups that are seen as Pakistani proxies, then you see that any support for Pakistan could also switch their discussion internationally the exact opposite way, including from a country like China.
Milan Vaishnav: 17:56 So let's move to topic number two now, which is the economy. You know, across the board, analysts and economists are revising their projections for India's GDP growth downwards. The Economist this week published a piece titled "India Inc is Growing Disenchanted with Narendra Modi." The piece goes on to say that private sector players "confide that the prime minister often asks not what the government can do for companies, but what they can do for the government. He is increasingly viewed not as broadly pro-market but selectively pro-business." Sadanand, let me turn to you. Is there a recognition in Delhi that the economy appears to be heading South? And if so, do you think that they are developing a strategy that can counteract this kind of economic malaise that we're seeing?
Sadanand Dhume: 18:39 Certainly seems to be a recognition that things are heading south. I'm not sure if that means that they have developed a strategy or change tack. You notice for example, in the prime minister's comments on Independence Day, he spoke about the importance of wealth creators. This is probably in response to multiple reports that the tax authorities under this government have run amok and are practicing what is called "tax terrorism." there is a general sense that you know, the promise of being more business friendly has really gone out the window. And instead what we ended up with is in, you know, probably the most status to government that we've seen in a generation. Many businessmen are, it's good that some of them are speaking out a little bit now. But this is not new for us who've been speaking to people who've spoken to businessmen privately. This is just it. And the fact that despite them being, you know, not, not traditionally the most courageous when it comes to speaking up to the,- against the - government. The fact that they're doing that now just shows you how much they hurting.
Milan Vaishnav: 19:45 And Tanvi, I want to ask you about that. I mean it's been striking to me that in the last few weeks we've seen a number of prominent business people come speak out against the government's handling of the economy. And that's something which Sadanand just mentioned is quite rare in India given the heavy hand of the state. So we've had Rahul Bajaj, Narayan Murthy, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, and even Mohandas Pai, who's been a staunch backer of the Modi regime. Particularly on social media, they've come out all with choice words about this government's kind of statist approach. Were you surprised by how outspoken they've been and do you think it's going to have an impact?
Tanvi Madan: 20:20 I was surprised partly because of what Sadanand says that you don't tend to hear them, them talking about the, their concerns publicly. Where does have an impact? Yes. The question is what kind of impact? I think to some extent you've already seen an impact. I think particularly Sadanand's point that when the prime minister gave this Independence Day speech, he said wealth creation because there's been not just these business persons kind of coming out and making these comments, but a number of people saying that the Indian budget reflected this idea that wealth creation is bad. And that redistribution is where things should be going. And so you heard the prime minister saying that, lo we shouldn't be suspicious of wealth creators. And we should respect them and then he added because if you don't have wealth, there's nothing to distribute.
Tanvi Madan: 21:13 Right? which is actually fundamentally the point that I hope there's some thinking about, which is on the one hand, he is doing some, the prime minister has an important focus in terms of getting, as we've seen in the past, you know, and, and you've written about, Milan, which is some of these kinds of service delivery. You know, toilets gas connections, health and education, which people and voters care about. But all this has to be paid for, for someone from somewhere. And where's that revenue going to come from? And what these kind of a business folks are trying to say. And also foreign investors who've been concerned with some of the announcements from the budgets and the sense of unpredictability, which is that, look, we need more predictability. We need an enabling environment, which the prime minister mentioned both predictability and creating enabling environments for business, but also for exports.
Tanvi Madan: 22:04 But I think the key is going to be do they listen not just to these concerns. That look, this is a problem and then say, look in, in rhetoric. But in reality, does the policy reflect the fact that they recognize that there is a connection between the wealth creation and the Indian state's ability to pay for these kind of these number of - social service projects that are worthwhile that are necessary to build up social infrastructure but need to be paid for? And not just by kind of trying to find some of these other quick fixes to get revenue, but you know, actually have kind of the pie so to speak. Gross. I, think, you know, we heard again in the Independence Day speech, this $5 trillion economy goal at the end of, I think he said at the end of his term. You can't get there unless you're thinking about the economy in a fundamentally different way. The fact that even Indian business, which is not just traditionally been kind of cautious about speaking out but also is actually not minded the statist economy entirely that they're speaking out. I do think, I'd hope that the government actually does take their concerns seriously.
Milan Vaishnav: 23:16 So, Sadanand, we're hearing a lot of rumblings about what the government might do to kind of get the animal spirits and the economy going again. This morning I saw a tweet that said that the finance minister has announced that they will gradually reduce the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%. That's something that they had selectively applied to very small companies. Now, we don't know what the definition of gradually is, but presumably investors will put that in the positive side of the ledger. What are some of the signals that you're looking for that will tell you that they're really serious about the kinds of reforms India needs to be that 5 trillion economy to have the 8 or 9% growth that we saw, you know, a decade ago?
Sadanand Dhume: 23:58 I mean, I don't know how much more gradual they want to get because this promise of reducing corporate tax rates to 25% -which would still be higher than they are in much of East Asia and higher, certainly much higher than they are in the United States - was made if memory serves by Arun Jaitley in 2015 and they still haven't got to it. It is 2019. So what does gradual mean? It's if they really were serious about it, she would say that, look, we made this promise. And we're going to implement it. And here you go. Now go now your taxes, your taxes are down to 25%.
Sadanand Dhume: 24:34 My problem is - or my worry is, rather - that this is a government that is- tends to find it difficult to distinguish between messaging and policy. And their instincts are very often - when sort of people start criticizing them- their instincts are to sort of find a way to I the intimidate the messenger or massage the message as opposed to just trying to fix the core policy problem. She could do - she could reduce taxes, which she's now hasn't done. She could junk this, you know, idiotic mandatory CSR that India has.
Milan Vaishnav: 25:11 This corporate social responsibility.
Sadanand Dhume: 25:13 But where this was actually something brought in by the previous government where companies have to spend 2% of their profits on corporate social responsibility, right? So, you know, Apple has to spend all their, spends its time trying to make the best iPhone to compete with Samsung. But if an Indian competitor ever emerged, it would have to spend part of its time building toilets in some politician's constituency.
Sadanand Dhume: 25:33 And this sort of to me shows a kind of fundamental inability to understand the most basic things about capitalism. That the profit motive actually is good for society. And so she could do many things. She could just sort of, she could reign in the tax inspectors. She could signal some seriousness about labor reform. There are many, many things. I mean, the reform agenda at this point there's nothing really new in there, right? We've been talking about these things. It -
Milan Vaishnav: 26:05 Disinvestment. Privatization of Air India, which is your favorite one.
Sadanand Dhume: 26:08 I think genuine disinvestment and not this like ridiculous disinvestment, which is where you get one state owned company to buy a stake in another state owned company. Right? So there are many ways they could sort of very clearly say that, look, we've turned the page and we understand the seriousness of this. So far we've seen no evidence of that.
Tanvi Madan: 26:25 Though. They are trying the privatization of Air India again. So maybe?
Sadanand Dhume: 26:30 Believe it when I see it.
Milan Vaishnav: 26:32 Uh speaking of messages, I want to spend some time talking about our last topic, which is the prime minister's Independence Day speech. It's a speech that you guys have already referred to in the of the Prime minister's comments about the importance of wealth creation and wealth creators. There were a number of interesting issues that came up during the course of the speech, which is, you know, a speech that many people look to, kind of, read the tea leaves of where the government's going. It was part kind of scorecard. It was part, I would say score settling and getting some jobs in at the opposition, particularly on the Kashmir issue. And then part this kind of aspirational rhetoric about the future which the prime minister is so good at. Tanvi, let me start with you. What were some of the other messages that caught your attention during the course of this speech?
Tanvi Madan: 27:19 So since I work in foreign and security policy, the one that stood out there was the announcement of India putting in place a Chief of Defense Staff which as my colleague Anit Mukherjee, who's based at RSIS in Singapore has said is not a new people who have been discussing this since Indian independence. But particularly since the Kargil - Post Kargil - Commissions, which we have talked about having kind of a first among equals amongst the military service chiefs. And the idea we don't have details about what this Chief of Defense Staff's role will be,uwhere we have some sense of where they'll stand in the hierarchy, which will be, again, not formal announcement, but reports we're getting is a four star hief who will be a first amongst equals compared to the three service chiefs,uthat they will have charge of the reports coming out of some of the integrated command space, cyber special forces.
Tanvi Madan: 28:19 But what we don't know is a little bit more about, you know, how much will they be responsible for creating jointness for potentially what we, what people have been waiting to see is can they actually get this person in this position to be in charge of things like prioritization across services in terms of procurement in terms of also integrating training and eventually moving towards, kind of integrated command structures across the board. But it's a good, it has been a good sign. The one other thing that I would flag that struck me - is kind of two other things. One is on what's going to be the next big project which is water. If the, you know, if the last government was about toilets, gas connection or energy access more broadly this next term for Modi seems to be getting piped water to households within kind of a time frame and the government's putting a lot of money behind it.
Tanvi Madan: 29:21 So I think that stood out. But the other thing was the political side. I'd be interested to get your sense of what you think about this, which snuck in there. I didn't get too much attention but given what they did with Article 370. You can now imagine a whole host of things that weren't possible, but now could be with the kind of majority they have, which is One Nation, One Poll which is this idea of holding all kind of India's elections at one go rather than having staggered elections between center and state. So those are the three things that stood out for me other than what we talked about earlier, which was the economic promises.
Milan Vaishnav: 29:55 Yeah. I mean, I think One Nation, One Poll constitutionally and legally has a number of issues that make it somewhat complex thing to unilaterally push through. Especially because you have to deal with this thorny issue of if you align the calendars of state and national elections and state government falls through a vote of no confidence or a coalition falls apart or whatever, what do you do? In the meantime, do you keep that assembly in suspended animation? Do you - can you - have a midterm poll? So I imagine the legal contestability is quite high. Although one thing which wasn't explicitly mentioned but a former RSS organizer had a piece today in the print on this is Uniform Civil Code. Basically saying that the path is pretty clear if this government really wanted to move on abolishing the idea of separate personal laws for Hindus, Muslims and others and moving towards a Uniform Civil Code.
Milan Vaishnav: 30:59 Not only do they have the momentum, but they probably have the popular support to do it. Sadanand what, what jumped out at you?
Sadanand Dhume: 31:07 So, I would agree on water and CDS, as in the chief of defense stuff being that sort of two of the big takeaways. The other one that I thought - was intrigued by - was his reference to population. And he really spent quite a lot of time talking about how people with small families must be honored and valued. And this to me, I would not be surprised if what he is teeing up is some kind of population control bill or disincentives for large families. And it's, it's very much in keeping with RSS thinking and if you sort of look at this, if you're looking at this speech to see what maybe what may be coming down the pike that's the one that I would add.
Milan Vaishnav: 31:54 I think the interesting twist on that is we've seen a number of states impose family planning restrictions. If you want to contest local Panchayat elections that you can have no more than two children. Imagine if such an amendment was brought in for MPs and MLAs. But it's not out of the realm that something like that -
Sadanand Dhume: 32:15 Not at all.
Milan Vaishnav: 32:15 - Is under consideration.
Tanvi Madan: 32:17 But one thing, I mean, given the historical connotations of this. The last time there was a serious discussion of population control was during the Emergency and it was one of the things that turned people against it. I mean, people forget the Emergency in the '70s wasn't necessarily popular in the public, very very unpopular. But this was one thing that, you know, cause it's such a personal thing. I think, you know, it'd be interesting because one of the Indian kind of the, the, the birth rates actually gone down and you don't want to get into a situation down the line where China is, where you don't have a replacement rate. And you have kind of - as it is you have - problems with female infanticide, et cetera. And these particular states like Haryana for example, though, some say they've been some improvements. But the state that's actually had the highest birth rates is Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Yeah. So these are kind of, this is going to be sensitive. Cause not just one community, it goes across the board. But I will say, just in terms of kind of a policy that actually has helped bring the birth rate down in India which I wish there was more direct attention is female literacy. And so, you know, I wish that actually got more into -
Sadanand Dhume: 33:32 You're saying that you believe that women should be educated?
Tanvi Madan: 33:33 If had something to throw other than my phone which would be ..
Milan Vaishnav: 33:37 Old fashioned notion.
Sadanand Dhume: 33:38 Really.
Milan Vaishnav: 33:40 Um so before I kick you guys out I'm going to wrap up like we do every week and every time you guys are on by asking each of you to name a story coming out of India that people may not be paying attention to but that they should be. Tanvi, do you have a nomination this week?
Tanvi Madan: 33:56 I want to say one word. Just one word. Plastics.
Milan Vaishnav: 34:00 Plastics!
Tanvi Madan: 34:00 Um so no, I do it. It's actually plastics.
Milan Vaishnav: 34:04 Oh no! You're actually being serious?
Tanvi Madan: 34:04 I'm being serious. One of the more intriguing things that the prime minister brought up again in the Independence Day speech, and actually put a timeline to, in terms of a big bang thing that we might hear about, which is he spoke against single use plastics. India has a huge plastics problem. You see this if you are going in the outskirts of Delhi, there's this huge trash dump in Ghazipur. You go to like a beautiful Shekhawati, where there are these old havelis in Rajasthan. Then they're next to the - right opposite - this huge dump of, um, plastics. But you also see plastic choking India's rivers. You see this in the mountains everywhere. And he's called for this, he's called in the past and his minister last year called for a ban of single use or phased out ban or a phasing out of single use plastic by 2022.
Tanvi Madan: 34:55 Modi has now said there will be some sort of announcement on or by October 2nd - probably on October 2nd - which will be the 150th birthday anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. So that's something which, you know, let's hope it's done in a planned manner. There's some states that already have some of thesepolicies, but this will be a good thing I think. And so that's my story out of India that could have actually huger ramifications for the environment, but also could potentially be a model for other countries if it's implemented as well as well.
Sadanand Dhume: 35:29 I'll just quickly repeat what I said earlier. I think this population story is very interesting because there's a private member's bill that's been proposed an RSS member who's been nominated to the upper house of parliament. And, and I think that there's sort of something cooking over there. We're not paying enough attention to it. And I don't know what the contours will be. I doubt very much that we're going to go back to a mid 70's style of forced sterilization. But I think that what was significant to me about the prime minister's speech - or one of the things that was significant - is that effectively he has enough capital to recreate a political debate about something that was - has been - regarded as politically toxic since at least 1977.
Milan Vaishnav: 36:11 Alright, Tanvi, best week, worst week. Who had the best and worst weeks in India in your view?
Tanvi Madan: 36:15 Uh so the worst week I would say kind of if I'm going to say, let me do the foreign policy side. If you're a supporter of Indo-British relations, you're not having a great week. And if you are an advocate for better relations, or changed relation/transformed India, China relationship, you did not have a good week because I think their voting pattern at the UN Security Council suggests that there are underlying issues. There are fundamental issues both with China and to some a lesser degree, the UK, which because of its own electoral politics and its desire to, I think, continue to try to solve Kashmir having created the problem in the first place or at least helped create it. It has had a bit of a problem.
Tanvi Madan: 37:02 Best week I think the BJP manifesto maybe not the week, but the best few weeks, which is you know, as, as, as I think it's people should take BJP manifesto seriously. In '98 it said that they were gonna you know, test nuclear weapons and have a nuclear test. And they did and everybody was surprised. They, I would this this kind of adjustment of not revocation, but the, a adjustment of Article 370 was also in, in the manifesto. And so we ignore them at our peril.
Milan Vaishnav: 37:34 I mean, it's like the whole conversation we've been having in America about, you know, do you take Donald Trump seriously, but not literally? And apparently you should be taking the BJP manifested both literally and seriously because they've started to deliver on some of these core agenda items. Sadanand, worst week, best week?
Sadanand Dhume: 37:49 Let me stick with the foreign policy team that Tanvi kicked off and say - I'd say - the best week would be for U.S.- India partisans. Uyou had this moment of, you know, great sort of international attention and basically at the UN,uthe US very clearly and unambiguously,ubacked in there when it counted. And the worst week is the opposite obverse of that, which is of course, you know, India has a large group of panda huggers. Because, you know, how do they bow - go and explain to people that, you know, that there there's any kind of logic in being somewhat equidistant. So I'd sort of be curious to see what the sort of folks who have been, you know, going on and on about the importance of BRICS, for instance.
Sadanand Dhume: 38:34 What the, how they're going to of respond to the fact that not only did China support Pakistan, which is sort of fairly predictable, but the vociferousness with which their ambassador at the UN came out and really kind of slammed India. And I think that sort of anyone who is, has been batting for the closer U.S.-India relationship would see that as a pretty interesting development.
Tanvi Madan: 38:56 And of course without any sense of irony talking about human rights issues forget what's happening in Xinjiang or Hong Kong.
Milan Vaishnav: 39:03 On that sunny note. Thank you guys both for coming. The idea for Season Two is we'll do news roundups I think maybe once a month or every three or four episodes. So look forward to having you guys regularly back at this table.
Sadanand Dhume: 39:19 You'll have to continue paying us in hazelnut coffee,.
Milan Vaishnav: 39:24 Shhh! Hazelnut coffee with hazelnut creamer. This is a first witnessed today on this show,.
Tanvi Madan: 39:28 Oh, that's just Sadanand. I just liked my hazelnut coffee neat.
Milan Vaishnav: 39:32 Thanks guys.
Milan Vaishnav: 39:32 The Grand Tamasha is a co-production of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Hindustan Times. You can find us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Don't forget to rate and review. It helps others find the show more easily. For more information about the show and to find the writing we referenced on this week's episode, visit our website Production assistance comes from Megan Maxwell and Rachel Osnos. Tim Martin is our audio engineer and Lauren Dueck is our executive producer. Thanks for listening and see you next week.