Thursday, May 22, 2014

An international energy deal and lots of gas!

When a nation that has been our traditional ally and most sympathetic to our sentiments since independence and an another country which one of our former defence ministers chose to describe as ‘India’s enemy no 1’ sign an energy deal pegged at a little less than half a trillion dollars, you’d expect our TV channels (English) to either report it or at the very least ensure it has a passing mention. However, as witnessed on Wednesday, in all their infinite wisdom, the channels simply chose to ignore the issue – which could be a game-changer as far as India’s foreign relations are concerned.

The leading TV news channels – Times Now, CNN-IBN and NDTV – the first in particular, went berserk on the Arvind Kejriwal trial and his subsequent arrest and more importantly the brouhaha around the PMO’s twitter handle. With its non-stop coverage on the issues throughout the day, Times Now set the agenda for what it calls ‘super primetime’ – the shouting matches centering on them, with Arnab fIying off the handle every now and then. The other channels did likewise, with variations.

I was hoping for at least a brief report on the China-Russia energy deal – under which Russia would supply 38 billion cubic metres of gas a year by 2018 for the next 30 years – by evening, but no, our channels, it seemed, had turned Swadeshi with a vengeance. “Kejriwal refuses to pay bail amount,” reported one channel; “This isn’t a good time to stay in Tihar, says Bedi,” reported another. So, according to the Indian TV channels, all you would have gotten to know was that these alone were India’s pressing issues needing instant consideration.

A word on what the deal means to India. Facing crippling sanctions from Western Europe and the US for annexing Crimea and destabilising the rest of Ukraine, the deal has materialised for Russia at a time when it most needed it – never mind the fact that it was unveiled after a decade of discussions. Russia would now get the much-needed wiggle room it was looking for, especially after Europe – which at present accounts for over 35 per cent of its gas exports – prodded by the US and later Germany started voicing opposition. Russian President Vladimir Putin – who has been, amongst others, likened to Hitler (India’s PM isn’t the only!) by many – can now heave a sigh of relief; he may now even get to thumb his nose at the West. Staring at a looming pollution threat across its mainland, China is sitting pretty at having secured its energy supplies, a cleaner source at that. 

In short, Russia must be perceiving the deal as its ticket to boost its impoverished coffers, at a time when not many nations were willing to touch them even with a cattle prod.There is a distinct possibility that the Russian 'gratitude' may influence the traditionally cordial Indo-Russian relations, over which the Chinese could secure a footprint. Let us not forget that China has been one of the few nations that has routinely scuttled or opposed India’s proposals in the UN. In fact, a discernible shift in Russian ties with India was hard to miss when, under Manmohan Singh, it became the US’ trusted partner in this part of the globe. Are we to witness further Russian alienation? If such issues were raised by the Indian media, I did not see it.

A panel discussion on the larger picture, charting out the challenges for the Indian diplomats under the new government, too, could have shed light, but even that was absent. To be fair, however, CNN-IBN and NDTV had a discussion on foreign affairs, but restricting themselves to Pakistan, former diplomat G Parthasarathy participating in both. Sigh, when will we ever learn to look beyond Pakistan?

True, Indian TV channels have their own agenda and core issues to concentrate upon, but they would do well to take a hard look at issues that mean a lot to us geo-politically.