At Harris Bricken, we keep close tabs on what is happening around the world, and we know that our friends and clients do, as well. We are happy to provide this podcast series: Global Law and Business, hosted by international attorneys Fred Rocafort and Jonathan Bench, where we look at the world by talking with business leaders, innovators, service providers, manufacturers, and government leaders around the globe.
In Episode #92, we are joined by Aman Thakker, Senior Programs Manager at Indiaspora, a nonprofit organization of global Indian origin leaders committed to inspiring the diaspora to be a force for good by providing a platform to collaborate, build community engagement, and catalyze social change. We discuss:
- Indialogue, which is Aman’s newsletter covering India’s current economic and political developments.
- Aman growing up in India, leaving India, and then returning to India through his academic focus.
- What it is like to work at a think tank, especially having honest discussions behind closed doors on how to educate the public on difficult issues.
- Cooperation between U.S. and India in defense matters.
- Cooperation between Indian and U.S. states.
- India’s overall scorecard over the last 20 years, including limitations like corruption, India’s religious vs. secular split, and insufficient reforms.
- India’s relationship with China and Russia.
- Listening, and watching recommendations from:
- War and Peace in Modern India: A Strategic History of the Nehru Years by Srinath Raghavan
- The Fateful Triangle by Tanvi Madan
- The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This podcast audio has been transcribed by an automatic transcriber.
Fred Rocafort 00:07
Global law and global business go hand in hand, but never seem to keep pace with each other. The importance on the global stage of developing and developed nations waxes and wanes, while consumption and interconnectedness steadily increase all the while laws and regulations change incessantly requiring businesses to stay nimble. But how do we make sense of it all? Welcome to Global Law and Business hosted by Harris Bricken International Business attorneys. I’m Fred Rocafort.
Jonathan Bench 00:37
And I’m Jonathan Bench. Every week, we take a targeted look at legal and economic developments in locales around the world as we try to decipher global trends in law and business with the help of international experts. We cover continents, countries, regimes, governance, finance, legal developments, and whatever is trending on Twitter. We covered the important the seemingly unimportant, the relatively simple and the complex.
Fred Rocafort 01:02
We hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. please connect with us on social media to comment and suggest future topics and guests.
Jonathan Bench 01:21
Today, we’re joined by Aman Thakker, Senior Program Manager at Indiaspora, and an Adjunct Fellow with the Wadhwani Chair at the U.S. India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. That’s CSIS for those of us who follow CSIS. His research focuses on India’s foreign and security policies. Aman, welcome to Harris Bricken’s Global Law and Business.
Aman Thakker 01:45
Thanks, Jonathan. Thanks, Fred. It’s pleasure to be here.
Jonathan Bench 01:48
We’d love to hear some more about your background, I’m always interested in professionals, I find that very few of us have real linear progressions from what we think we want to be when we grow up to where we end up today. Although a lot of people who we talked to in the international sphere end up doing what they want to do, it just takes us six or seven turns along the way. So if you could fill us in a little bit about your background, where you came from, and how you got to where you are now?
Aman Thakker 02:13
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s been, like you said, twists and turns along the way, all very exciting. Um, I really got into international relations as a area of focus, which I thought would be great before I went off to law school. That’s why I went to GW to study IR, I said, it’d be a great way to kind of focus on this area of the, you know, study an area of political science that really interests me, and you know, it’ll be great prep for for law school. And within a year of doing IR, I think I said goodbye to law school dreams, and was just enamored and very interested in just sort of what was happening around the world. And I think what I did was really start to a little bit play the field of you know, what was happening around the world. Of course, when I was studying IR, you know, Iraq and Afghanistan were major topics of security policy and security studies. For the United States. It was a lot of, you know, my contemporaries studying Arabic, for their languages, when they came to GW and tried to sort of, you know, get into that. And, in as much as it was really interesting to learn about the issues on the ground there, I just, you know, you kind of find that there’s not enough fuel in the tank to keep you going for four years of rewriting a thesis or writing papers or things like that, I did the same thing about Latin America or Africa. And that’s, I think the beauty of studying at GW is you have professors and fellow students that allow you to kind of explore the world and get really, you know, deep into a region if you want. And somewhere midway through my second year of university, I just rediscovered India, I think it was the Indian Mars mission launch. And I was taking a space policy course, which counted for international relations, you know, how global space policy is going and how countries are engaging space, whether their norms and rules that they’re following. And I wrote my, my final paper for that class on India’s Mars mission and how it was able to achieve such a ambition and such a goal that I think a handful of countries had done at that point, just the US and China and Russia. And that really got me back into India. Of course, I grew up there, but that really got me to into India in a in an academic way. And since then, I’ve I’ve kind of focused my career around wanting to answer the questions that I have about India. And that’s been through some work in management consulting, where I got to kind of do a little bit of work on India working with nonprofit clients that were, you know, looking at India and trying to solve some of the big societal problems that are there. I was obviously at a think tank at CSIS, you know, doing research on India. I’m now leading some of the global expansion work at Indiaspora, which is a diaspora focused organization of global Indian origin leaders and you know, trying to take our organization which has been focused on the US for the last nine years since our founding, to be active in at a global level in the UK, and in Canada and the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. So, really my career, I like to say that, you know, it’s taken different forms. It’s been in nonprofit management, or it’s been in strategy consulting, or it’s been in Think Tank research, but all kind of focused around, I think, answering some of the questions that I have about India, its future and the future of its people both at home and in the diaspora, and just just trying to answer them through through professional opportunities that come up along the way. And I hope that I can continue to keep doing that, for the future.
Jonathan Bench 05:49
You know, I think that’s a really healthy way to think about your career. I mean, our careers generally writing and if we’re constantly chasing questions, we’re trying to understand what’s going on. That’s kind of my were my love of, I’d say economics, global geopolitics. Everything’s wrapped together. And of course, I’m a lawyer by trade. And so how the law underpins all of that. So I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s going on in the world so big and complicated. How do I make sense of any of this? And I hope I’m making some strides. But honestly, at the end of the day, the world is so complicated, I appreciate people like you who are subject matter experts that that can really break it down and digest what’s happening for the rest of us. I think Fred gets credit for finding you first finding your work on on India log, we both follow your newsletter, I think we’re going to ask you about that in a little bit. But I just want to say, it’s been a lot of fun to follow you and really appreciate your high level analysis and understanding of what’s going on in India, as I’ve been trying to understand, right, this is a big country, a lot of people he said in the diaspora is doing things all over the world too. So, and a lot of this stems from one of my best friends growing up in in rural Wisconsin was from India, he moved into town when he was in, you know, we’re both in third grade. And so we were we were friends all through school. So I was exposed to his, his languages at home, his culture, the food, and it was honestly a lot of fun for me being in a place where we didn’t have a lot of diversity.
Aman Thakker 07:18
Yeah, no, thank you so much for the kind words about about the newsletter, happy to you know, chat about that. And, you know, I’ve had that same experience where, you know, I was an immigrant I moved here when I was 13 years old. And, you know, again, it was a New Jersey, so a bit more, you know, that Indian community, but for still, you know, that syncretism that comes of you know, kind of sharing your culture, sharing your language with people that are interested in and excited and eager to learn about India, as always, joined deucing, I think, for any Indian person, but especially for, for me, who can talk about India for for hours and hours, as my friends and colleagues can tell you. So, you know, happy to dive into any areas of India that y’all want to take me to?
Fred Rocafort 08:00
Come on. There’s a lot that I want to cover, but it’s a preliminary question, if you will, I’d like to ask you to talk a bit about what working at a think tank entails. I’m curious as to what happens be behind the scenes, on the one hand, I have this perhaps romantic idea of experts, like yourself sitting in a, in a nice office in DC and you know, having a cup of coffee, and just just letting the ideas flow, if you could help us color between the spaces, you know, what’s working at a think tank, like as a, as a practical matter on a day to day basis?
Aman Thakker 08:40
Sure, yeah. I wish it was as, as exciting as I think you you said it, which is, you know, you grab a cup of coffee, and you just let the ideas flow. I think, you know, we tend to do a lot of work that, you know, kind of feels and resembles like that, you know, you are coming up with ideas. But it is is, you know, hardly, I think an individual’s effort. And I think that’s, that’s one thing that, you know, I, I like to say about think tanks is, is it’s it’s incredibly collaborative, and the ideas are just generated, you know, in a team format. But let me let me zoom out at the start and just kind of talk a little bit about, you know, how the day to day kind of works, really, the end goal is to influence and shape either conversations about policy at the low level, and then policy itself at the high level. And so, you know, what you’re trying to do is make sure that if you have ideas about where the direction of policy should go, and for us, you know, we did this both influencing or in shaping conversations as well as policies in India, but also in the US, and it’s policies towards India. You know, it is a matter of, I think, really three things. One is writing and contributing research, evidence based kind of analysis and recommendations that can advance, you know, your recommendations about policy. The second is convenings, you have to get the people in the right room and you know, make sure that they can discuss share amongst each other and talk about it sometimes behind closed doors, so that they’re honest discussions about what the roadblocks are, whether it’s you know, bureaucratic hurdles, whether it’s, you know, political will hurdles, whether it’s budgetary hurdles. And then I think there’s also a level of public intellectualism, which is the more, you know, outward focused events that we do, trying to educate, not just the elites, the policymakers or the bureaucrats or the leaders, but also the general public at large about your ideas, and why they should have a vested interest in the advancement of a particular policy recommendation or not. So those are, I think, broadly, the three things that we try and do in order to shape you know, at the low hanging fruit, at least the conversations around policy, we try and, you know, add new ideas to the mix. Some of them, you know, some something tanks are very good at, you know, Overton window things, trying to bring in ideas that were outside of the mainstream for a long time and trying to make them more palatable. And then, you know, at the really sort of high level, the most effective think tanks, I think, can actually shape policy and can craft and make compelling arguments and get them to the right audience that those recommendations are actually translated into, into actual policy. And so you know, a day can be anywhere from you know, so, for example, our program at the Wadhwani, chair had three broad areas, you know, we worked on one of the areas that I really was passionate about, which is a US India defense and security relationships, and we did a lot of work there. The second area was on shaping India’s domestic reform agenda and trying to, you know, underscore how those economic reforms how they might unleash a new era of job creation, sustainable middle class creation and growth for for India. And then the third, which was very unique to our program at CSIS is a focus on sub national entities within India, especially states. And because states, much like in the United States have a lot of enumerated powers under the end of the Constitution of India, they get to control budget and implementation for things like energy policy for health and sanitation, for water for law and order for, you know, a whole host of issues. And so how can we work with sub national entities to advance, you know, climate change related goals, for example, you know, India is not going to meet climate change goals, just because the Senator said it would, but you know, because the states take forward the implementation of having a clean energy grid or having solar power be a majority of the power that Indian consumers use that that’s going to be led by sub national entities rather than the national political class. And so, you know, we would, you know, spend our days writing recommendations and papers a either publish privately, in sent to government authorities or published publicly, you know, at CSIS as issue briefs, or as commentaries where we would try and get them placed in a popular media, you know, at as op eds, you know, they’re trying to advance a particular argument of why policy should be changed, advanced, double down on, we would convene, state, you know, government leaders on energy policy or health policy to discuss the challenges that they faced, one of the key things that we did, for example, is recognize that there was a lot of learning that could happen if we put brought together the, you know, Chief energy bureaucrat in India, but chief energy bureaucrat at a state in India, so say, the state of Maharashtra, which, you know, is home to the financial capital, Mumbai, how do you power that that state, which is, you know, about, you know, 200 150 200 million people? And how do you try and, you know, match them with someone like in California, who has really, you know, taking steps forward on the transition to clean energy? And are there things that the chief energy bureaucrat of Maharashtra can learn from California? Are there innovative, low cost solutions that California may not have thought of, but they could learn from Maharashtra and how do you convene these two individuals and their teams behind, sometimes closed door sometimes open doors and in public conversations, so that they can have frank open discussions on how the two countries can maybe collaborate on climate change as they are trying to get to a netzero or carbon neutral future? Those are the kinds of things that you know, we we would advance it at CSIS. So, in some ways, it is, you know, at the top level, it feels like we’re coming up with ideas, but really we’re trying to learn from how other countries have maybe done it learn from how countries are doing it in India? And what lessons are there for the US, how the US may have done some things, and what lessons are for India and really try and, you know, shape policy so that we can achieve shared goals that these two countries have on climate change on health care and pandemics, you know, now that COVID-19 has come front and center for us how can you know US and India collaborate on pandemics together, as we found, you know, here, it’s the state governments that control how pandemic response works. So how can New York and the state of West Bengal work together, you know, are their learnings that they can learn from each other on how they did testing how they did vaccinations, how they did, you know, lock downs, and managing, you know, contact tracing, those are the kinds of things that at least from a state level, we did, and we did the same thing on security and defense and the same thing on economics, you know, we would publish our results, we would convene individuals, and we would do a lot of things for public consumption, so that even voters and interested parties could get involved in these discussions and, you know, sometimes recognize positive momentum that’s happening with some of these countries, and sometimes in key moments like the ongoing, you know, Conference of Parties that’s happening in Glasgow and climate change, make sure that they know you know, what steps India is taking what steps the US is taking, and be a part of that conversation and push the government sometimes to do some of the right things on climate change and make some of the right decisions, even if they will be costly. That happens, I think, through think tanks and public education that we can do, translating, I think things that are a little bit more technical and detailed into ways that can be consumed by interested voters interested general audience and and make that sort of a broad conversation about the future of of the US India relationship and the future of their countries, you know, shared goals and dreams and ideals. So that’s, I think, in short, how I saw the role of being at a think tank.
Jonathan Bench 17:07
So I’m, I’m curious, as someone who grew up in India came to the United States, and now you’re working directly with US and India, policymakers and other prominent people, how are you received back home in India? Do they look at you as an outsider, as an insider, as a helpful collaborator as a nuisance? What what kind of experiences have you had, as you’ve been trying to engage in this dialogue between both countries?
Aman Thakker 17:36
Yeah, it’s a good, it’s a great question. I think on the most part, it’s been a very positive experience, although I think, any any think tank or sometimes now, given that it involves, you know, being publicly active on social media, or, you know, in writing, get sometimes the allegation that you are, you know, advancing American interests, or, you know, you’ve gone to the west and, you know, you don’t care that much about India, sometimes you get the very, culturally, you know, specific phrase, a brown see boy on Twitter, sometimes if you make an argument that goes against a particular political ideology, or, you know, someone’s particular political inclinations, which, you know, kind of references the, the, the soldiers that, you know, served in the British colonial army. And so, you know, you kind of get some allegations like that, on the whole, I think I most people see people from the diaspora, and especially those that are working on policy issues as helpful translators, as helpful people that can see both sides, if you know, what each country’s national interests are, try and find ways that you know, when those conflict to try and defuse them earlier on, anticipate them and try and defuse them. I still, for me, I’m still an Indian citizen, I still have my Indian passport. And you know, I have family back home in India. So I, I consider myself still, you know, in large part Indian in the way that I, you know, not just my nationality, but in the way that sort of I approach my desire to study India and the reasons why I’m interested in policy questions about India. So I think it’s just about, you know, kind of shaking that off. Sometimes when people have those arguments that you’re not, you know, you’re undermining India and you’re supporting a foreign power when you’re there. That’s really not what we’re trying to do, especially in the policy realm. We we don’t make policy and we can try and influence it. But we try, at least in my research, I don’t know I can’t speak for everyone else. But in my research, I try to advance something that I think is a shared goal and a shared interest between these two countries, as well as a shared vision as a as a positive vision that I see for India when I write about India policy, not just US India relations, but things that India should take forward. I try not to care that much about political inclinations or leanings, I, you know, have lived outside of, of India, as long as I’ve been a voting age. So I haven’t had the opportunity to vote in in Indian elections. And since I became an adult, but my use, I have no political leanings, but my desire is always to advance what I think is the best, you know, policy that will advance India’s national interest. And I try and argue within all of my writings, what I think India’s national interest is within this particular issue. So, for example, let’s take the Indo Pacific and you know, why India should collaborate on naval issues or on critical technology or on climate change with the United States and with Australia, and with Japan under the aegis of the quad? Why is that within India’s national security interest, I try and define that in my, in my, in my writings, and then, you know, argue that this is the kind of policy changes that we need to take on the defense side, or on the military policy side or on the foreign affairs side, to advance that particular national interest. And here’s why the existing policy may not be doing it to the extent that we need, or here are, what the roadblocks of the existing policy are, or here’s why it’s creating friction with our partners and why it needs to be resolved. So I, I try and take a broader kind of look at what India’s interests are, and why those interests would be achieved better with something that I may be recommending or talking about, or suggesting a different path on. And I think that as long as that I think is the is the rule for anything tank, or I think that any allegations of them saying that, Oh, you’re you know, advancing someone else’s interest, or you’re, you know, betraying the national interest of India in favor of others. And that really comes up, you know, when issues like India’s turn away, potentially from secularism, and towards India, majoritarian ism, and why that would make India a less attractive partner in the Indo Pacific, why that would raise questions about India’s commitment to values of democracy of secularism, of, of human rights around the world, that I think you know, is when you start getting those attacks. And I still maintain that, you know, a lot of that is rooted in a desire to make sure that we’re achieving India’s national interest. And those are rooted in my opinion, and I strongly believe that in India, maintaining its secular democratic character. And so, you know, people may see that as, oh, you’ve gone to the west, and you have Western sensibilities now, and you need to, you know, understand how Asia works, or the world works. Or you might see that as people saying that you’re trying to peddle a particular political ideology. I disagree. I think it’s just about trying to advance it the US national interest, and I’m happy to, you know, engage someone in a productive conversation on why I think a secular democratic identity, for example, is in India’s national interest compared to another form of identity that may be in fear that that some might be in favor of.
Jonathan Bench 22:56
So how do you feel India is doing now or let’s, let’s take the last 20 years, right, and I turned 40 this year. So I’d say I started paying attention to the world about 20 years ago, I wasn’t really, you know, political, I wasn’t a political major in, in college, I didn’t pay attention in high school, I didn’t, I took I took the easy classes, and I enjoyed my time in high school. But I got serious when I got to college, right? When I had my first international experiences. So let’s take the last 20 years, because a lot has happened. Often I go back to that time when Fred and I are talking with guests about China, because China really started to turn the corner around 2000, 2001 when he joined the WTO. So let’s talk about the last two decades in India, if we can go that, that global. And give us your maybe your overall scorecard on things that you see India’s doing well, things that that can be improved. And I think we’re going to get into the US, India, us other international relationships later. But since you’re you’ve been paying attention to India, I’d really love I really love hearing from insiders. You know, how do you think, how do you think it’s doing? How’s India doing?
Aman Thakker 24:00
It’s been, you know, a remarkable transformation over the 20 years, I think there are specific years and specific policies that we can disagree on. But I think on the overall picture, it would be hard to disagree with the fact that, you know, when you look at where India was in 2000, or even when its initial reforms period, started in 1991, when it started reforming its economy to where it’s come to now. It has transformed incredibly in those last 20 or 30 years, we have built up a middle class, we have advanced our economy and you know, turned it into one of the you know, the top 10 economies of the world you know we have integrated with the rest of the world and created you know, opportunities for progress and growth through leveraging technology, mobile phones, digital payments. We’ve brought a lot of prosperity to corners of India that you know needed to reach Creek create that needed to reach that level of prosperity and needed to feel that, you know, that that they were advancing in their personal lives as well as the country advancing at a at a global stage. So I think that’s a definitely happened. I think three things continue to really plague India in terms of preventing I think, reaching its full potential. The first I think is is going to be, and this is more, I think, relevant to the earlier part of the last two decades about corruption and, you know, sort of public pilfering and the the role of ministers and bureaucrats in skimming off the top of government contracts, or, you know, taking sort of personal advantages of their, you know, power and roles in government was definitely a huge drain on how far India could be seen as a country to do business in and, and the ability for all of the benefits of our economic growth and our ability to engage and interact with the world and globalize our economy. We’ve lost some of those benefits, because they’ve gone to corrupt officials or corrupt ministers or, you know, corruption at large. And this is systemic, I think, you know, it’s it happens at the national level. But I think it also happens in state government levels. There’s a lot of, you know, skimming off the top and pilfering of resources when it comes to rations and things like that. But you can hear stories about India, there’s tons of you know, research, evidentiary research that’s been done on, you know, why some of the support like cash transfers or rations or food packages that should have been allocated to people who are poor, sometimes don’t even get there. Because as it gets through middlemen after middlemen, or as it gets from a policy dictated from, you know, either be the top of the state government or the central government to the execute or on the ground, people have taken their unfair share along along the way. That has changed a little bit. You know, I can I can say that there’s, at least in the last seven or eight years, no concrete evidence of any, you know, major corruption scandal or scam that’s happened in India under the last seven or eight years since 2014. The Prime Minister Modi has come to power he did come to power with that message of good governance and of, of cleaning up I think, the the issues that were there with previous governments on on kickbacks and corruption scandals, but I think there’s not yet been a systemic change top to bottom on making sure that that gets a little bit better. And I think there’s still work to be done, you know, I think at the national level, and there’s been no ministerial level, you know, scams or things like that, but I think you know, there are still gaps and holes to be plugged of, of, you know, medium size or small size corruption that really snowballs and avalanches into becoming a, a major drain on Indian state resources. So that remains that remains one. I think the second I think, as we just talked about is a ongoing, and very rich, argumentative, passionate, problematic at times discussion that happens about the future of India’s identity, whether it’s going to be a secular democratic country, or whether it’s going to be a country in which a Hindu majority asserts its right, and tries to correct whether real or perceived wrongs but wrongs that it sees have been done to the Hindu majority and, and, you know, tries to advance a politics of of, you know, reasserting power and, and reasserting themselves as drivers of the Indian future. I think there’s a lot that goes, I think, to the heart of what India wants to be moving forward. And I think there are, there are significant implications for how that debate plays out, not just internally about the character of Indian democracy and what it wants to be for itself, but also its ability to partner and, and be an effective, you know, sought after partner and the foreign relations and then the international stage. And I think that remains a a discussion that the outcome of which will remain extremely influential and impactful. And I think the third is, you know, since we’re talking about advancement of India’s economy, India’s ability to be a great power. I think the third thing is, is getting a lot of the policy tools right to achieve the goals that we have, I think we are still sometimes not thinking in structural ways and big systemic ways about how we can change I think we sometimes tinker around the edges, on policy and on changes so for example, you know, reforming the economy and things like that. I think, you know, we sometimes undertake reforms that aren’t systemic in nature, but do sort of taper around the edges or are reforms that that are not high impact and are billed as very high impact. For example, you know, a long term issue, I think, for India has been, and I’m not necessarily an expert on this, but this is something that I followed is India’s banking system. And, you know, the the level to which there are bad loans, toxic assets that haven’t been cleaned up. And, you know, we have tried to take corrective action. And they, you know, the central bank has worked with banks to identify, you know, how deep dismissive of toxic assets goes, and you know, why this is going to prevent, you know, banks from giving credit, which prevents economic growth and kind of allowing businesses to flourish. We haven’t been able to tackle that problem in a systemic way, we’ve papered around the edges and tried to take steps, but really haven’t, I think, done the systemic change that needs to happen in that in that realm. I think the same thing with reforming India’s Defense Industry, and how we procure weapons from abroad, I think there’s still reforms that have happened that have changed tactically, how we do it and improve some processes at a tactical level, but not at the systemic or strategic level, you know, big kind of things, that an overhaul that sometimes it’s needed, we haven’t had the the either it’s a political will, or a bureaucratic inertia, or, or some other things that have prevented, I think, the big changes from happening that need to happen now. And I think the India will continue advancing, I think that, given the scale of its population, and given how much buying power, just Indians have, we’re going to continually see some level of growth. But I think the pace and the scale of that growth can really be amplified if we can take some of these big structural changes on. And I think that’s the difference between kind of seeing, you know, as people talk about top line figures of India, you know, a growth level that, you know, I mean, this is pre pandemic numbers post pandemic, the numbers are a little bit different, because if you know how the economy has been battered, and how quickly it’s going to kind of recover, but really kind of growing it at significant levels of, you know, pre pandemic 5, 6, 7 percent and getting us to that 10, 11, 12 percent, India is going to grow at 20% next year, but that’s because we had a shellacking last year, and kind of contracted our economy last year. But as we get back to a post pandemic, normal, you know, if we can take some of these big structural reforms and kind of advance a restructuring of, of how we approach both on the economic side and on, you know, other areas, climate change, you know, military and security, technology, critical technologies, and how we incorporate AI, robotics, Internet of Things across the board, I think we’ve we’ve had a tendency to, you know, tape around the edges, and not really go for the big structural change. And I think we are at a unique point now, where, you know, we have, arguably one political party that controls the national level political process, they have a majority or a working majority, at least in both Houses of Parliament, and there’s no kind of, you know, coalition managing that needs to happen. So we have the opportunity to maybe take some of these changes on. But I think if we can do it, that can also change and influence the trajectory of India moving forward.
Fred Rocafort 33:23
So let’s talk about the US India relationship. And obviously, there’s a lot that we could we could talk about going back to what Jonathan said, for folks who have not been following international affairs for that long, it is possible for them to, to see the relationship between the US and India in a relatively positive light. But I’m old enough to remember when when the two countries were not as close and then that that wasn’t that long ago. So So I think, at least from my perspective, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. I think there’s something to comment on there. And if not celebrate, right, the fact that there has been, at least the way I see it, without doubt, clear traction, in the building of that, that relationship and in a way that’s meaningful and beneficial for for both countries, but I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on the relationship and sort of taking a look at the future. I at least for me, I think it’s it’s it’s impossible, really, to think, think about the the big picture going forward and then how the world is going to look in 30, 50 years without placing India at the heart of how the world is going to look how it interacts with other important players that that that’s that’s another question but but but but for me, it seems clear that whatever the world’s future looks like, like I said in 30, 40, 50 years, India is going to be at the heart of that. And of course, much of that will also have to do with the relationship that the country has with with the US.
Aman Thakker 35:11
Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Fred, that, you know, relationship to India have had us India relations have had an up and down kind of tempo over the last, I mean, since since, you know, India became independent, it’s been up and down. There were some really rocky moments, I think there was a time when relationships were bad, you know, there in the 1970s, there’s the famous story of, you know, Nixon and Kissinger almost ordering a carrier battle group to the Bay of Bengal, you know, about, because they, they saw India’s, you know, moves and support for the independence of Bangladesh, and its involvement in that in that war between, you know, Bangladesh Liberation War, or, you know, the East Pakistan’s independence from from the Pakistani state as as a negative or net negative for US national security interests that they were trying to do with opening up China and working with Pakistan, and that friends and relationships were bad before have been, I think, at times bad. The United States sanctioned India for its nuclear tests in the 90s, under the Clinton administration, when India tested nuclear weapons. So, you know, we have come in that time in those 20 years that I think we talked about before, when India tested its nuclear weapons in the late 90s. To where we are now, it has been a significant transformation in relationships, we’ve gone from a significant low to a very significant high. And part of that has been, you know, a recognition of shared ideals and interests. You know, the phrase, if you’re talking about US India relations, that you’ve heard this a million times, I think, when these two countries are mentioned together, that it’s the largest democracy and the oldest democracy. But you know, even independent of that there are there is a shared kind of vision for the world, there is a shared values on how, you know, the international order should be structured, India has benefited from a US created international order and may seek to support it. And that has only become, I think, more acute these the shared concerns and shared ideals and shared values have become more acute when they’ve been threatened now, arguably by an aggressive China that may wish to alter the character of the international order and change, you know, how that order behaves. And I think India and the United States have felt the brunt of what aggressive Chinese actions and assertive Chinese actions have been. Whether that is, you know, on the economic front, India has a massive trade deficit with China. And, you know, significantly high ranking officials from the Indian government have said that they suspect, you know, China of having unfair trade practices and you know, of dumping on India’s economy and not allowing reciprocal access to Indian goods where they would have a comparative advantage. On the military side, I mean, this, the last two years have seen perhaps what is the worst relationship point, a point in the relationship between the Indians and the Chinese since 1962, when the two countries fought a war, the first time in almost 45 years, there have been casualties along the, along the border between India and China, a souring of relations between the US and China taking place also, since, you know, Xi Jinping really came to power. And so these kinds of I think shared concerns about not just I would say, Chinese behavior, but the implications of of that on the kind of order that has facilitated India’s growth, the globalization that has allowed India to integrate with, and trade with countries around the world that has allowed it to create a prosperous and growing middle class. All of those I think are front of mind for the US and for India, and that allows them to, you know, find ways to work and collaborate together as well as with other countries. And you’ve seen them rope in, for example, Australia and Japan, in the in the quad in the Indo Pacific. Just last month, you know, there was the announcement of a new grouping, which is sort of being called an Eastern quad of the United Arab Emirates and Israel working together with us and India. There’s, you know, so many of these try and quadrilateral groupings that are coming together for these countries for the US and around the US and India to kind of work together. But despite this growing level of closeness, I think there remain some areas in which you we haven’t taken the relationship far enough. One is certainly economics and trade. We we still I think, don’t trade nearly as closely as we should be US and India. There are a lot of underlying and bubbling issues on trade, whether it’s India’s approach to data localization or India’s, you know, levy on internet services, or whether it’s, it’s, you know, hammer that it’s taken to foreign ecommerce players in order to protect its domestic retail industry. All of those things, I think, are still under the radar for a lot of people. But our growing concerns that are going to affect the character of us India relations if they are left unattended and allowed to fester. I think the second is, you know, as we’re figuring out, it’s been in the news for the last few days is India’s relationship with Russia. And, you know, how much room do we have within each other to partner with countries that we think, you know, in the US or maybe in India would think are inimical to our security interest in Russia certainly poses that for the United States, having interfered in domestic elections and challenged, you know, NATO and invaded and tried to conquer neighboring countries be that, you know, the Crimean Peninsula or its actions against Ukraine. And India sees it very differently in in the historic long term relationship that it’s had with Russia, a friend that was with it, when the United States actually was, you know, partnering with Pakistan in China, it saw Russia standing by it and preserving its security interest and national interest. And so there’s, you know, conversations that are broad, and at a 30,000 foot level about, you know, how much space there is for India to continue deepening its relationship with Russia while partnering with the United States. But it becomes very, very tactical very quickly, which is, you know, India’s trying to purchase, it’s a weapons system, the S 400 missile defense system from Russia, and per US law, if they proceed with that transaction, and that, that the missile system is delivered to India, India could and according to US law should face sanctions for that purchase. And if that happens, you know, it’s going to be a major step back in relations, it’s going to signal to India that perhaps the United States is not able to overcome a defense purchase in favor of collaboration on you know, more important things. That’s how India might see it for the US, it might see it as an inability to understand the threat that Russia poses to its own interest in leaving that kind of an issue on festered for long and unresolved for long, will kind of inhibit the pace at which the relationship can advance. And so these are some of the things that I think still remain unresolved in the US India relationship. And, you know, we will have to find ways to address them. I think the mechanisms are there, I think the underlying foundation is so strong that I think that we will find a way to resolve these issues. But this is not to say that the relationship is perfect. And you know, that all things are well, well, it’ll be hard work for these two countries to continue to collaborate and work together. But the good thing is that they have the the structural foundations in place for how they should they should collaborate, given this shared, you know, values and shared ideals that they have, and the fact that those shared values and ideals they agree are under threat from a shared adversary that both of them are starting to recognize in China. And so I think, you know, in that regard, I think the impetus is there for both of these countries to strengthen their relations. Now, the the outside risk is always if these is these, these conditions that enable cooperation change. So for example, if you know either country starts to differentiate the the conditions and starts to see differently, the conditions that make collaboration possible, either they start to not see China as the threat to shared values and ideals. So there’s an accommodation of China or if they disagree about what values and ideals that they share, whether they don’t share the values on democratic values on secularism, on human rights on on making sure that minority rights and religious minorities are cared for, then that also inhibits the tempo of collaboration. And that’s what I think goes back to the earlier conversation we were happening we were having on on India’s you know, pivot away from secularism and towards maybe a form of Hindu majoritarian ism is that in as much as people would like to kind of have the ability to go forward and do that and you know, certainly the BJP has its roots in that kind of a politics. There’s no denying the fact that there is that potential impact on the pace and tenor of us India relations, and that is something they have to grapple with if they are going to go in that direction because it undermines the level to which you can say that they share the those values and those ideals. And so that I think is the third kind of outside risk is do we start to either differentiate in the way that we start to see China as the shared threat to share values and ideals? Or do we start to differ on the way that we see our shared values and ideals, and see that there’s more gap in them than then hasn’t been in the last 20 years that’s allowed this relationship to grow? And I think that is the the outside, you know, the kind of the, the elephant in the room, sort of the big thing that, you know, could could happen. I’m not saying it? Well, I’m not saying it is. But I think there are things that we should, you know, be talking about in that regard, to ensure that that doesn’t pose a risk to the future, collaboration and cooperation between these two countries.
Jonathan Bench 45:45
And I think we could talk for hours more about this. So hope we can have you back on the podcast at some point. We’re definitely at time now. But we’d like to close with recommendations from you from me from Fred, something you read recently, or watched or listened to, or maybe something some of your old go to favorites when you’re trying to reset your brain for something. And this could be completely onpoint or off off topic. So do you have any recommendations for the audience and for us?
Aman Thakker 46:13
Oh, I can give you a couple. I’ll try and keep this to both fiction and nonfiction. I think they’re on the nonfiction side, if people are interested in some of the things that we’ve talked about, there are some incredible books that have come out of the last two or three years ago, really into detail about about the you know, the future of India and its relationships with the world. Three that I’ll recommend now, one of my favorite scholars is a gentleman named Dr. Srinath Raghavan, based at Ashoka University. He’s written some incredible books, but I think War and Peace in Modern India is one text that I see from an academic sense is something that I will really always go back to. A second that I can always recommend is a Dr. Tanvi Madan, who’s an incredible scholar of the US, India, China triangle. Her book, The Faithful Triangle, which came out I believe, two or three years ago, takes a look at how this triangular relationship has advanced over the last over the first element of, you know, us India ties from the 40s to the about the late 70s. I think she’s working on the second volume of that book to take us to, I think the present, and any of her own, you know, non book related writings, I would also highly recommend, and then, you know, if I can go to something fictional that can, you know, just showcase, sometimes what is the beauty of India and some of its culture and its history, I think, you know, there’s this fantastic book that my that that my family has, has held very close, called The Palace of Illusions, which takes the mythological texts of the Mahabharata. But the first book that she wrote called The Palace of Illusions, which, you know, looks at the only I think, major female character within the the Mahabharata and writes the events of that mythological text. And that really close text I think for for a lot of Hindus that then may have read it or you know, a lot of people that may have come across the Bhagavad Gita, they take, you know, a perspective on Draupadi, the main female character that’s there and write sort of a fictional narrative from her perspective. And I think that’s a very rich and interesting, interesting perspective. And so, if people are interested in something that’s a bit more on the fiction side, I’d recommend that so those are three that I can leave you with.
Jonathan Bench 48:39
Excellent, thank you. Fred. What do you have for us today?
Fred Rocafort 48:44
Well, first of all, I’d like to recommend Indialogue just just to make sure that it it’s registered as an official Global Law and Business recommendation. My second recommendation is India related and it’s very timely, I finished watching this last night it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely a bit bit harrowing. It’s a Netflix limited series you know relatively short three episodes, House of Secrets: the Brari Deaths and even leaving aside the the India connection it’s just a fascinating story. But at the same time of course it does it concerns events that take place in in Delhi, fascinating, I was blown away by the the production values just the the imagery I mean, they did an excellent job with with the drones. There were also parts of the of the series that were filmed elsewhere. In India, the countryside. It was just I thought it was great. Again, not for everyone obviously a very difficult subject to address. So again, House of Secrets: the Brari Deaths on Netflix. Jonathan, what about you? What do you have?
Jonathan Bench 50:02
And today I’m recommending the Deep Dish podcast. This is produced by the Chicago Council. And for a flavor of some recent topics. One is inside China’s nuclear strategy, domestic terrorism and the aftermath of war. Talking about Afghanistan, the debate on US Taiwan policy, what do Americans want from Biden’s foreign policy? So Fred and I have often had this conversation, as we’ve discussed, the focus of our podcast on how broad versus how deep we go. And so if you’re looking for real deep subject matter expertise, I recommend this podcast. And with that, amen, we want to thank you again, for your time today. You’ve been extremely informative, enjoyable, that to talk to and we certainly look forward to tracking your work on Indialogue and also keeping up professionally with you as we all try to figure out what’s going on all around the world.
Aman Thakker 51:01
It’s been a pleasure, gentlemen, thank you so much for having me on. And so looking forward to continuing engaging with you on all things India, thank you for being such loyal readers of the newsletter, India log. Look forward to catching up with you either on a future podcast or over email. Anything else. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Jonathan Bench 51:24
We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. We look forward to connecting with you on social media to continue discussing developments in Global Law and Business. This podcast was produced by Harris Bricken, with executive producer Madeline Williams, music composed by Stephen Schmidt. Tune in next week for another episode. We’ll see you then.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai