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February 2020

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

An agenda for Modi-Trump


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Security cooperation with the US, security concern for India over the US withdrawal from the Middle East.


With the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and other regions, India must think about its new role in the region.

The US plans for Afghanistan and the Gulf-cause of concerns for India

  • Why it matters? Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be eager to get a first-hand briefing from the US President on his plans for the Af-Pak region and the Gulf.
    • These two regions are vital to India’s economic, political and military security.
  • End of an important era in northwestern frontier: The impending withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the downsizing of the American security role in the Gulf region mark the end of an important era in India’s northwestern frontiers — both land and maritime.
  • Can India overcome the past reluctance? The question is whether Modi and Trump can overcome the past reluctance in both capitals to collaborate in the regions west of India.
    • Suitable for both the countries: There is a good fit between-
    • America’s downward adjustment in the region under Trump, and-
    • India’s ambition to play a larger role in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Broad understandingIndo-Pacific and extending it to the West

  • Development in the last three years: Over the last three years of the Trump presidency, Delhi and Washington had developed a broad understanding of how to secure the Indo-Pacific that the US had defined.
  • Need to extend the same to Western Indian Ocean: Officials in Delhi frequently complained that these common perspectives did not extend to the Western Indian Ocean.
  • In recent weeks, though, senior US officials have said the Indo-Pacific region extends to the east coast of Africa.
    • Question of strategic cooperation: Extending Indo-Pacific is not a question of defining geography but finding ways to secure common ground through strategic cooperation.

Elevation of South West Asia to the top of America’s security concerns

  • Filling the vacuum created by the British Empire: As the sun set over the British empire in the east after a century and a half, the US stepped in to fill the breach.
    • What began as a cautious entry into the Indian Ocean became a full-blown military power projection at the end of the 1970s.
  • Other events that played an important role? The dramatic rise in oil prices, the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its threat to export it to the Arab World, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, saw the elevation of South West Asia to the top of America’s security concerns.
  • Events after Gulf War: The First Gulf War during 1990-91 saw the US intervene to restore the sovereignty of Kuwait that was swallowed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
    • 9/11 attacks: The terror attacks on September 11, 2001, invited a ferocious response from the US that ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.

The Iraq and Afghanistan war-Endless wars

  • Costly failures: Notwithstanding the initial successes in both Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a growing consensus in the US that these occupations have been costly failures.
    • Trump has been among the first political leaders in the US to call these wars initiated by a Republican predecessor in the White House as “stupid”.
    • The promise of ending the endless wars: During his presidential campaign in 2016 and since Trump has promised to end the “endless wars” in the Greater Middle East and bring the boys back home.
    • It is an idea that has found considerable resonance among Democrats.
  • Focusing on great power competition instead of small wars: While the security establishment is not willing to give up, US is now focusing more on the great power competition with Russia and China than the small wars that had preoccupied it over the last three decades.
  • The Oil factor: The steep decline in US energy dependence on the Gulf, too, has reduced the salience of the region in Washington.

Three consequence of the change in the US policy

  • Cutting down the military commitments
    • The Middle East and Africa: Trump has been cutting down military commitments in the Middle East and Africa.
    • His officials are about to sign an agreement with the Taliban that provides for American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    • Maritime front: On the maritime front, Trump has called on all major powers, especially those importing oil from the Gulf, to contribute to the security of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
  • How it matters for India?
    • Challenges of limiting the consequences: The challenge for Indian policymakers has been to limit the consequences of what seems a definitive turn in US policy.
    • Chance to extend the own role: It should also be about seizing the possibilities for expanding India’s own role in the western marches of the Subcontinent.
  • To expand its role Delhi needs to make a few important shifts in its own thinking.
    • One, it must overcome the still powerful belief in sections of the Indian establishment that the US-Pakistan relationship is unchanging.
    • The US tilt toward India and away from Pakistan: Over the last two decades, there has been a tilt in US policies away from Pakistan and towards India.
    • For instance, the US pressures on Pakistan to vacate the Kargil heights, an exclusive nuclear exemption to India and efforts to rein in Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism during the Obama years.
    • Support in Trump period: Trump went further to acknowledge that Pakistan is part of the problem in Afghanistan and turned up the heat on Pakistan’s support for terrorism.
    • He has supported India’s efforts at the UNSC to bring Masood Azhar to book in the face of Chinese resistance.
    • Helped India isolate Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force.
    • Prevented the UNSC from discussing Kashmir.
    • But India must also recognise: That there will be a measure of cooperation between the US and Pakistan.
    • Delhi’s focus should, instead, be on expanding its own security cooperation with the US in the troubled lands to the west of India.
  • India needs to prepare for a larger security role in Afghanistan
    • Question of being at the next-door: Trump has been asking a simple question: If India is next door to Afghanistan, should it not be doing more for Afghan security?
    • Need to explore the options: The NDA government has stepped up security assistance to Kabul. As Afghanistan enters a turbulent phase, regional and other powers are bound to fill the vacuum left by the US.
    • There are many options–  between doing nothing and sending the Indian army into Afghanistan- that Delhi and Washington could discuss.
  • Need to increase Naval activity
    • Increased role as regional security provider: Delhi has already stepped up its naval activity within the Gulf and beyond as part of its emergence as a regional security provider.
    • Cooperation with others: Effectiveness of India’s role will rise manifold if it acts in concert with the US and other partners.
    • Modi and Trump could begin by laying the political foundation for such cooperation.


At the beginning of Trump’s term, sceptics dismissed the prospects for India-US security cooperation in the eastern Indian Ocean and the Pacific, but progress has been steady. That cooperation can and must be extended now to the Western Indian Ocean.


Swachh Bharat Mission

The next mission


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Success of Swachh Bharat Mission and replicating it in Jal Jeevan Mission.


After the success of the SBM, government is looking for the next mission in the form of Jal Jeevan Mission.

Investment in Sanitation

  • Investment of over 1 lakh crore: The central and state governments have invested in excess of one lakh crore on sanitation over the past five years.
  • Where the fund was used? A majority of these funds have gone towards-
    • Incentivising the poor and marginalised households to construct and use household toilets.
    • Bringing about behaviour change, and-
    • Building capacities of field functionaries.
  • The success of the mission: Over 10 crore toilets have been built in rural India and nearly 55 crore people have stopped defecating in the open, all in just five years.
    • This has contributed in bringing down global open defecation by more than half.
  • Return on the investment in sanitation: The returns on these investments have been manifold, and their effects on the broader economy, markets and employment have been significant.
    • 400 % return: The UNICEF recently estimated that investments in sanitation in India are yielding a 400 per cent return with each rural household in an open-defecation-free village saving Rs 50,000 on account of avoided medical costs and time savings.
  • Future prospects for the sanitation infrastructure: The Toilet Board Coalition has estimated that the sanitation infrastructure and services market in India will be worth over $60 billion by 2021.
    • Many new jobs, even in the most rural areas of the country, apart from reducing health and environmental costs and generating savings for households.
  • Growth in the sanitation-related business: The business of manufacturing toilet-related hardware accessories have reported huge growth in sales during the SBM period.
    • They project a continued uptrend through retrofitting and upgrades.
    • This has been corroborated by another recent study by UNICEF in which they have estimated that SBM has resulted in creating over 75 lakh full-time equivalent jobs over the past five years, giving the rural economy a major boost.

A milestone, not a finish-line

  • Sustaining the success: The government is committed to ensuring that this success is sustained.
  • On October 2, 2019, the prime minister said that we must all ensure that people continue to use toilets and that no one is left behind.
  • Allocation of 10,000 crores in the Budget: This has been backed up by the finance minister in the budget for 2020-21.
    • In the budget, she announced about Rs 10,000 crore for rural sanitation to focus on-
    • ODF sustainability.
    • Bio-degradable waste management.
    • Greywater management.
    • Sludge management and-
    • Plastic waste management for all villages by 2024.

Next Mission- Piped Water Supply

  • Jal Jeevan Mission: The next critical basic service, is piped water supply. On Independence day this year, the prime minister announced the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM).
    • With the goal of ensuring piped water supply for all households of India by 2024 and with a commitment of Rs 3.6 lakh crore of central and state funds for the scheme.
    • The budgetary allocation of 12,000 crores: In the Union budget for 2020-2021, the government has already allocated Rs 11,500 crore for JJM, with an additional Rs 12,000 crore being made available through extra-budgetary resources.
  • Earmarking 50% grants for drinking water and sanitation: In addition, a huge impetus to the rural water supply and sanitation sector is the earmarking of 50 per cent of the Rs 60,750 crore grant for rural local bodies provided under the Fifteenth Finance Commission for drinking water and sanitation.
    • Making local bodies more responsible: This will ensure that the gram panchayats and local communities are responsible for the upkeep of their water and sanitation infrastructure, providing a boost to the sustainability of service delivery to people.
    • Making sanitation and water supply everyone’s business: This approach will ensure that just like sanitation, provision of water supply and its upkeep will also become everyone’s business.


It is fairly clear now that investment in sanitation is actually a facilitator for broader economic, health and social gains. The government should ensure the sustainability of SBM and replicate its success in implementing the JJM.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Forging a new India-U.S. modus vivendi


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2-India-US, Importance for India, issues involved.


It is clearer than perhaps ever before in recent times, that New Delhi needs the continued support of the U.S. government on almost everything substantial that matters to India in its quest to be a power of substance in the international system.

Preparing for Trump 2.0

  • The world may have to deal with Mr Trump for four more years after the end of his present term this year.
  • Where India can benefit from constructive ties with the US?
    • A fairer trade regime.
    • Accessing cutting-edge technology.
    • The fight against terrorism.
    • Stabilising our region.
    • New Delhi stands to benefit from constructive ties on all issues, given a more sensitive United States.
  • India must, therefore, seek greater understanding and engagement should there be a Trump 2.0.
  • Understanding the asymmetrical partnership: Asymmetrical partnerships, as we know from history, are rarely easy.
    • Partnership with the superpowers: Partnerships with superpowers are even more difficult; in international politics, as in life, even the best of unequal relationships results in a loss of some dignity and autonomy. 

Why the partnership with the US matters for India?

  • The growing influence of China in Indo-Pacific: Without the United States, the region could become willy-nilly part of a new Chinese tributary system.
    • Chance of more organic rule-based order: With a fully engaged United States, the region has at least the chance of creating a more organic rules-based order.
  • Past consequences for India: the history of “estrangement” with the United States, during the Cold War, has had consequences for vital national interests that continue to cast their shadow on the present.
    • Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
    • Nuclear non-proliferation.
    • Festering of the Pakistan “problem”.
    • The Chinese humiliation of 1962, are just a few examples.
  • Change in the perception over the US: But much of course has changed today.
  • AntiAmericanism is outdate: Anti-Americanism, once the conventional wisdom of the Indian elite, seems outdated.
    • Close alignment with the US: New Delhi has, over the decades, gone on to align itself more closely with Washington.
    • Opinion in favour of the stronger ties: More important, both within India and in the U.S., the consensus across the mainstream of political opinion favours stronger relations between the two countries.

Pro-US tilt of the Indian Foreign policy

  • A survey suggests support for Trump: According to the latest Pew Surveys of Global Opinion, support for Mr Trump in India is high enough to suggest a great deal of public affection for the American President.
    • That itself is a marker of the way India and Indians now see the world.
  • Reason for the change in geo-strategic change: The reason for the change in New Delhi’s geostrategic outlook can be summarised quickly.
    • If the 1971 Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union was a response to the continuing U.S. tilt towards Pakistan and the beginnings of a Washington-Beijing entente.
    • China factor: At present, it is the prospect of a potentially hegemonic China in the Indo-Pacific region is helping to cement the relationship.
    • Beijing has managed to alienate nearly all its neighbours and allies, except North Korea and Pakistan.
  • Gains made in bilateral ties in the last 3 years:
    • COMCASA– A foundational military agreement that allows for the sharing of encrypted communications and equipment.
    • Export control law relaxation: A change in U.S. export control laws that places India in a privileged category of NATO and non-NATO U.S. allies;
    • 2+2 dialogue: New ‘2+2’ foreign and defence ministers dialogue.
    • Oil export to India: An exponential increase in U.S. oil exports to India.
    • Tri-lateral military exercise: The inauguration of the first India-U.S. tri-service military exercise and expansion of existing military exercises.
    • The signing of Industrial Security Annex: The signing of an Industrial Security Annex that will allow for greater collaboration among the two countries’ private defence industries.
    • Inclusion of India in a U.S. security Initiative: The inclusion of India and South Asia in a U.S. Maritime Security Initiative.

Preparing for the President from Democratic Party

  • There is, of course, a chance that we may have a Democratic President next year.
  • Bipartisan support in the US: In those circumstances, we can only hope that the bipartisan consensus on engaging India will prevail.
    • To be sure, however, a new President will seek to put his/her own imprimatur on the relationship.
    • Democrats and the Human Right issue: The Democrats will clearly be more proactive on human rights and on issues of inclusion and diversity, which would make a greater demand on India and test its capacity and creativity.
  • Indian diaspora: India, of course, continue engaging with its strongest source of support in the United States: the Indian diaspora.
    • Fortunately, there is a near consensus on the need to strengthen this constituency.


In any case, there is little doubt that whoever is the next occupant of the White House, a retreat from multilateralism (especially on trade-related issues) and concern about China will continue to be the two main pillars of contemporary American foreign policy. If for only those reasons, Mr Trump’s reason has undeniable significance.




International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF), Spectrograph

Mains level : HPF and its applications


At 100 light-years from Earth, a low-mass star was sending signals in a pattern that suggested that an exoplanet was orbiting the star confirmed the Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF).

Habitable-zone Planet Finder

  • NASA’s Kepler mission observed a dip in the host star’s light, suggesting that the planet was crossing in front of the star during its orbit.
  • To confirm, researchers turned to an instrument called Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF). It has confirmed that there is indeed an exoplanet.
  • HPF is an astronomical spectrograph, built by Penn State University scientists, and recently installed on the 10m Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in Texas.
  • The instrument is designed to detect and characterize planets in the habitable zone — the region around the star where a planet could sustain liquid water on its surface — around nearby low-mass stars.
  • The newly confirmed planet, called G 9-40b, is the first one validated by HPF. It is about twice the size of Earth and orbits its star once every six Earth-days.

How it works

  • A spectrograph is an instrument that splits light into its component wavelengths.
  • Scientists then measure the properties of light over a specific portion of the spectrum and draw conclusions on what is responsible for the trends they observe.

Why need HPF?

  • Kepler’s observations alone were not enough to confirm a planet. It was possible that a close stellar companion was responsible for the dip in the star’s light.
  • Precision spectroscopic observations from HPF ruled out this possibility.
  • Shooting a high-power laser into the air, researchers generated a “laser guide star”, and subsequent observations found no evidence of blending of light or other stellar companions.
  • Finally, using HPF, an analysis of a set of radial velocities helped provide estimates for the planet’s mass.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI) 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WEFFI

Mains level : Need for internationalization of Indian education system



India has jumped five ranks in the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI) 2019.


  • The report is published by The Economist Intelligence Unit. The report and index were commissioned by the Yidan Prize Foundation.
  • The index ranks countries based on their abilities to equip students with skill-based education.
  • The report analyses the education system from the perspective of skill-based education “in areas such as critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, collaboration, creativity and entrepreneurship, as well as digital and technical skills.”

Global scenario

  • Among the world’s largest economies, the US, UK, France and Russia all fell back in the index, while China, India and Indonesia took steps forward.
  • Finland was at the apex of the index, with strengths across each category followed by Sweden.

India’s performance

  • India ranked 35th on the overall index in 2019 with a total score of 53, based on three categories – policy environment, teaching environment and overall socio-economic environment.
  • India scored 56.3 in policy environment falling from a 61.5 score in 2018.
  • India’s score of 52.2 in the teaching environment category and 50.1 in the socio-economic environment category increased significantly from 32.2 and 33.3 in 2018 respectively.
  • Earlier, India ranked 40th with an overall score of 41.2 across categories in 2018.

What made India progress?

  • The report attributed India’s growth to the new education policy introduced by the government.
  • India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in the Union Budget 2020, had highlighted a
  • The New Education Policy announced in this year budget under ‘Aspirational India’ will focus on “greater inflow of finance to attract talented teachers, innovate and build better labs.
  • The policy will focus further on skill-based education.

Various shortcomings highlighted

  • The 2018 WEFFI report had highlighted the shortcomings in India’s education system emphasizing upon its inability to utilise the opportunity of internationalizing its higher education system.
  • A decentralized education system is another shortcoming of India’s education policy according to the 2019 report.
  • Well-intentioned policy goals relating to future skills development often do not get filtered downward, a hazard in economies such as the US and India that have large, decentralized education systems, the report said.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Tilhan Mission


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tilhan Mission, Oilseed production in India

Mains level : Not Much

The government will launch Tilhan Mission to make the country self-reliant in oilseed production.

Why such mission?

  • India is the fourth largest vegetable oil economy in the world after the USA, China and Brazil.
  • Today, the oilseeds account for 13% of the cropped area in the country.
  • Still, India is the largest importer of palm oil in the world.

Oilseed production in India

  • Total Oilseeds production in the country during 2019-20 is estimated at 34.19 million tonnes which is higher by 2.67 million tonnes than the production of 31.52 million tonnes during 2018-19.
  • Further, the production of oilseeds during 2019-20 is higher by 4.54 million tonnes than the average oilseeds production.

Digital India Initiatives

[pib] ASKDISHA Chatbot


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ask DISHA Chatbot

Mains level : Applications of AI


In order to resolve queries of railway passengers over the internet pertaining to various services offered, Indian Railways had introduced the services of Artificial Intelligence-based ASKDISHA chatbot in October 2018 for the benefit of the users.


  • IRCTC had launched this chat bot to answer various queries about ticket booking, cancellation and various value-added services.
  • The chatbot is a special computer programme designed to simulate conversation with users, especially over the internet.
  • It was jointly developed by IRCTC and CoRover Private Limited, a Bangalore-based startup.
  • The first-of-its-kind initiative by IRCTC is aimed at facilitating accessibility by answering users’ queries pertaining to various services offered to railway passengers.

What is the new update?

  • The ASKDISHA Chatbot was initially launched in English language but in order to further enhance the customer services rendered.
  • To further strengthen the services of the chatbot, IRCTC has now powered voice-enabled ASKDISHA to converse with customers in Hindi language also in the e-ticketing site
  • The customers can now ask queries to ASKDISHA in Hindi language by voice as well as text.
  • On an average, around three thousand enquiries are being handled by ASKDISHA in Hindi language on daily basis and the figure is increasing day by day which also shows the acceptability of the new feature by the customer.
  • IRCTC plans to launch ASKDISHA in more languages along with many other additional features in the near future.

International Mother Language Day


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : NA


Friday, February 21 was International Mother Language Day.

International Mother Language Day

  • It has been observed since 1999 to promote “linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism”, according to the UN.
  • Of the world’s 6,000 languages, 43% are estimated as endangered, according to the UN.
  • On the other hand, just 10 languages account for as many as 4.8 billion speakers — over 60% of the world population.
  • Globally, English remains the most widely spoken language with 1.13 billion speakers in 2019, followed by Mandarin with 1.17 billion, according to the online database Ethnologue.

Why February 21?

  • UNESCO declared International Mother Language Day in 1999, to commemorate a 1952 protest against West Pakistan’s imposition of Urdu as the official language of East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh).
  • According to a report, police opened fire on demonstrating Dhaka University students and “some people were killed”.
  • When thousands thronged the university the next day, police fired again, killing more people.
  • In Bangladesh, since 1953, February 21 is observed as Ekushe Day, after the Bengali word for twenty-one.
  • According to the South Asia Democratic Forum, five among those killed were recognised as “language martyrs — Abul Barkat, Abdul Jabbar, Rafiquddin Ahmad, Abdus Salman and Shafiur Rahman.

Data on Indian languages

  • Hindi is third with 615 million speakers while Bengali is seventh with 265 million.
  • In India, Hindi is the most spoken language with over 528 million speakers in 2011, as per the Census.
  • Bengali had 97.2 million speakers in 2011, followed by Marathi (83 million), while other languages with over 50 million speakers are Telugu (81 million), Tamil (69 million), Gujarati (55.5 million) and Urdu (50.8 million).
  • Percentage trends from 1991 to 2011 underline the growth of the most widely spoken language, Hindi, which was spoken by 39.29% of the Indian population in 1991, and whose share grew to 43.63% in 2011.
  • For other languages in India’s top 12, the 2011 percentage share has fallen when compared to that in 1991.