a) Two medals strong

It was an epic final at badminton’s biggest stage, and it stood out as the finest advertisement for the women’s game. Two young title aspirants battled for 110 minutes before the gold at the World Badminton Championships in Glasgow was decided by the narrowest of margins. P.V. Sindhu may not have come out victorious against the eventual champion, Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, but she won more hearts for her gallant display of endurance. In doing so, she further raised the prole of badminton and of women’s sport itself in India. A silver medal for Sindhu and a bronze for Saina Nehwal make this the most rewarding Indian campaign in the premier championship. It was a formidable challenge that they offered going into the Glasgow championships, and both had been seen to be in the reckoning for the gold. That challenge is made sharper by the fact that Nehwal, the silver medallist in 2015, and Sindhu, the bronze medallist in 2013 and 2014, have been engaged in a silent battle of their own. This rivalry is proving to be extremely beneficial for Indian badminton, providing the nucleus for a cluster of excellence that is vital for any sport to flourish. Sindhu’s latest medal, to go with the Rio Olympics silver last year, has clearly taken her past Nehwal in terms of achievement in badminton’s two premier competitions — the Olympics and the World Championships. Given Nehwal’s famed neversay-die credo, she is sure to try to reclaim her status. She had carried an injury to Rio and returned for an unavoidable knee surgery, and makes it a point to remind everyone that her recovery is still incomplete, and that she would be back at her best in upcoming competitions. There is, in fact, potential for further improvement in the women’s game. This past week, both Sindhu and Nehwal were tamed by the far-fitter Okuhara. The Japanese shuttler rallied from a game down to stop Nehwal in the semi-final, and her resurgence from 17-19 in the deciding game ended Sindhu’s quest for the title. This explains why Nehwal and Sindhu dwelled regretfully on missed opportunities instead of celebrating their unprecedented show of strength on the finals podium. Interestingly, the two women are very different personalities. If Nehwal is driven by a wounded pride to establish her credentials, Sindhu, at just 22, is a sunny character looking to make the most of the time on her side, and both owe a lot to their respective coaches, U. Vimal Kumar and Pullela Gopi Chand. Yet, their combined achievements also bring into focus the fact that the next best woman shuttler in India is nowhere close to them in potential. Their heroics will, hopefully, in time draw more talent to the sport, but currently the lack of other women badminton players in their class deprives India of a fighting chance at team titles. For now, however, it is time to celebrate these two exceptional women who have enriched the game.

b) Lessons from Doklam

          The resolution of the Sino-Indian military stand-off at Doklam, that lasted close to two and a half months, is a much-awaited and welcome development where patient statecraft and deft diplomacy seem to have paid off. Even as several significant questions remain unanswered about the terms and conditions of the resolution, it provides New Delhi and Beijing an opportunity to reflect over what went wrong and rejig this important bilateral relationship. The upcoming visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China to attend the BRICS summit will provide the two sides such an opportunity. “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” observed the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz in his classic work, On War. In other words, military strategy should flow from carefully considered political thinking. Now that we have arrived at a peaceful resolution at Doklam, we need to examine the political strategy guiding India’s military deployment at Doklam. Moreover, are there any lessons we can learn from this military stand-off with China?

‘Self-help’ world

The most self-evident lesson from the Doklam stand-off is that we inhabit a ‘self-help’ world wherein China is a world power — India is on its own and would have to fend for itself in case of a clash with China, a country with which every major state in the international system has a robust economic relationship. It is important to note that none of the major powers unambiguously and unreservedly supported India’s position on Doklam. In fact, even Bhutan kept a studied silence through the latter part of the stand-off. New Delhi, therefore, must carefully review the scenarios and consider its options before upping the ante. Moreover, regarding Doklam, instead of inviting military attention to itself and trapping itself in a conflict with Beijing, New Delhi could have convinced Thimphu to be more vocal about Bhutan’s territorial rights. The second lesson from the Doklam stand-off is that China is unlikely to respect India’s ‘special relationships’ with its neighbours. India has long enjoyed a special status in the South Asian region and often treated it as its exclusive backyard. With China expanding its influence in the region and competing for status and influence, the ‘middle kingdom’ considers South Asia, with India in it, as its periphery. China uses economic incentives and military pressure to do so. Nepal is an example of the former, and Bhutan of the latter. Recall Bhutan, besides India, is the only country from the region that did not attend China’s recent Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. India’s traditional policy towards South Asia, of limited economic assistance topped with a big brother attitude, will need to undergo fundamental transformation to retain its influence. Midway through the stand-off there had been concerns in New Delhi about how the Doklam stando would eventually pan out. It is pertinent to ask whether Doklam is so fundamental to Indian interests that we were willing to risk a possible military skirmish with China based on the sketchy clauses of the India-Bhutan friendship treaty. The lesson for us is clear: we should consider all odds and evaluate the merit of the cause before making military commitments. Four, hyper-nationalism does not pay when it comes to dealing with China. China, simply put, is not Pakistan, and Indian political parties cannot make any domestic gains by whipping up nationalist passions against China. India needs to engage China diplomatically to resolve outstanding conflicts rather than engage in a war of words, or worse, threaten to use force. For sure, it is not 1962, and that’s true for both parties. Five, the Doklam stand-off is a direct fallout of the Indian and Bhutanese refusal to be part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While this round may have concluded without any of the three sides getting hurt, this is unlikely to be the last of Chinese designs against India or Bhutan. Surely India cannot, and should not, acquiesce to the BRI just because of Chinese pressure. And yet, at the end of the day, Indian abstention would only frustrate BRI, it will not derail it. Moreover, down the road, Indian unwillingness to be part of this mega-project will hurt its own long-term economic interests. Therefore, it needs to realise the importance of cooperating with China on the BRI while getting China to do so on various India-led regional projects. It cannot be a zero-sum game.

Next steps

What is also becoming abundantly clear is that the snail-paced ‘Special Representatives’ talks on the India-China boundary question have not yielded much so far, and it is perhaps the appropriate occasion to revamp the dialogue process. The 19 rounds of talks held till last year have hardly anything substantive to show for them in terms of the resolution of the boundary dispute. Indeed, the focus is increasingly shifting from conflict resolution to conflict management. It is high time, therefore, that the two countries appointed dedicated high-ranking officials to discuss the boundary issues in a more sustained and result-oriented manner. Let’s briefly revisit the Doklam facts for the sake of clarity and future policy direction. The Indian Army was deployed on the soil of another country against a third country without proper treaty mandate or unambiguous official invitation to intervene on behalf of the Bhutanese government. The 2007 India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty states that the two countries “shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests.” And that: “Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.” Notwithstanding the special security relationship that India and Bhutan have shared over the past several decades, nothing in the 2007 treaty binds India to send troops to help Bhutan. Nor did Bhutan explicitly request military assistance from India during the stand-off even though the MEA statement of June 30, 2017 refers to ‘coordination between the two countries’ during the stand-off. The argument here is not that India does not have legitimate security and strategic interests in Bhutan which would be undermined by the Chinese territorial aggression, but that there is a need to engage in careful scenario-building before India decides to take China on militarily.

The Xiamen opportunity

But finally, it all comes down to devising a strategy to engage a resurgent China, also a significant neighbour, in the days ahead. While Doklam may now be a thing of the past, Sino-Indian ties are never likely to be the same again – there will be skirmishes, war of words and attempts to outmanoeuvre each other in the neighbourhood and beyond. While New Delhi needs to constantly look over its shoulders for potential Chinese surprises, there is also an urgent need to adopt a multi-pronged strategy to deal with Beijing, for, after all, statecraft is not as black and white as some would like it to be. India, for one, needs to engage China a lot more at several levels: diplomatically, politically, multilaterally and economically. The upcoming BRICS summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen is a good occasion to initiate a dedicated backchannel with Beijing given the high potential for future disagreements. The two sides also need to conduct bilateral consultations on various issues – ranging from Afghan reconciliation to regional economic development. The more diplomacy the better.

Words/ Vocabulary

1) Eventual

Meaning: Occurring or existing at the end of or as a result of a process or period of time.

Example: It’s impossible to predict the eventual outcome of the competition.

Synonyms: Final, Ultimate

2) Endurance

Meaning: The ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.

Example: She was close to the limit of her endurance.

Synonyms: Tolerance, Acceptance

Antonyms: In tolerate

3) Formidable

Meaning: Inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.

Example: A formidable opponent.

Synonyms: Alarming, Daunting

Antonyms: Confronting, Easy

4) Reckoning

Meaning: The action or process of calculating or estimating something.

Example: The sixth, or by another reckoning eleventh, Earl of Mar.

Synonyms: Calculation, Estimation

5) Rivalry

Meaning: Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.

Example: There always has been intense rivalry between the clubs.

Synonyms: Competitiveness, Competition

6) Flourish

Meaning: Develop rapidly and successfully.

Example: The organization has continued to flourish.

Synonyms: Thrive, Prosper

Antonyms: Decline

7) Tamed

Meaning: Make less powerful and easier to control.

Example: The battle to tame inflation.

Synonyms: Subdue, Control

8) Unprecedented

Meaning: Never done or known before.

Example: The government took the unprecedented step of releasing confidential correspondence.

Synonyms: Unequalled, Unrivalled

Antonyms: Normal, Common

9) Podium

Meaning: A small platform on which a person may stand to be seen by an audience, as when making a speech or conducting an orchestra.

Example: He was at the podium facing an expectant conference crowd.

Synonyms: Platform, Stand

10) Wounded

Meaning: Inflict a wound on.

Example: “The sergeant was seriously wounded”

Synonyms: Injure, Harm

Antonyms: Heal

11) Enriched

Meaning: Improve or enhance the quality or value of.

Example: Her exposure to museums enriched her life in France.

Synonyms: Enhance, Improve

Antonyms: Spoil, Devalue

12) Prussian

Meaning: Relating to the former kingdom of Prussia.

Example: “Her eldest daughter was married to the Prussian Crown Prince”

13) Examine

Meaning: Inspect (someone or something) thoroughly in order to determine their nature or condition.

Example: “a doctor examined me and said I might need a caesarean”

Synonyms: Inspect, Analyze

14) Unambiguously

Meaning: In a manner that is not open to more than one interpretation.

Example: She answered questions clearly and unambiguously.

15) Unreservedly

Meaning: Without reservations; completely; frankly and openly.

Example: I unreservedly recommend the book.

Synonyms: Frank, Open

16) Stand-off

Meaning: A deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.

Example: The 16-day-old stand-off was no closer to being resolved.

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

17) Scenarios

Meaning: A postulated sequence or development of events.

Example: A possible scenario is that he was attacked after opening the front door.

Synonyms: Sequence of events, Situation

18) Trapping

Meaning: Trick or deceive (someone) into doing something contrary to their interests or intentions.

Example: “I hoped to trap him into an admission”

Synonyms: Trick, Dupe

19) Backyard

Meaning: The area close to where one lives, regarded with proprietorial concern.

Example: Children must be made aware of environmental issues in their own backyard.

20) Periphery

Meaning: The outer limits or edge of an area or object.

Example: New buildings on the periphery of the hospital site.

Synonyms: Edge, Margin

Antonyms: Center, Middle

21) Incentives

Meaning: A thing that motivates or encourages someone to do something.

Example: Give farmers an incentive to improve their land.

Synonyms: Inducement, Motivation

Antonyms: Deterrent, Impulse

22) Undergo

Meaning: Experience or be subjected to (something, typically something unpleasant or arduous).

Example: He underwent a life-saving brain operation.

Synonyms: Experience, Undertake

23) Pan out

Meaning: End up; conclude.

Example: He’s happy with the way the deal panned out.

Synonyms: Conclude, Turn out

Antonyms: Begin

24) Whipping up

Meaning: To encourage or cause people to have strong feelings about something.

Example: He was trying to whip up some enthusiasm for the project.

Synonyms: Capture, Captivate

Antonyms: Discourage, Calm

25) Acquiesce

Meaning: Accept something reluctantly but without protest.

Example: Sara acquiesced in his decision.

Synonyms: Conform, Adapt

Antonyms: Deny, Differ

26) Abstention

Meaning: An instance of declining to vote for or against a proposal or motion.

Example: A resolution passed by 126 votes to none, with six abstentions.

Synonyms: Abstaining, Non-voting

Antonyms: Self-indulgence

27) zero-sum

Meaning: (of a game or situation) in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other.

Example: Lawyers tend to play in a zero-sum game.

28) Revamp

Meaning: Give new and improved form, structure, or appearance to.

Example: An attempt to revamp the museum’s image.

Synonyms: Renovate, Rehabilitate

29) Substantive

Meaning: Having a firm basis in reality and so important, meaningful, or considerable.

Example: There is no substantive evidence for the efficacy of these drugs.

30) Conflict

Meaning: A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.

Example: There was a conflict between his business and domestic life.

Synonyms: Dispute, Squabble

Antonyms: Agreement

31) Intervene

Meaning: Take part in something so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events.

Example: He acted outside his authority when he intervened in the dispute.

Synonyms: Intercede, Mediate

Antonyms: Leave, Unite

32) Notwithstanding

Meaning: In spite of; Nevertheless; in spite of this; although; In spite of the fact that.

Example: Notwithstanding the evidence, the consensus is that the jury will not reach a verdict.

Synonyms: Despite, In spite of

33) Legitimate

Meaning: Conforming to the law or to rules.

Example: His claims to legitimate authority.

Synonyms: Legal, Authorized

Antonyms: Illegal, Illegitimate

34) Aggression

Meaning: Forcefulness.

Example: The sheer volume and aggression of his playing.

Synonyms: Confidence, Boldness

Antonyms: Diffidence

35) Devising

Meaning: Plan or invent (a complex procedure, system, or mechanism) by careful thought.

Example: A training programme should be devised.

Synonyms: Conceive, Design

Antonyms: Destroy, Disorganize

36) Resurgent

Meaning: Increasing or reviving after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence.

Example: Resurgent nationalism.

Synonyms: Revived, Refreshed

Antonyms: Dormant, Latent

37) Skirmishes

Meaning: A short argument.

Example: There was a skirmish over the budget.

Synonyms: Argument, Quarrel

Antonyms: Calm

38) Outmanoeuvre

Meaning: Evade (an opponent) by moving faster or with greater agility.

Example: The YF-22 can outmanoeuvre any fighter flying today.

Synonyms: Outflank, Circumvent

39) Backchannel

Meaning: A secondary or covert route for the passage of information.

Example: We used him as a diplomatic backchannel.

40) Reconciliation

Meaning: The restoration of friendly relations.

Example: His reconciliation with your uncle.

Synonyms: Reunion, Conciliation

Antonyms: Estrangement, Alienation

Other Hindu Editorials:

Hindu Editorial 29 August

Hindu Editorial 28 August

Hindu Editorial 26 August