Science and Technology in China

BOOK - Science and Technology in China

Science and Technology in China – Implications and Lessons for India – Edited by Maharajakrishna Rasgotra – Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Year of Publication:2013; Pages:256; Price:Rs.795 

Reviewed by Brig. Suresh C. Sharma, advisor to the telecom industry and freelance writer.  E-mail:

The book is a collection of papers discussed at a seminar organized by Observer Research Foundation [ORF].

S. Ramamurthy has narrated two examples of the progress by China in manufacturing high technology items. It invested in a rare earth refining plant in USA, closed it down and shifted it to China. China has now a monopoly of this important item. In 2008, China outbid Bharat Electronics of India and a German firm to offer Doppler weather radars. It should not be a surprise since PSUs get cost plus profits for sale to Government organizations and there is little effort in keeping costs low. China’s investment in research is much higher than that of India and China has a larger number of scientists and engineers under training.

Dr. V. P. Kharbanda has explained that following liberalization, China decided that Science and Technology [S & T] work must be oriented to economic construction. There has been continuous effort to institute a reward mechanism in the S & T system. The highest academic institution to control the scientific work is the Chinese Academy of Sciences [CAS]. The CAS established new research facilities based on open, mobile system serving the whole country in place of the earlier system which was isolated with universities and industry. Till the year 2000, 400 high-tech spin-off companies were formed under the CAS in the areas of IT laser technology, pharmaceuticals, energy and bio-medicine. The best scientists and engineers were recruited and a close relationship maintained with the political elites. National knowledge and innovation programme was started in 1995 to convert CAS into a research base of international standard. Simultaneously, the number of institutes of higher learning has increased and so has the number of research papers. State allocations to research institutes were reduced and institutes encouraged to commercialize their research results. S & T organization has been structured to encourage research institutes and industry cooperation. The success of Chinese efforts in innovation and research is due to the political will. There is an open environment for import of advanced technologies, better tax incentives and promotion of MNCs. India’s efforts need a big political push.

China started its space programme in the 1950s while India embarked into it in 1963. U R Rao has given a comparison of the progress by the two countries. China is far ahead due to being able to allot large resources and has gone ahead with building anti-satellite system. China’s objectives are to assure or deny access to and deny freedom to operate in space. Its missile programme aims at stocking adequate number of medium, long range and inter-continental missiles and change “no first use of nuclear weapons” to use against any nuclear power showing signs of attacking China. Rao has warned against our tendency to over-claim and over-advertise our accomplishments which creates a false sense of comfort within the country. India should not overreach its financial resources just to compete with China.

Chinese aviation policy has given more importance to the civil sector due to economic reasons. Half of the global profits in civil aviation are being made in China. In the military sector, China is going ahead in producing stealth fighters. The Western companies are in a dilemma whether to help Chinese industry for quick profits now and face it as an adversary later. Dr. R. Rajaraman estimates the number of nuclear warheads in China at 240 and it has the capability to assemble another 240 weapons. The warheads can be launched by any of the three systems – land based missiles, submarines or aircraft. India and Pakistan have about 90 to 100 nuclear warheads each. They are lagging behind in high energy physics. A number of bright scientists of Chinese origin and working in the West have a strong interaction with mainland Chinese scientific groups and quality work may emerge from China. We have not been able to get similar effort from NRIs. In India, the IT industry skipped the hardware component of IT and communications. In China, it covered all aspects like manufacturing, communications, software development and cyber security. China is believed to be indulging in violation of intellectual property rights. IT industry has been growing rapidly in China due to a well-planned system of investments and novel policies. It is robust and sustainable.

Ashok Parthasarathi has given a detailed account of the use of science and technology in China and its implications for India. China’s industrial development started with setting up of 300 heavy industry plants with the help of the former Soviet Union [FSU]. Major dislocation occurred due to   the Cultural Revolution and ideological break-up between China and the FSU. New economy policy was adopted after Mao’s death and western multinational companies went into China in a big way. India was forced to open its economy to foreign participation in 1991 owing to low level of foreign exchange. Political will has made it possible for China to achieve high rate of industrial progress but has led to distortions. Steel production in 2009 was 600 million tonnes while the domestic consumption was merely 370 tonnes. The industry was highly fragmented. There are 7000 iron and steel companies. Some of them have a capacity of only 100 tonnes per year. These inefficient units cannot be closed down due to ownership or patronage of local party leaders.

India has eleven plants producing 55 million tonnes of steel per year. We should look beyond China. The former Governor of Reserve Bank of India pointed out that landed cost of steel from Japan which imported coal and iron ore was lower than the cost of steel from Indian plants. To his discomfort, a student showed by a quick calculation that the cost of steel in India was high due to the cost of coal and iron ore supplied by Public Sector Units [PSUs]. The quality of power generating equipment from China is lower than that from BHEL of India. Some of the State Electricity Boards imported Chinese equipment which was offered at a much lower price due to dumping. It was unsuitable for the Indian plants using coal with high content of ash and had to be discarded early.

China plans 15% of energy demand from non-fossil sources by 2020. India is likely to reach a target figure of 18% for renewable energy by that time. Both the countries are promoting solar and wind energy systems. In India, there is a greater reliance on private companies and an involvement of international players in production and financing. Sam Pitroda successfully developed electronic exchanges in C-DOT and 42 million exchange lines of this technology were inducted into the network by 2006. There is a similar success story of Wireless-in-Loop [WILL] technology developed by Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT, Chennai. During 2005 to 2007, cell phones made a rapid growth. Indigenous component of telecommunication equipment declined from 70% to 20% and the imports of these equipments in 2008-09 were Rs.46,200 crores. China, on the other hand, insisted that foreign companies in China use 95% Chinese staff and content. India needs to take similar steps. In pharmaceuticals, India is far ahead of China.

India stood at 62 and China at 29 in the Global Innovation Index. Smita Purushottam has narrated the different economic and technological paths taken by the two countries which have resulted in this gap. They both started with investment in heavy industries with help from USSR. In 1978, China switched to a model of Comparative Advantage Following [CAF]. The state owned units were free to participate in the market and massive investment was made in infrastructure. The manufactured products were competitive due to cheap labour, reverse engineering, leadership and FDI. India woke up only in 1991 and the Government did not give due importance to manufacturing industries. IT Service sector could provide limited employment opportunities. The author has made recommendations for high growth which can be 10% per year. Some of the suggestions are to develop manufacturing industries and not allow any damage to Indian units even at the cost of appearing protectionist. We need to develop both hard and soft capabilities. Civil and military technologies should be integrated. The book has well covered the reasons for comparatively lower performance in economic growth.

S. V. Raju – The True Liberal

SVR Passport Size Snap

Today is the 82nd birth anniversary of Mr. S. V. Raju.  He was liberal to the core.  For him, there was no compromise on anything that went against the liberal ethos.  Liberalism was a subject very close to his heart; it was literally running in his blood.  He was ever so eager to speak about and explain liberalism to an audience if he found them to be willing listeners. 

We felt there would be no better way to pay him our tribute on this day by reproducing extracts from his article “Liberal Political Initiatives – Past and Present, Third Time Lucky?” first published in “Liberal Times” (newsmagazine of Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung) of April 2000.  This is a very simple essay on “Liberalism “.  The full text of the article can be obtained from the office of Freedom First. 

Beginnings of Indian Liberalism

The history of Indian liberalism begins in the 18th century with Ram Mohan Roy “with his concerns for social reform and the uplift of women, for education as a means of social transformation, for the freedom of the press”.1

It was the liberals who spearheaded the freedom movement in the 19th century.  The Indian National Congress was a creation of the Liberals and pursued Liberal policies.  Liberals like Dadabhai Naoroji, Mahadeo Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Dinshaw Wachha, Pherozeshah Mehta, Karsondas Mulji, Kandakuri Veeresalingam Pantulu and V. S. Srinivasa Sastri who founded “The National Liberal Foundation” in 1918, were trenchant critics of British rule.  But their priorities were not immediate independence.

Undoubtedly, they wanted freedom from British rule, but this had to be preceded by social reform, a campaign to remove the scourge of casteism, freedom from illiteracy, from superstition and blind faith.  They saw nothing wrong in taking what was good in British rule including the English language.  They did not subscribe to the belief that by learning English you were neglecting your mother tongue.  Many of those mentioned above were not only masters of English prose but were outstanding writers in their mother tongue.  They wanted that criticism be fair and opposition be based on reason and not on emotions.  They adapted western concepts to suit Indian conditions.

Role of the State

India’s liberals of the 19th and early 20th centuries did not subscribe to the concept of a negative role for the State.  For instance, Ranade had this to say on the subject: “Speaking roughly, the province of state interference and control is practically being extended so as to restore the good points of the mercantile system without its absurdities.  The State is now more and more recognized as a national organ, taking care of national needs in all matters in which individual and cooperative efforts are not likely to be so effective and economic as national effort.”  This is a correct view to take for the true functions of a state.  To relegate them to the simple duty of maintaining peace and order is really to deprive the community of many of the advantages of the Social Union.2

Post-Independence State

The liberal domination of the Indian National Congress ended when Gandhiji took over the leadership of the freedom movement and resorted to methods of agitation.  Gandhi was a Liberal.  His views and those of Gokhale (whom Gandhiji considered his political guru) were similar.  But Gandhiji demanded freedom here and now and was not prepared to wait while the people were educated and ready to take over the administration of a free India. Undoubtedly, Gandhiji galvanized the people and hastened freedom.  However, when one looks around India today, can one not legitimately wonder if the Liberals of the last century were not justified in their cautious approach?  The Liberals faded away and the Indian National Congress, after independence and under Pandit Nehru’s leadership, went on to adopt the “socialistic pattern of society” as its credo.  The policies pursued increased the powers of the state enormously.  It would be almost four decades before the Liberal movement made a comeback in the form of the Swatantra Party.

Tolerant India, Not Liberal

The assertion that the Liberal philosophy is natural to India and that Indian society has been essentially a liberal society is not quite borne out by our history.  Tolerant yes; Liberal hardly.  Often our tolerance was at the peer level.  We tend to be servile to those above us and lord it over those below us, particularly, those lower down the caste hierarchy.  The much praised panchayats, as evidence of our republican temper were, as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar pointed out, dominated by the upper castes.  While recent steps to restore Panchayat Raj institutions have tried to set right this imbalance, we need to accept the fact that liberalism does not come to us naturally.  It is necessary for this to be said to underline the handicaps which Liberalism has to contend with.

Liberalism v/s. Liberalisation

The words Liberalism and Liberalisation are used as if they are synonymous.  There is confusion that they are one and the same.  Liberalisation generally connotes a freer economy; Liberalism goes far beyond economics.  To the committed Liberal, Liberalism connotes a free economy in a free society.  On this there can be no compromise.


Footnotes 1&2: Cited by Dr. S. P. Aiyar in his essay “The Concept of Liberalism and its Relevance for India” published in “Freedom and Dissent” (Essays in honour of Minoo Masani)

India and Security Council Reforms : Bold Political Strategy Needed – By Dr. B. Ramesh Babu

To assert that the United Nations — the Security Council (SC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the whole set of global governing institutions established after the Second World War — have become obsolete is an understatement. They still reflect the global realities of the Cold War era that has disappeared into history half a century ago. They are obsolete and are no longer legitimate. History tells us that all institutions go through phases of origin, utility, and abuse. They are created to meet the exigencies and challenges of the times. Unless they are reformed, from time to time, to reflect the ever-changing ground realities of power and purpose, they will lose their relevance and legitimacy. However, those in command refuse to yield place and do all that is in their power to preserve and perpetuate their domination and rule.  Persuasion and diplomacy do not go far enough to make them bend to the march of history.

Assertion of credentials and reiteration of entitlement ad nauseum will not work. Those seeking reform and re-alignment of the internal power structure of institutions must be willing and able to play hard ball. India, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and other countries must force the change through hard headed political strategies. It is high time India recognizes that “hope” is not a policy!

The UNSC reforms debate has been going on for a long time. In the beginning, the SC had five permanent members with the right to veto all decisions and six members elected for a two year term. In 1965, the number of the elected and non-permanent members was increased from six to ten.  This has remained unaltered since then. The SC is the only institution in the UN system whose decisions are mandatory and legally binding on all member states.

Notwithstanding the obvious and universally acknowledged need for change, the reform process did not go forward. However, there was no dearth of proposals for reform. They ranged far and wide with a variety of permutations and combinations depending on the perspectives and interests of the sponsoring countries and regional groups.  Three leading Plans deserve special attention: (1) G-4 Plan advocated by India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil envisages a UNSC comprising a total of 25 members including 6 new permanent members (G-4 plus 2 countries from Africa) and an additional 3 or 4 elected seats; (2) UN for Consensus Plan which calls for a 25 member SC without any new permanent members. But, the Plan provides for new “permanent seats” for each geographical region, leaving it to the group to decide which member states should occupy the seats, for how long, etc. (3) Ezulwin Consensus Plan representing the African group proposes 2 permanent and 2 elected members from the content. The new permanent members will enjoy all the prerogatives and privileges on par with the P-5 members including the right to veto.

At this stage it is pertinent to take a brief look at the Budget contributions and size of the population of the P-5 members, the G-4 countries and the 2 African aspirants:

Country            Budget Contribution & Rank               Population & Rank

P-5 Members:

USA                  22 %                1st                                            318 millions    3rd

UK                    5.17%              5th                                            64 millions       22nd

China               5-14%              6th                                            1.36 billions     1st

France             5.59%              4th                                            66 millions        21st

Russia              2.43%              8th                                            144 millions      9th

Contenders and Aspirants:

Japan               10.83%            2nd                                            127 millions    10th

India                  0.66%             10th                                           1241 billions    2nd

Germany            7.14%         3rd                                               81 millions       16th

Brazil                  2.93%        7th                                                201 millions      5th

Nigeria                0.09%        37th                                              1754 millions   7th

South Africa        0.37%        NA                                                53 millions       25th

Japan and Germany, which are not members of the SC, are second and third respectively in terms of their contribution to the regular budget of the United Nations. Brazil comes 7th after France, UK, and China. Russia, a P-5 member, ranks lower than Brazil.

It is crystal clear from the above data on the budget contributions and size of their population that the G-4 countries should be in the Security Council.  Meaningful reforms will make it more representative and democratic so as to enable it to tackle the challenges confronting the changing world more effectively. The recent crises in Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria are the latest examples of the failure of the SC as currently constituted.  A more inclusive, representative, and legitimate SC would have handled the international conflict situations with greater dexterity and wisdom.  UN’s membership has grown from 113 in the 1960s to 193 today. But, the membership and the composition of the SC remain frozen in time. There is no permanent member from Africa though most of its work is focused on the continent. Latin America is excluded and a large number of small island states has no voice in the highest decision making body of the UN.

India’s case for the permanent membership of the SC is exemplary by any objective criteria. Its contribution to world peace in the Cold War era and after and to the maintenance of international peace and security are monumental. In terms of the size of its population and territory, GDP, civilization and legacy, cultural diversity, democratic political system, India’s claim for inclusion in the SC is unimpeachable. Its role in the UN’s peace keeping operations around the world is unequalled. India was elected to the SC seven times so far and is once again a candidate for the 2021-2022 term.  India is hopeful, like many other member states, that the year 2015 marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the UN and the 10th anniversary of 2005 World Leaders Forum which strongly urged the reform of the SC would see the light of the day.

However, it is high time that India, Japan, Germany, Brazil and others seeking reforms realize that “hope” and “wish” do not add up to a strategy.  In the real world of global politics credentials do not go far. The active candidates for entry into the SC should have a political strategy to force the gatekeepers open the doors of entry. They should join hands and fight for their rights in a combined and coordinated manner. Since India and Japan regard permanent membership of the Security Council to be very important, they should take the lead in mobilizing others for a joint action.

China is as adamant as ever in its opposition to the expansion of the SC.  Notwithstanding its long standing public support of the candidacy of India, when the chips are down, the US reversed itself on the issue. Though the US says that membership of the SC should be country specific and its stand on India’s membership of the SC is unchanged, its stand needs clarity. Recent assurance of support by President Barrack Obama himself suddenly seems less than categorical. Russia joined the other two in opposing the reforms; but thought it prudent to reverse its stand in less than a week later. It came out in support of permanent membership of SC for India and Brazil. However, there is no clarity on the veto issue. The distaste and reluctance of the P-5 to lose their primacy and share power with others is understandable. Global politics is a power game and each one of them has their own chestnuts to take out of the fire. Right or wrong, they have used their veto to protect their narrow national interests as they saw them. World peace and international security, wars and internal conflicts in other countries, and hunger and deprivation around the world were secondary to protecting their own interests and catering to their egos. The world is made that way and cribbing about it is of no use. The reality is to be faced with courage. A deliberate and concerted common strategy to alter the situation has to be devised and deployed without any further delay.

In this context, it is pertinent to bring in what Ramesh Thakur articulated in the opinion columns of Japan Times recently. Interestingly, the reference is to the non-cooperation strategy of Mahatma Gandhi, which brought the mighty British Empire to its knees. It is suggested that the G-4 countries should begin by refusing to take part in the elections for the non-permanent seats on the SC. Their combined non-participation in the electoral process for a decade or more would seriously undermine the already shrinking legitimacy of the SC in the eyes of the world.  To drive home their conviction that the present SC is illegitimate, the G-4 and other aspirants should refuse to vote in the process of citing any country for bad behaviour (like non-compliance with nuclear proliferation obligations to the UNSC). They should use each and every occasion to remind others that since they do not consider the SC to be legitimate, it would be hypocritical on their part to subject others to the compulsory mandate of the global governing body. Finally, he argues that the G-4 countries should not contribute troops, civilian personnel or funds to the UN’s peace keeping operations since it is the SC that authorizes such initiatives and activities. It is pertinent to add that the US had adopted the very same tactics effectively and it is a good strategy to follow the American precept and practice!

These three steps taken together will throw a monkey wrench in the UN system and effectively undermine the credibility of the SC in global affairs. This will compel the P-5 to sit up and find a solution to the thorny issue of the endless procrastination of the much needed reforms, it is reasoned. China has demonstrated that the reform proof international financial institutions can be circumvented by creating alternate banks! It is good to follow the Chinese example.

I believe that this three-plan peaceful non-cooperation with the UN institutions should be strengthened by an ultimatum. The G-4 countries should declare that they would collectively withdraw from the world body on 31 December 2015, if the P-5 countries do not allow meaningful reform of the SC during the year of the 70th anniversary of the UN.  2015 is also the 10th anniversary of the UN appointed World Leaders’ Forum’s 2005 clarion call for reforms. It is possible that Germany, which is included in almost all key meetings of the ‘world leaders’ by their western cousins, may not go that far in its bid for inclusion in the UNSC. Be that as it may, India and Japan should take lead in mobilizing Brazil and the other aspirants for membership in the SC for concerted collective action. I am sure that this will work. If the P-5 members still persist in their opposition to reforming the SC, they will be responsible for the decline and demise of the UN system.

In the long history of mankind, institutions rise and fall and alternatives emerge from the ashes of the dead and moribund organizations. Nobody needs to shed tears over the death of dysfunctional and illegitimate institutions.

Dr. B. Ramesh Babu is a specialist in International Relations, American Politics and Public affairs. He is the Scholar in Residence, Foundation for Democratic Reforms, Hyderabad. Formerly he was the Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Professor and Head of the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Bombay. He was also associated with the ASRC, ICFAI University, Institute of Public Enterprise, and the Central University at Hyderabad.  E-mail:

POST SCRIPT (By FF Digital Team)

The UN General Assembly (UNGC) agreed on Monday, 14th September to adopt a negotiating text for Security Council Reforms despite protest from three key members – China, Russia and Pakistan.  This is a significant step forward for India’s hopes of a Security Council seat and a historic decision which could change the future of the UN decisively.

The 2016 Race to the White House Moves Into High Gear – By Prof. B. Ramesh Babu

Prof. B. Ramesh Babu is our regular columnist on “Foreign Relations in the 21st Century”.  While in the US on a personal visit in May-June this year, he was closely following the “race”.

“Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.” – Oscar Amringer

“How do you distinguish elections in India and America?” was the most frequent question my students across the US asked over the decades. I responded by saying: “In India the candidates stand for election. In the US they run for office.” In an American election, if you merely stand, you stand no chance! However, if you run very hard, you may be the lucky one.”   Things have speeded up in India over time and Modi’s spectacular win is a living illustration of the transformation of the electoral scene in the country.

Invariably, the pace is the essence of the race in the US since long. Often a candidate’s body language and style seem to matter more than substance. The policy alternatives spelled out by the contestants (some of them do) do not receive the scrutiny they deserve. On this score the presidential election of 2016 may turn out to be different because “income inequality” has become the key electoral issue for the first time in American history. Naturally, the ways and means of dealing with the economic and social challenge advocated by the rival candidates will gain importance as the race gathers momentum. Let us hope so.

While it is too early in the race to predict, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may finally emerge as the leading contestants of the two major parties. The two are most familiar names and they symbolize two different and contending national philosophies and legacies on the role of government in the life of the nation.

The four latest rulings of the Supreme Court (legalizing gay marriages; upholding the Affordable Care Act a second time; banning the Confederate flag; and declaring ‘indirect’ racial discrimination in housing as illegal), in effect, moved the “mainstream” of national politics further to the left of centre. These key decisions once again demonstrated that the Supreme Court moves in step with the popular will, sooner or later. However, the new political/ideological dispensation may pose an extra challenge to the Republican side, which is already overcrowded with unprecedented number of declared and undeclared candidates of different degrees of credibility. Much will depend on who makes the least errors, who takes the lead in the early State primaries and caucuses, the major challenges facing the nation at home and abroad between now and July/August next year, and how the leading contenders offer to deal with them.

The race to the presidency in the US essentially goes through three stages: primaries and conventions of the two parties in the various States, their national conventions; and the national elections. Then, there is a peculiar American twist, which stipulates that the winning candidate must get at least 270 seats in the Electoral College, an archaic but a constitutionally mandated intermediary institution. Usually the candidates that poll a clear majority of the popular vote also win in the Electoral College. But, there have been a few cases to the contrary and the outcome of a recent election ended in the lap of the Supreme Court. However, this unlikely eventuality need not distract our analysis of the 2016 presidential elections.

Crucial Issues

The sluggish economy and foreign policy reversals in the Middle East and elsewhere are the obvious perennials. The future of the Affordable Care Act; and same sex marriages are now settled by the Supreme Court.  Racism, gun control, undocumented immigrants are the top electoral issues now. Immigration is intertwined with jobs and economic growth, many instances of police killing unarmed young blacks and the “hate” murder of innocent blacks in the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white ‘racist’ youth triggered a new wave of black civil rights activism across the nation. It is high time that the second wave of transformations sweeps the vast land.

Climate change and poverty are among the other major electoral issues. Pope Francis’s encyclical envisioning science and faith as partners in a communal quest to protect the vulnerable from the rampant profit motive and exploitation of the Earth is an epic challenge to some American values. The NSA’s spying scam and the cyber hacking of the Department of Personnel and Management’s data on the federal government employees transformed the issues of citizens’ rights and nation’s security into urgent challenges confronting the nation today.

It will be interesting to see how the candidates supported by powerful rightwing religious groups will meet the new challenge. How far the liberals will go against the entrenched capitalist credo will also be worthy to watch.  As the election gathers momentum how the complex mix of issues and personalities mesh and sour is anybody’s guess. And that is what is most fascinating about American elections, which seem like fast paced chaos to casual observers from outside.

Contestants and Aspirants

The 2016 campaign for the presidency is called an open race because the sitting President is not in the contest. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton is leading by a mile. Senator Bernie Sanders (an independent form Vermont), the brave and well known socialist, is gaining traction with the passage of time. The other credible contender is the former Governor of Maryland O’Malley, who is canvassing on a more populist plank than his established reputation. Both of them are positioning themselves to the left of Hillary Clinton, which in effect could make her the more acceptable to the majority of the Democratic Party. A fourth candidate has entered the fray on the Democratic side. But, it is not likely to alter the likely outcome of the contestation.

On the Republican side, the scene is overcrowded and confused. The latest count shows that 16 candidates are in the race. But, soon many of them will fade away. Ideologically, they range all the way from the extreme rightwing to the more moderate position in the party. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, son and brother of two former Presidents, carries the most familiar family name. Consequently, he leads the pack, though his position as of now is not as strong as that of Hillary Clinton on the other side. Among the more credible candidates, the following may be mentioned: Senators Marco Rubio (Florida), and Ted Cruz (Texas), Governors Chris Christie (New Jersey), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), John R. Kasich (Ohio), and the famous billionaire Donald Trump from New York City. At present, Trump is making waves and also the most outrageous statements, which will undo his bid. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana deserves to be added to the long list of several others in the arena.

For the first time in American history, income inequality or the widening gap between the top and the bottom of the society has emerged as the universally accepted electoral issue. As a long time observer of the American scene, I recall the eloquent words of the former Senator John Edwards in 2004. He spoke passionately about the “two different Americas” in the country – the first consisting of those who lived the American Dream and the second inhabited by those who struggle to make ends meet every single day. Now almost all candidates are constrained to refer to the widening gap between the two Americas and the need to bridge it. To be dubbed a liberal is no more a political or an electoral handicap in America.

Hillary Clinton is running on an economic agenda that is most likely to be more liberal and populist than that of Edwards as the campaign moves into high gear. Self declared socialist Senator Sanders is most vocal and consistent on championing the liberal agenda. Even Jeb Bush agrees that “the opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time.” He avers that “the American dream has become a mirage for far too many” and that many Americans see only a small portion of the population riding the up escalator of the national economy.

Liberals as well as the conservatives agree on the primacy of the contemporary challenge confronting the nation. However, the differences on how to deal with it and what is the proper role of the Government in the country are as wide as ever and run along predictable legacies of the two parties. Hillary Clinton declared that the nation’s economy should work for all and not just for the most privileged. Her declared goals are in tune with the liberal policies of President Obama. She envisages a leading role for the government in achieving them. She had no hesitation in characterizing the hate killings in the Charleston church as an “act of racist terrorism.” By way of contrast, most of the Republican leaders stumbled and mumbled when asked to respond to the shooting. Ted Cruz declared that in Texas “gun control” stands for hitting the target! An unbelievably tasteless joke when the nation was mourning a shameful tragedy.

Jeb Bush saw no reason why “we can’t achieve 4 per cent growth.” But when asked how it could be achieved, he mentioned paring away regulations, reforming the tax code, developing more traditional energy sources, tackling fiscal structural problems, and training to produce a more skilled work force, and so on.

All the GOP candidates are long on the rhetoric and declared that the nation’s economy was in shambles. They are equally vigorous in rubbishing President Obama on the foreign policy front, especially in the Middle East. However, none of them has come up with any coherent and meaningful alternative set of policies on the economic front or in the foreign policy arena. Narrow partisan conflict between the Congress and the President reached the highest levels during the last six years. On the whole, I will blame the right wing Republican leadership more than the President on this score. Issues of racism, gun control, and immigration that have come to the fore during the recent years are testament to the narrow minded partisanship of the GOP leadership, which did not and could not reconcile to Obama’s victory in 2008 and more so to his re-election in 2012.

Reflections on the Race Underway

From the 1890s the US has been going through a thirty year cycle of leftward lurch followed by conservative consolidation. The Progressive Era of the 1890s, the New Deal, the Great Society and the Civil Rights movement of 1960s, etc. should be seen in that light. Unless the GOP’s leadership accepts the current leftward lurch led by the ‘millennials’ (i.e. the generation born after 1980) gracefully and focuses attention on the economy and national security, the party has not much of a chance in the presidential race of 2016. Otherwise Hillary’s victory will mark yet another great breakthrough in the history of the nation – crossing the gender barrier to the White House.

If I were an American citizen, I would vote for her because she is in swing with the liberal thrust in the thirty year cycle of the nation’s history.

PROF. B. RAMESH BABU is a specialist in International Relations, American Politics and Foreign Policy.  He is the Scholar in Residence, Foundation for Democratic Reforms, Hyderabad.  Formerly, he was Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Professor and Head of the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai.  E-mail: