Camden Conference in the World ~ February
Indian Hindu Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dedication last month before millions of a controversial Hindu temple on the site of a 16th Century mosque, which was destroyed 25 years ago by Hindu nationalists in a wave of violence, marked “the consecration of Hinduism as a political religion pure and simple,” wrote renowned Indian academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a scheduled speaker at Camden’s fast-approaching Feb. 16-18 conference. ”It is not just a moment where the state, which has pulled all its mighty power behind this event, ceases to be secular. It is also the moment where Hinduism ceases to be religious.” This former vice-chancellor of leading Indian university Ashoka, currently teaching at Princeton, concluded an emotional commentary in the Indian Express: “This moment of triumphalism is also accompanied by a pain that cannot even be expressed.”
“What is really complex and interesting about this Modi phenomenon is that there’s a lot of hype and bluster and manipulation,” Arvind Subramanian, also a speaker at Camden’s India conference, recently told the New York Times. “But it’s built on a core of achievement” that includes an improved business environment for all and reduced corruption. Nonetheless, the former Indian government advisor and now senior fellow at the Peterson Institute concedes, “For the moment, there is no evidence that investors are feeling reassured about India.” The UN’s climate goals are another area where “immediate and decisive action by India” is vital, Subramanian points out in a Project Syndicate piece that has been widely reprinted in India and beyond.
In the context of recent elections in Bangladesh that were widely seen as flawed, another upcoming Camden Conference speaker, Daniel Markey, told the pro-democracy Bangladeshi news site The Daily Star: “Upcoming elections in Pakistan and India are also likely to expose the limits on Washington’s ability to champion democratic practices in large and distant societies. … That said, the United States works with many undemocratic states around the world and, in some cases, finds shared interests—rather than values—to be a workable if not preferable foundation for cooperation.” Markey is a well-known commentator on US policy in Asia and has positions at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (Sais) and the US Institute of Peace.
A posting on X (formerly Twitter) by upcoming Camden speaker and senior fellow at Brookings Tanvi Madan suggests that India would benefit from developing more “US hands” in its foreign policy establishment. This provided the starting point for a Hindustan Times opinion piece calling for just the kind of wider opening between the US and Indian cultures that the upcoming Camden Conference exemplifies. Madan last month also interviewed a leading Indian “Russia hand” about “Russia’s evolving role in India’s China strategy and New Delhi’s perception of recent developments in the China-Russia partnership.”
Past speakers remain active, as well. “While the United States discredits itself with the countries of the Global South through its seemingly unqualified support for Israel, Beijing has carefully calibrated its response to the war, paying close attention to public opinion in the developing world,” Mark Leonard wrote in Foreign Affairs. Leonard, a 2022 conference speaker, has also become the Henry Kissinger foreign policy chair at the Library of Congress and remains director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.