There is unprecedented disarray and instability in the global economy ever since the outbreak of the Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) in January 2020. This development has exposed the deep fault lines existing in the global economic and political order besides severely impacting countries across the spectrum. The current situation has no parallels in contemporary times and its impact in the short term may be even worse than what was witnessed during the great the recession of the 1920’s.
India will not be same in the post COVID-19 scenario and has certainly emerged stronger in a strategic sense. There is hope that in the next 12-18 months it would have recovered from the economic depression caused by the pandemic and would have moved to the next level on the global leadership leaderboard. It has been a stupendous national effort in containing the spread of the virus utilizing the existing infrastructure.
The credit for all this is owing to the efforts of India’s highest political levels, led by Prime Minister Modi. There are many takeaways from it. The recipe for this success story is the strong political leadership, an unambiguous mandate to the service providers and wise handling of precious resources. The country rose to the occasion, as it has done in the past during threats and challenges, joining hands and supporting the efforts of the government. Importantly, the Centre-State relations, a thorny issue in recent past, has closed ranks to face the emergency created by COVID-19.
Several Out of the Box approaches by the Modi government has found resonance across the international spectrum.
India has now to calibrate its comprehensive national security strategy in both internal and external domain. The lessons learnt from dealing with pandemic should dictate a way forward. The wish list includes an immediate action plan to augment the national public health sector such that it is capable of addressing medical disaster management and this includes strengthening the pharmaceutical industry leading to reduced dependence on foreign sources of supply. Impetus must be given to Medical Education and Research and Development, Information Technology, Information and Communication Technology, safeguarding supply chain systems and harnessing technology as a force multiplier and game changer. Government must improve satellite coverage and acquire real time imagery of sensitive areas on a regular basis.
Indian Satellite Research Organization (ISRO) should step up to this challenge. The ISRO, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Defense (MOD) should be in a position to provide coverage of all major cities in first phase and also create within each state police force, a separate Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) division under modernization plans of the MHA. Cyber security must become a major player in our Homeland security space, and it must employ a wide range of technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IOT), Block Chain Technology (BcT) and Machine Learning (ML). All this is possible within the resources in the country and efforts to involve foreign players must be banned.
COVID-19 has made India realize its comprehensive national strength which must be exploited for best possible advantage. Unless indigenous technology is not encouraged in cash and kind, India will be at the mercy of foreign players. The Niti Aayog has a crucial role to play in this direction and in tandem with the private sector it should consider extending the benefits of “Make in India” to newly emerging strategic sectors of the economy.
China remains a source of major threat to India. The announcement that foreign direct investment into critical sectors will now require to follow the government route is another expression of India’s growing confidence. There is also the requirement of reducing Chinese presence in several areas especially the telecom sector. The government of India may look to sensitizing relevant sectors of the national economy, both government and private, on doing business with China.
There is no dearth of Indian professionals and China-watchers and they can be drafted for the purpose. A few years ago, the National Institute of Advances Studies (NIAS), Bangalore hosted an international workshop on “How to do business with China”. A galaxy of Indian experts from civil service, intelligence community, corporate leaders, telecom industry professionals, academics and media participated in it. The workshop was an outstanding success. More such workshops must be organized as a private-public joint venture.
China is most likely to emerge with a much tattered reputation which will challenge its claim to be a responsible world power. It has created much distrust among the global community over its facile handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Several nations have spoken up against China in the past few days and the text and tenor reflect their anger, and distrust. The coming few weeks if not days will perhaps witness more discordant voices against Beijing. There is hope that there will be an objective assessment of China and its role in the pandemic and on ensuring that its intent and designs will be checked if not arrested. Subversion of the World Health Organization (WHO) and possibly of other agencies of the United Nations by China has to be addressed in real earnest.
An analysis of media reports underline that China is the main culprit responsible for the human misery and economic mayhem caused by the pandemic and it must bear the costs. This is one side of the coin. On the other, it will be safe to assume that China will continue efforts to garner more and more influence in those countries that are dependent on its largesse and others it seeks to bring within its ambit.
The United States of America (USA), which is undergoing the biggest challenge to its national security on account of the manifold effects of coronavirus, remains an apt foil to China. It has in the past several weeks displayed a dysfunctional approach to the pandemic under President Trump. There is no doubt that it remains a large military and economic power and in tandem with its allies both in Europe and Asia fashion a coalition for quick economic recovery and create greater opportunities for itself. The onus is therefore on the USA and its allies to emerge stronger to ensure favorable strategic balance.
Japan has taken the lead in advising its business community to relocate from China and assured them of financial assistance. India should be the obvious destination for them. Indian corporate and business community have to aggressively court their Japanese counterparts and draw them to India. There are several areas where Japan and India can collaborate making best use and capitalize on emerging opportunities. The moment is now.
Author: Pratap Heblikar
The writer is Managing Trustee of Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore (ICSB) and a former Special Secretary, Government of India.