1 MAY 2018
The stage is set for a truly historic meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump
The summit between the leaders of the two Koreas is perhaps the most significant step in decades towards securing peace on the peninsula. Kim Jong-un on Friday became the first North Korean leader since the 1953 armistice to step on South Korean soil. Not many had foreseen such a rapid turnaround in ties between the two Koreas, given the acrimony and war rhetoric of the recent past. Mr. Kim had stepped up his country’s nuclear weapons programme since assuming power in 2011. Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump and he even exchanged nuclear threats. But it has become evident that Mr. Kim’s primary goal may not be to maintain the North’s nuclear capability or to live in a perpetually hostile environment. He has signalled that he is willing to barter the North’s nuclear capability for economic and security assurances. At their summit, Mr. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose persistence in breaking the ice was vital to the historic meeting, spared no words in expressing their desire for peace in a “nuclear-free” peninsula. They declared that there would be no more war on the peninsula. There are plans to transform the existing armistice into a peace treaty with the help of the U.S. and China, to formally end the Korean war by year-end.
The significance of the summit notwithstanding, peace is not a given. In the past, two South Korean Presidents had travelled to the North to meet its leader. The 2007 joint declaration after an inter-Korean summit had expressed almost similar goals as in the latest declaration, including on the nuclear issue. Yet relations deteriorated, with the international peace process failing to make any progress and the North going back to its nuclear weapons programme. What is different this time is that the inter-Korean summit is to be followed by a meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump. Mr. Kim first conveyed the promise of denuclearisation through visiting South Korean officials. And then he travelled to China to discuss the proposal with President Xi Jinping before meeting Mr. Moon. He announced a freeze on further nuclear tests and said North Korea’s main test site would be shut down, all aimed to show his seriousness of purpose. Mr. Trump has welcomed the Panmunjom summit and said that he expects to meet Mr. Kim within four weeks. Despite his promises, Mr. Kim is unlikely to give up his nuclear weapons unless he gets credible guarantees from the U.S., China and other countries. He is likely to also press the U.S. to withdraw its nuclear umbrella from the South. But it is quite extraordinary to think that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim may actually now get down to discussing, face-to-face, steps towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
Biplab Deb is completely out of his depth in ruling Tripura
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb is a gift to headline writers. It is not even two months since he took over from Manik Sarkar, the CPI(M) veteran who was Chief Minister for 20 years. Yet, Mr. Deb has held the spotlight on himself forone gaffe after another. He has said, in a literal manner, that the Internet and satellite communication were in use in ancient India, and that instances of their use could be referenced in the Mahabharata. Freely jumping across themes, he has compared the Indianness of the beauty of Miss Worlds. He has most recently said, very seriously, that civil engineers are better trained to be in the civil services compared to mechanical engineers as the former “know how to build society”. For some of these he has apologised — not for others. He has also made it a habit of doing ridiculous back-of-the-envelope calculations to ask the people of Tripura to, variously, consider how much richer they would be if they had kept a cow or sold paan. Mr. Deb is clearly revelling in his turn in the sun, as the BJP’s young talent come good in a vital ideological face-off by hollowing out the Congress’s State unit and humbling the CPI(M). In the days after the BJP swept the February Assembly election, winning 35 of the 60 seats on its own, with ally the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura bringing in another eight, it was said the victory in the State was as valuable to the party as its earlier achievement in Uttar Pradesh.
It is against this backdrop that Mr. Deb’s irrational remarks reveal the BJP to be completely out of its depth after its historic victory. On Mr. Sarkar’s watch, Tripura had moved up the development indices. According to the 2011 Census, with a literacy rate of about 87% it ranked fifth in India. Its sex ratio is a relatively respectable 960, and mortality rates for infants and children have been drastically reduced. On the flip side, Tripura’s good social health indices are not matched by those on the economic front — its per capita income has languished below the national average, its infrastructure facilities are poor and unemployment rate is extremely high. This is what Mr. Deb seeks to mock. Rather than make laughable references to technological prowess in a mythical age, he would do better to envisage and execute a firm plan to strengthen the State’s economic health. Rather than wade into needless controversies by talking about things such as how a ‘quintessential’ Indian woman looks like — which, given the manner the remark was couched, is something of an affront to Tripura’s ethnic diversity — he should be urged by his political bosses to let his performance, rather than his loose tongue, to do the talking. His advice to people to increase household savings instead of hankering after a government job reflects an incapacity to address the youth constituency that is seen to have voted the BJP to power on the desire for better jobs. All around, Mr. Deb is letting down his office and the people of Tripura.