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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To fix BPL, nix CPL--- P. Sainath

To get the Below Poverty Line figures in perspective, we need to closely monitor the numbers driving the Corporate Plunder Line.

One Tendulkar makes the big scores. The other wrecks the averages. The Planning Commission clearly prefers Suresh to Sachin. Using Professor Tendulkar's methodology, it declares that there's been another massive fall in poverty. Yes, another (“more dramatic in the rural areas”). “Record Fall in Poverty” reads one headline. The record is in how many times you've seen the same headline over the years. And how many times poverty has collapsed, only to bounce back when the math is done differently.

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And so, a mere 29.9 per cent of India's population is now below the official poverty line (BPL). The figure was 37.2 per cent in 2004-05. The “line” is another story in itself, of course. But on the surface, rural poverty has declined by eight percentage points to log in at 33.8 per cent. That's down from 41.8 per cent in 2004-05. And urban poverty fell by 4.8 percentage points from 25.7 to 20.9 per cent in the same period. Millions have been dragged above the poverty line, without knowing it.

Undoing bogus methodology

Media amnesia fogs the “lowest-ever” figures, though. These are not the “lowest-ever.”

“Kill me, I say,” said Prof. Madhu Dandavate in 1996, chuckling. “I just doubled poverty in your country today.” What that fine old gentleman had really done, as deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission, was to jettison the bogus methodology peddled by that body before he came to head it the same year. Even minor changes in methodology or poverty line can produce dramatically differing estimates.

The fraud he undid was “an exercise” bringing poverty down to 19 per cent in 1993-94. And that, from 25.5 per cent in 1987-88. These were the “preliminary results of a Planning Commission exercise based on National Sample Survey data” (Economic & Political Weekly, January 27, 1996). Now if these figures were true, then poverty has risen ever since. And remember, highlighting that historic fall was an honest Finance Minister. The never-tell-a-lie Dr. Manmohan Singh. One business daily ran a hilarious “exclusive” on this at the time. Poverty falls to record low of 19 per cent, “government officials say.” This was the best news since Independence. But the modest officials remained anonymous, knowing how stupid they'd look. In the present era, they hold press conferences to flaunt their fraud.

The “lowest ever at 19 per cent” fraud was buried in the ruins of the April 1996 polls. So was the government of the day. The “estimate” was not heard of again. Now we have the 29.9 per cent avatar. Surely that's a rise of 10.9 percentage points in 16 years? Or just another methodological fiddle.

However, the new Planning Commission numbers have achieved one thing. They've united most of Parliament on the issue. Members from all parties have blasted the “estimates” and called for explanations.

There's also the Tendulkar report's own fiddles. As Dr. Madhura Swaminathan points out, the committee dumped the calorie norms of “2,100 kcal per day for urban areas and 2,400 kcal for rural areas.” It switched to “a single norm of 1,800 kcal per day.” And did so citing an “FAO norm.” As Dr. Swaminathan observed: “the standards set by the Food and Agriculture Organisation for energy requirements are for “minimum dietary energy requirements” or MDER. That is, “the amount of energy needed for light or sedentary activity.” And she cites an FAO example of such activity. “…a male office worker in urban areas who only occasionally engages in physically demanding activities during or outside working hours.”

As Dr. Swaminathan asks: “Can we assume that a head load worker who carries heavy sacks through the day is engaged in light activity?” — The Hindu, February 5, 2010.

Measuring poverty

The media rarely mention that there are other methodologies for measuring poverty on offer. Also set in motion by this same government. The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) saw BPL Indians as making up 77 per cent of the population. The N.C. Saxena-headed BPL Expert group placed it at around 50 per cent. Like the Tendulkar Committee, these two were also set up by government. While differing wildly, all three pegged rural poverty at a higher level than government did. Meanwhile, we will have many more committees on the same issue until one of them gives this government the report it wants. The one it can get away with. (The many inquiries on farm suicides exemplify this.)

That the Planning Commission thought they could slip the present bunkum by sets a new benchmark for — and marriage of — arrogance and incompetence. First, they sparked outrage with their affidavit in the Supreme Court. There they defended a BPL cut-off line of Rs.26 a day (rural) and Rs.32 (urban). Now they hope to get by with numbers of Rs.22.42 a day (rural) and Rs.28.35 a day (urban).

The same year the government and planning commission shot themselves in both feet in 1996, a leading Delhi think tank joined in. It came up with the “biggest ever study” done on poverty in the country. This covered over 30,000 households and queried respondents across more than 300 parameters. So said its famous chief at a meeting in Bhopal.

This stunned the journalists in the audience. Till then, they had been doing what most journalists do at most seminars. Sleeping in a peaceful, non-confrontational manner. The veteran beside me came alive, startled. “Did he mean they asked those households over 300 questions? My God! Thirty years in this line and the biggest interview I ever did had nine. That was with my boss's best friend. And my last question was ‘may I go now'?” We did suggest to the famous economist that battered with 300 questions, his respondents were more likely to die of fatigue than of poverty. A senior aide of the think tank chief took the mike to explain why we were wrong. We sent two investigators to each household, he said. Which made sense, of course: one to hold the respondent down physically, twisting his arm, while the other asked him 300 questions.

Now to the queue of BPL, APL, IPL, et al., may I add my own modest contribution? This is the CPL, or Corporate Plunder Line. This embraces the corporate world and other very well-off or “high net worth individuals.” We have no money for a universal PDS. Or even for a shrunken food security bill. We've cut thousands of crores from net spending on rural employment. We lag horribly in human development indicators, hunger indexes and nutritional surveys. Food prices keep rising and decent jobs get fewer.

Yet, BPL numbers keep shrinking. The CPL numbers, however, keep expanding. The CPL concept is anchored in the “Statement of Revenue Foregone” section of successive union budgets. Since 2005-06, for instance, the union government has written off close to Rs.4 lakh crore in corporate income tax. Over Rs.50,000 crore of that in the present budget. The very one in which it slashes thousands of crores from the MNREGS. Throw in concessions on customs and excise duties and the corporate karza maafi in this year's budget sneaks up to nearly Rs.5 lakh crore.

True, there are things covered in excise and customs that also affect larger sections, like fuel, for instance. But mostly, they benefit the corporate world and the very rich. In just this budget and the last one, we've written off Rs.1 lakh crore for diamonds, gold and jewellery in customs duties. That sort of money buys a lot of food security. But CPL trumps BPL every time. The same is true of write-offs on things like machinery. In theory, there's a lot that should benefit everybody: like the equipment hospitals import. In practice, most Indians will never enter the five-star hospitals that cash in on these benefits.

The total write-off on these three heads in eight years since 2005-06: Rs. 25.7 lakh crore. (See Table). That's over half a trillion U.S. dollars. Not far from 15 times the size of your 2G scam. Or over twice the Coal Scam, the latest addition to the CPL. Look at the table and think about BPL estimates working on cut-offs of Rs.22.42 a day rural and Rs.28.35 urban. To fix BPL, nix CPL.

The Hindu

Monday, March 26, 2012

NATO’S Craven Coverup of Its Libyan Bombing--Vijai Prashad

Vijay Prashad - Ten days into the uprising in Benghazi, Libya, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council established the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya. The purpose of the Commission was to “investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya.” The broad agenda was to establish the facts of the violations and crimes and to take such actions as to hold the identified perpetrators accountable. On June 15, the Commission presented its first report to the Council. This report was provisional, since the conflict was still ongoing and access to the country was minimal. The June report was no more conclusive than the work of the human rights non-governmental organizations (such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch). In some instances, the work of investigators for these NGOs (such as Donatella Rovera of Amnesty) was of higher quality than that of the Commission.

Due to the uncompleted war and then the unsettled security state in the country in its aftermath, the Commission did not return to the field till October 2011, and did not begin any real investigation before December 2011. On March 2, 2012, the Commission finally produced a two hundred-page document that was presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Little fanfare greeted this report’s publication, and the HRC’s deliberation on it was equally restrained.

Nonetheless, the report is fairly revelatory, making two important points: first, that all sides on the ground committed war crimes with no mention at all of a potential genocide conducted by the Qaddafi forces; second, that there remains a distinct lack of clarity regarding potential NATO war crimes. Not enough can be made of these two points. They strongly inferthat the rush to a NATO “humanitarian intervention” might have been made on exaggerated evidence, and that NATO’s own military intervention might have been less than “humanitarian” in its effects.

It is precisely because of a lack of accountability by NATO that there is hesitancy in the United Nations Security Council for a strong resolution on Syria. “Because of the Libyan experience,” the Indian Ambassador to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri told me in February, “other members of the Security Council, such as China and Russia, will not hesitate in exercising a veto if a resolution – and this is a big if – contains actions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which permits the use of force and punitive and coercive measures.”

Crimes Against Humanity.

The Libyan uprising began on February 15, 2011. By February 22, the UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay claimed that two hundred and fifty people had been killed in Libya, “although the actual numbers are difficult to verify.” Nonetheless, Pillay pointed to “widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population” which “may amount to crimes against humanity.” Pillay channeled the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN from Libya, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who had defected to the rebellion and claimed, “Qaddafi had started the genocide against the Libyan people.” Very soon world leaders used the two concepts interchangeably, “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” These concepts created a mood that Qaddafi’s forces were either already indiscriminately killing vast numbers of people, or that they were poised for a massacre of Rwanda proportions.

Courageous work by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch last year, then much later the 2012 report from the UN belies this judgment, (as does my forthcoming book Arab Spring, Libyan Winter, AK Press), which goes through the day-by-day record and show two things: that both sides used excessive violence and that the rebels seemed to have the upper hand for much of the conflict, with Qaddafi’s forces able to recapture cities, but unable to hold them.

The UN report is much more focused on the question of crimes committed on the ground. This is the kind of forensic evidence in the report:

(1) In the military base and detention camp of Al Qalaa. “Witnesses, together with the local prosecutor, uncovered the bodies of 43 men and boys, blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs.” Qaddafi forces had shot them. Going over many of these kinds of incidents, and of indiscriminate firing of heavy artillery into cities, the UN Report notes that these amount to a war crime or a crime against humanity.

(2) “Over a dozen Qadhafi soldiers were reportedly shot in the back of the head bythuwar [rebel fighters] around 22-23 February 2011 in a village between Al Bayda and Darnah. This is corroborated by mobile phone footage.” After an exhaustive listing of the many such incidents, and of the use of heavy artillery against cities notably Sirte, the UN report suggests the preponderance of evidence of the war crime of murder or crimes against humanity.
There is no mention of genocide in the Report, and none of any organized civilian massacre. This is significant because UN Resolution 1973, which authorized the NATO war, was premised on the “the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population” which “may amount to crimes against humanity.” There was no mention in Resolution 1973 of the disproportionate violence of the thuwar against the pro-Qaddafi population (already reported by al-jazeera by February 19), a fact that might have given pause to the UN as it allowed NATO to enter the conflict on the rebels’ behalf. NATO’s partisan bombardment allowed the rebels to seize the country faster than they might have had in a more protracted war, but it also allowed them carte blanche to continue with their own crimes against humanity.

With NATO backing, it was clear that no one was going to either properly investigate the rebel behavior, and no-one was going to allow for a criminal prosecution of those crimes against humanity. Violence of this kind by one’s allies is never to be investigated as the Allies found out after World War 2 when there was no assessment of the criminal firebombing of, for example, Dresden. No wonder that the UN Report notes that the Commissioners are “deeply concerned that no independent investigation or prosecution appear to have been instigated into killings committed by thuwar.” None is likely. There are now over eight thousand pro-Qaddafi fighters in Libyan prisons. They have no charges framed against them. Many have been tortured, and several have died (including Halah al-Misrati, the Qaddafi era newscaster).

The section of the UN report on the town of Tawergha is most startling. The thirty thousand residents of the town were removed by the Misratan thuwar. The general sentiment among the Misratan thuwarwas that the Tawerghans were given preferential treatment by the Qaddafi regime, a claim disputed by the Tawerghans. The road between Misrata and Tawergha was lined with slogans such as “the brigade for purging slaves, black skin,” indicating the racist cleansing of the town. The section on Tawergha takes up twenty pages of the report. It is chilling reading. Tawerghans told the Commission “that during ‘interrogations’ they were beaten, had hot wax poured in their ears and were told to confess to committing rape in Misrata. The Commission was told that one man had diesel poured on to his back which was then set alight; the same man was held in shackles for 12 days.” This goes on and on. The death count is unclear. The refugees are badly treated as they go to Benghazi and Tripoli.

To the Commission, the attacks against Tawerghans during the war “constitute a war crime” and those that have taken place since “violate international human rights law” and a “crime against humanity.” Because of the “current difficulties faced by the Libyan Government,” the Commission concludes, it is unlikely that the government will be able to bring justice for the Tawerghans and to undermine the “culture of impunity that characterizes the attacks.”

NATO’s Crimes.

For the past several months, the Russians have asked for a proper investigation through the UN Security Council of the NATO bombardment of Libya. “There is great reluctance to undertake it,” the Indian Ambassador to the UN told me. When the NATO states in the Security Council wanted to clamor for war in February-March 2011, they held discussions about Libya in an open session. After Resolution 1973 and since the war ended, the NATO states have only allowed discussion about Libya in a closed session. When Navi Pillay came to talk about the UN Report, her remarks were not for the public.
Indeed, when it became clear to NATO that the UN Commission wished to investigate NATO’s role in the Libyan war, Brussels balked. On February 15, 2012, NATO’s Legal Adviser Peter Olson wrote a strong letter to the Chair of the Commission. NATO accepted that the Qaddafi regime “committed serious violations of international law,” which led to the Security Council Resolution 1973. What was not acceptable was any mention of NATO’s “violations” during the conflict,

“We would be concerned, however, if ‘NATO incidents’ were included in the Commission’s report as on a par with those which the Commission may ultimately conclude did violate law or constitute crimes. We note in this regard that the Commission’s mandate is to discuss ‘the facts and circumstance of….violations [of law] and…crimes perpetrated.’ We would accordingly request that, in the event the Commission elects to include a discussion of NATO actions in Libya, its report clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.”

To its credit, the Commission did discuss the NATO “incidents.” However, there were some factual problems. The Commission claimed that NATO flew 17,939 armed sorties in Libya. NATO says that it flew “24,200 sorties, including over 9,000 strike sorties.” What the gap between the two numbers might tell us is not explored in the report or in the press discussion subsequently. The Commission points out that NATO did strike several civilian areas (such as Majer, Bani Walid, Sirte, Surman, Souq al-Juma) as well as areas that NATO claims were “command and control nodes.” The Commission found no “evidence of such activity” in these “nodes.” NATO contested both the civilian deaths and the Commission’s doubts about these “nodes.” Because NATO would not fully cooperate with the Commission, the investigation was “unable to determine, for lack of sufficient information, whether these strikes were based on incorrect or outdated intelligence and, therefore, whether they were consistent with NATO’s objective to take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties entirely.”

Three days after the report was released in the Human Rights Council, NATO’s chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen denied its anodyne conclusions regarding NATO. And then, for added effect, Rasmussen said that he was pleased with the report’s finding that NATO “had conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties.” There is no such clear finding. The report is far more circumspect, worrying about the lack of information to make any clear statement about NATO’s bombing runs. NATO had conducted its own inquiry, but did not turn over its report or raw data to the UN Commission.

On March 12, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon went to the UN Security Council and stated that he was “deeply concerned” about human rights abuses in Libya, including the more than eight thousand prisoners held in jails with no judicial process (including Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who should have been transferred to the Hague by NATO’s logic). Few dispute this part of the report. The tension in the Security Council is over the section on NATO. On March 9, Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva of the Russian Mission to the UN in Geneva noted that the UN report omitted to explore the civilian deaths caused by NATO. “In our view,” she said, “during the NATO campaign many violations of the standard of international law and human rights were committed, including the most important right, the right to life.” On March 12, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of “massive bombings” in Libya. It was in response to Lavrov’s comment that Ban’s spokesperson Martin Nesirky pointed out that Ban accepts “the report’s overall finding that NATO did not deliberately target civilians in Libya.”

NATO is loath to permit a full investigation. It believes that it has the upper hand, with Libya showing how the UN will now use NATO as its military arm (or else how the NATO states will be able to use the UN for its exercise of power). In the Security Council, NATO’s Rasmussen notes, “Brazil, China, India and Russia consciously stepped aside to allow the UN Security Council to act” and they “did not put their military might at the disposal of the coalition that emerged.” NATO has no challenger. This is why the Russians and the Chinese are unwilling to allow any UN resolution that hints at military intervention. They fear the Pandora’s box opened by Resolution 1973.

Vijay Prashad’s new book, Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press) will be out in late March. On March 25, he will be speaking at the plenary panel of the United National Anti-War Coalition National Conference in Stamford, CT, alongside Bill McKibben, Richard Wolff and Nada Khader on “Global Economic Meltdown, Warming and War.”


Sunday, March 25, 2012

U.S. trying to use India to isolate Iran: Arundhati Roy

U.S. further trying to build a cold war situation in China, says the well-known writer

Well-known author Arundhati Roy said that the Indo-U.S. relations were a “theatrical drama” enacted to induce India to support the U.S. with a view to isolate Iran on one hand and help build a cold war situation in China.

Addressing a meeting organised by the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners on the occasion of the 80 death anniversary of Bhagat Singh, Ms. Roy said the main concern of the U.S. was how to isolate and attack Iran for its nuclear programme. In the same way, China had become the target of the U.S. as a result of the escalation of the conflict on account of capitalism.

She said the U.S. had made Pakistan its ally but created a civil war in that country only to weaken it. The U.S. was now interested in creating a similar situation in China with India as its ally. Accordingly, India had acceded to the U.S. at every stage right from buying nuclear reactors to opening up foreign direct investment.

The big investments right now were in the education sector wherein U.S. universities wanted to set up franchises in India. That is why all universities in India were shifting to the semester system of examinations like in the U.S. It was also not a coincidence that spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar insisted that education should be privatised.

Ms. Roy said India before 1989 was non-aligned but today it was a natural ally of U.S. and Israel. The demolition of the Babri Masjid and the opening up of Indian markets were a deliberate attempt to weaken opposition to India becoming an ally of the U.S. War and arms shopping were the two techniques of the U.S. to bail itself out of a tight economic situation.

Earlier, civil rights activist Latif Mohammed Khan took exception to the failure of NGOs to raise their voice when Muslim youths were arrested after the blast in Mecca Masjid but released when the role of Hindu fundamentalists in the blasts was established.

The Hindu

On the wrong side of history

In trying to strike a balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia, India seems to have lost the plot on Syria.

In casting its vote on Syria with the West and the Arab League at the United Nations Security Council, India may have lost a rare opportunity to impart solid political content to the Brazil-Russia-China-India-South Africa (BRICS) grouping, which has so far focussed on economic issues.

Two key countries belonging to BRICS — China and Russia — vetoed the West-backed resolution, which did not explicitly call for the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, to quit. However, it implicitly did demand the President's departure as it backed the position adopted by the Arab League, which had earlier called for Mr. Assad's exit. In the Arab League's perception, the President needed to make way for Syria's Vice-President with a national unity government overseeing the political transition.

Libya's experience weighed heavily in determining the Russian and Chinese positions on Syria. Both countries publicly acknowledged that they had been misled by the West on Libya. The western powers and some of their key Arab allies had, instead of protecting civilians through the establishment of no-fly zones, the stated intention of the resolution, manoeuvred it to institute a regime change. In the end, the Security Council Resolution 1973, on which Russia, China and India had abstained, paved the way for the grisly killing of the former Libyan leader, Muammar Qadhafi.

Divergent ideologies

The debate over Syria has also demonstrated the clash of two divergent and competing ideological positions. The West is undermining the principle of national sovereignty, with the implicit backing of the doctrine of the Right 2 Protect (R2P), which allows international military intervention in a sovereign nation when the State, in the perception of the “international community,” endangers the lives of its citizens on a large scale.

Rejecting “humanitarian interventions,” China and Russia, on the contrary, have staunchly defended and invoked the principle of sovereignty, which they say the U.N. must uphold in formulating its stance towards Syria. This has been the core of their position, from which they have not budged so far, despite their recent attempts to evolve a position around which an international consensus can evolve.

The heated debates on Syria in the U.N. cannot be seen in isolation. They mask a clash of great intensity, of competing geopolitical agendas, which are being played out at several levels. For Russia and China, the insistence on regime change in Syria is part of a long narrative scripted mainly by the United States, to overwhelmingly establish its cascading control over the rest of the world in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This has taken the form of western backed colour-coded revolutions, as in the case of Ukraine and Georgia, or use of varying degrees of force, some of it covert, as seen in the case of former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Lebanon and in Libya, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. China is of the view, that in the end, Beijing could become a target of the so-called “pro-democracy,” regime change subversion and must therefore stand up to the West, as it has done on Syria, to stem the tide, even at the cost of losing some tactical ground.

Tactical versus strategic

India seems to have lost a trick by voting on tactical rather than strategic considerations with the West and the Arab League on Syria. There is an argument that India's vote was the result of a great balancing act it undertook between Iran and Saudi Arabia — the two countries locked in a bitter and escalating Cold War in West Asia. In trying to balance its interests between Iran and the pro-West Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, India sided with Iran, and despite enormous pressure from the Americans and the Gulf countries, refused to enforce oil sanctions against Tehran, which were being imposed outside the U.N. framework.

Flawed presumption

Having done so, it appeared to have gone with Saudi Arabia by voting with the West and the Arab League on Syria, apparently to protect its legitimate and growing interests with the petro-monarchies — the source of billions of dollars of remittances, a lucrative source of investment, and the anchor of India's energy security. There is also an argument that Saudi Arabia has become important as a factor in influencing Pakistan, and is therefore important to India on grounds of national security.

Finally, it is being said that by voting with the West and the pro-West Arab regimes, India has positioned itself on the “right side of history,” in the post-Cold War era — a superficial and deeply flawed presumption at a time when the locus of global economic power has already shifted East, and it may not be long before emerging powers discover that they are capable of asserting themselves, ever more strongly, on the global political stage.

It is in trying to find a tactical balance to protect its interests in the region, in a framework largely bereft of a larger strategic vision that India seems to have lost the plot on Syria. Viewed from a strategic perspective, the Indian establishment appears to have under-appreciated the importance of Iran, Syria's core ally, to India's larger national interests. Not only is Iran indispensable as the gateway for protecting India's interests in Afghanistan as well as for reasons of energy security, it is also the key for developing India's ties with Iraq in the post-Saddam era.

After the demise of the former Iraqi President, who was India's reliable partner, and the impending exit of American forces from the country, Iran has emerged as the biggest gainer and potentially the chief power broker that can facilitate India's re-entry into Iraq — a country with a vast untapped oil wealth that is bound to feature ever more prominently in India and China's energy security matrix in the future.

But by voting against the Syrian regime, India adopted a position that was plainly hostile to Iran, for Damascus is the lynchpin for projecting Iranian influence in the Levant. It is also more than likely that if a “regime change” is accomplished in Syria, with Israeli pressure already substantial on the American establishment, the Islamic Republic may soon find itself fighting for its political survival. Such an existential threat may force Tehran to review its position on the nuclear issue and impart a so far unproven militaristic dimension to its atomic programme. In plain language, “regime change” in Syria may push an isolated Iran to develop the atomic bomb and permanently change the regional balance of power — a situation that does not suit India's larger interests in West Asia.

The argument that India's vote on Syria was necessary to protect India's deepening interests in the arena of human resource, trade and energy in this vast oil bearing zone is specious, to say the least. There is no doubt that India has heavy stakes in the Gulf, which is the source of billions of dollars of remittances from Indians who work there, as well as on account of burgeoning trade. But this relationship has evolved out of economic necessity, and is reflective of a mutually advantageous win-win situation. India's vote at the U.N. is hardly going to threaten this deep-rooted relationship with the Gulf countries, especially at a time when the pragmatic Arabs have realised that the presence of disciplined Indians lies at the core of their economic development.

Heavy price

There is no doubt that India needs to continue building its ties with the Gulf countries in all major spheres of engagement. However, it does not mean that New Delhi, an outsider to the region, should pay a heavy price for protecting its interests by joining, however inadvertently, the Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran centred around Syria, which is a purely regional affair.

Finally, the developments in Syria give India an opportunity to bond on the political plain with Russia and China, and carry with it Brazil, which might have voted against the Syrian regime at the U.N. not entirely out of conviction. Fresh avenues are opening India's way, not only for undertaking a course correction on Syria, but for imparting a prominent political dimension to BRICS. The upcoming BRICS summit that India is hosting may emerge as the first major occasion for New Delhi to make a fresh start.

The Hindu