TIME India

Death Toll in India’s Intense Heat Wave Soars to Over 1,100

Heat wave in Bangalore
Jagadeesh NV—EPA An Indian farmer sits in his dried-up land in Gauribidanur village, near Bangalore, India, on May 26, 2015

Temperatures in parts of the country have neared 122°F (50°C)

India’s heat wave has now claimed over 1,100 lives, with spiking temperatures melting roads in the capital, New Delhi, as the country awaits the arrival of the annual monsoon rains.

More than 850 people have succumbed in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where extreme temperatures claimed more than 200 lives in one district alone. In neighboring Telangana state, at least 266 people have died, officials say. Deaths have also been reported in the eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal, and in Gujarat on the country’s western coast. With temperatures in parts of the country nearing 122°F (50°C), most of the deaths have been reported over the past week.

In New Delhi, where temperatures have been hovering around the 113°F (45°C) mark, the local Hindustan Times newspaper carried a picture on its front page on Tuesday of the disfigured white stripes of a pedestrian crossing as the asphalt on a city road melted in the extreme heat. Twitter users posted similar images.

Most of the victims of the heat wave sweeping across the country were elderly, homeless or construction workers forced to work outside even as temperatures climbed, the paper said.

Annual monsoon rains that are expected to hit southern India in the coming days will bring some relief — although it will take some time for the rains to reach northern India, Agence France-Presse reports. Even as the rains are forecast to arrive in the south of the country, meteorologists expect above normal temperatures in north and central India until the weekend, the Economic Times newspaper reports. In New Delhi, substantial relief is only expected to arrive in early June.

“The heat wave is likely to subside marginally on Thursday and Friday, when stray dust storms or thundershowers are expected. But maximum temperatures will not fall substantially,” B.P. Yadav, the director of the India Meteorological Department, told the Times of India.

As the country awaits the annual rains, authorities in Andhra Pradesh have stepped up efforts to stem the rise of heat-related deaths.

“The state government has taken up education programs through television and other media asking people not to venture outside without a cap, to drink water and take other measures,” Tulsi Rani, the state’s special commisioner for disaster management, said. “We have also requested NGOs and government organizations to open up drinking-water camps so that water will be readily available for all the people in the towns.”

TIME India

Hundreds Are Dying in a Blistering Heat Wave Sweeping Across India

INDIA-WEATHER-HEAT
Noah Seelam—AFP/Getty Images An Indian resident sleeps in the shade on a tricyle at the roadside in Hyderabad on May 22, 2015

Temperatures are highest in the southeast of the country

An intense heat wave that has driven daytime temperatures as high as 118°F (48°C) in parts of India has claimed over 400 lives.

The toll is the highest in the southeastern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, according to the Hindustan Times newspaper, which cited an official from Andhra Pradesh’s disaster-management department, who said the state had recorded nearly 250 deaths between Wednesday and Sunday.

In Telangana, state authorities reported 186 heat-related deaths since mid-April, with most being reported in recent days as temperatures spiked across the region. The highest reading was in Telangana’s Khamman district, where the temperature rose to 118°F on Sunday.

“Almost all the victims are old. Inquiries reveal that most of them were working and were exposed to the heat. Dehydration and heat stroke caused the deaths,” B.R. Meena, a senior Telangana state official, told the Indian Express newspaper.

“Elderly people, laborers, beggars and people living on the streets are worst hit,” K.E. Krishna Murthy, revenue minister in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, told the paper.

The mercury has also climbed in the country’s capital, New Delhi, where temperatures soared to 110.3°F (43.5°C) on Sunday.

TIME China

New Silk Road Could Change Global Economics Forever

camel-caravan-silk-road-china
Getty Images

China and much of the world is intent on developing the largest economic development project in history

Part 1: The New Silk Road

Beginning with the marvelous tales of Marco Polo’s travels across Eurasia to China, the Silk Road has never ceased to entrance the world. Now, the ancient cities of Samarkand, Baku, Tashkent, and Bukhara are once again firing the world’s imagination.

China is building the world’s greatest economic development and construction project ever undertaken: The New Silk Road. The project aims at no less than a revolutionary change in the economic map of the world. It is also seen by many as the first shot in a battle between east and west for dominance in Eurasia.

The ambitious vision is to resurrect the ancient Silk Road as a modern transit, trade, and economic corridor that runs from Shanghai to Berlin. The ‘Road’ will traverse China, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany, extending more than 8,000 miles, creating an economic zone that extends over one third the circumference of the earth.

The plan envisions building high-speed railroads, roads and highways, energy transmission and distributions networks, and fiber optic networks. Cities and ports along the route will be targeted for economic development.

An equally essential part of the plan is a sea-based “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR) component, as ambitious as its land-based project, linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and the Indian Ocean.

When completed, like the ancient Silk Road, it will connect three continents: Asia, Europe, and Africa. The chain of infrastructure projects will create the world’s largest economic corridor, covering a population of 4.4 billion and an economic output of $21 trillion.

Politics and Finance:

The idea for reviving the New Silk Road was first announced in 2013 by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. As part of the financing of the plan, in 2014, the Chinese leader also announced the launch of an Asian International Infrastructure Bank (AIIB), providing seed funding for the project, with an initial Chinese contribution of $47 billion.

China has invited the international community of nations to take a major role as bank charter members and partners in the project. Members will be expected to contribute, with additional funding by international funds, including the World Bank, investments from private and public companies, and local governments.

Some 58 nations have signed on to become charter bank members, including most of Western Europe, along with many Silk Road and Asian countries. There are 12 NATO countries among AIIB’s founding member states (UK, France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Denmark, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Norway), along with three of the main U.S. military allies in Asia (Australia, S. Korea and New Zealand).

After failed attempts by the U.S. to persuade allies against joining the bank, the U.S. reversed course, and now says that it has always supported the project, a disingenuous position considering the fact that U.S. opposition was hardly a secret. The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2014 that “the U.S. has also lobbied hard against Chinese plans for a new infrastructure development bank…including during teleconferences of the Group of Seven major industrial powers.

The Huffington Post’s Alastair Crooke had this to say on the matter: “For very different motives, the key pillars of the region (Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan) are re-orienting eastwards. It is not fully appreciated in the West how important China’s “Belt and Road” initiative is to this move (and Russia, of course is fully integrated into the project). Regional states can see that China is very serious indeed about creating huge infrastructure projects from Asia to Europe. They can also see what occurred with the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as the world piled in (to America’s very evident dismay). These states intend to be a part of it.”

Buttressing this effort, China plans on injecting at least $62 billion into three banks to support the New Silk Road. The China Development Bank (CDB) will receive $32 billion, the Export Import Bank of China (EXIM) will take on $30 billion, and the Chinese government will also pump additional capital into the Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC).

The U.S.: Unlikely Partner on the Silk Road:

Will the U.S. join the effort? If the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (that pointedly leaves out both Russia and China, two Pacific powers) is any indication, U.S. participation seems unlikely and opposition all but certain.

But there’s no good reason that America should sacrifice its own leadership role in the region to China. A project as vast and complicated as the Silk Road will need U.S. technology, experience, and resources to lower risk, removing political barriers for other allied countries like Japan to join in, while maintaining U.S. influence in Eurasia. The Silk Road could enhance U.S. objectives, and U.S. support could improve the outcome of the project.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal argues that the U.S. proposed trade agreement and China’s sponsored Silk Road project are complimentary, with the trade agreement aimed at writing rules for international trade, while the Chinese aim at developing infrastructure is necessary for increased trade.

Initial Project:

A look at the first project, currently under development, provides a good example of how China plans to proceed.

The first major economic development project will take place in Pakistan, where the Chinese have been working for years, building and financing a strategic deepwater port at Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, that will be managed by China as the long-term leaseholder.

Gwadar will become the launching point for the much delayed Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline, which will ultimately be extended to China, with the Persian section already built and the Pakistan-Chinese section largely financed and constructed by the Chinese.

The pipeline is also set to traverse the country, following the Karakoram Mountain Highway towards Tibet, and cross the Chinese western border to Xinjang. The highway will also be widened and modernized, and a railroad built, connecting the highway to Gwadar.

Originally, the plan was to extend the pipeline to India, with Qatar joining Iran as natural gas suppliers, forging what some considered a “peace pipeline” between India and Pakistan, but India withdrew, under pressure from the U.S. along with its own concerns over having its energy supplies dependent upon its adversary, Pakistan.

India’s Counter:

Not surprisingly, India, a U.S. ally, countered China’s initiative with one of its own, announcing a new agreement to build a port in Iran on the Arabian Sea, only a few hundred miles from Gwadar, bringing Iranian energy to India via Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

Although it would offer an alternative to the Chinese-backed Gwadar initiative, the U.S. warned India not to move ahead with the port project before a final nuclear agreement between Iran and the West is actually signed.

Both the Chinese and Indian projects are clearly in defiance of international sanctions on Iran, but both countries appear unconcerned. The Chinese could also be accused of a ‘double dip’ sanctions violation, given the immense and continuing trade deals it negotiated with Russia.

The rest of the business world is sure to follow, or risk losing out in what is certain to be a new “gold rush” towards Asia in a world still struggling with the lingering effects of the great recession. And New Delhi pointed out the harsh truth: American energy companies are also trying to negotiate deals with Iran. Following on the heels of the U.S. visit, the German mission is due in Tehran soon, with the French beating everyone to the punch in an earlier visit.

What then of sanctions? Sanctions only work in a world united behind them. If a large part of the world chooses to ignore sanctions, they become unenforceable.

Conclusions:

China and much of the world is intent on developing the largest economic development project in history, one that could have dramatic ripple effects throughout the world economy.

The project is expected to take decades, with costs running into the hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions. What that will mean for the world economy and trade is almost inconceivable. Is it any wonder then, that the world’s largest hedge funds, like Goldman Sachs and Blackstone, are rushing to market new multi-billion dollar international infrastructure investment funds?

No doubt a project as large and complex as this is likely to have failures, and is certain to face many western geopolitical obstructions. Assuredly, the “great game” will continue. Look no further than U.S. President Barack Obama, who also senses the urgency. “If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” he said in defense of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a world where economic growth is tepid, with Europe still struggling with the aftermath of the global recession, along with China’s growth slowdown, where else could a project that promises so much opportunity be found?

It’s a good bet that giant iron mining companies like Vale, that have seen their business fall to a thirteen-year low, are currently busy figuring how much steel goes into construction of a new, high speed 8,000 mile railroad. If the project is successful, it could very well spark a boom across the entire depressed international mining, commodities, and construction sectors.

Consider how many jobs could be created in a decades-long construction project that spans a huge region of the world. In practically every sector, the prospects are enormous for a revival of trade and commerce.

The ancient Silk Road increased trade across the known world, but the Road also offered far more than trade. One of its least anticipated benefits was the widespread exchange of knowledge, learning, discovery, and culture.

Beyond the riches of silks, spices, and jewelry, it could be argued that the most important thing that Marco Polo brought back from China was a famous nautical and world map that was the basis for one of the most famous maps published in Europe, one that helped spark the Age of Discovery. Christopher Columbus was guided by that map and was known to have a well-annotated copy of Marco Polo’s travel tales with him on his voyage of discovery of a new route to India.

For the world at large, its decisions about the Road are nothing less than momentous. The massive project holds the potential for a new renaissance in commerce, industry, discovery, thought, invention, and culture that could well rival the original Silk Road. It is also becoming clearer by the day that geopolitical conflicts over the project could lead to a new cold war between East and West for dominance in Eurasia.

The outcome is far from certain.

Coming in May, Part 2: Cold War or Competition on the New Silk Road.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

More from Oilprice.com:

TIME India

Greenpeace India Employees to Work for Free Following Delhi’s NGO Crackdown

Samit Aich, executive director of Greenpeace India, gestures as he addresses the media during a news conference in New Delhi, India, May 21, 2015
Adnan Abidi—Reuters Samit Aich, executive director of Greenpeace India, gestures as he addresses the media during a news conference in New Delhi, India, May 21, 2015

"The government has made it impossible for us to operate, but our employees are willing to work without pay"

Weeks after Greenpeace India said that it might have to shut down owing to regulatory action to block its bank accounts, the environmental group’s employees have pledged to work for free to keep the organization going.

“The government has made it impossible for us to operate, but our employees are willing to work without pay for one month because they see that the larger commitment has always been to fight against injustice,” Greenpeace India head Samit Aich said on Thursday.

In a letter to Aich, more than 200 Greenpeace India employees said they would support the organization by continuing to “work for at least a month, without pay, starting June 1.”

Citing irregularities in the accounting of foreign aid, India’s Home Ministry took the action against the local arm of the international environmental group as part of a wider crackdown on nongovernmental organizations, Reuters reports.

Separate from the action against Greenpeace India, Indian officials have also placed the Ford Foundation on a security watch list, thus increasing scrutiny of its activities in the South Asian nation.

Among those who have spoken out against the Indian government’s moves targeting nongovernmental groups is the U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Verma, who in a speech in New Delhi earlier this month expressed concern about the regulatory steps against such organizations.

“I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India,” he said.

“Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs.”

TIME India

Mother Posts India’s First Gay Marriage Advert to Seek Groom for Her Son

A participant holds a placard during Delhi Queer Pride Parade in New Delhi
Adnan Abidi—Reuters A participant holds a placard during Delhi Queer Pride Parade, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi on Nov. 30, 2014

Homosexuality is illegal in the South Asian nation

On the face of it, the matrimonial ad placed by 57-year-old Mumbai resident Padma Iyer in an Indian tabloid on Tuesday followed the usual form of such notices in a country where many marriages are still arranged by parents: seeking a suitable partner for her son, she listed his age, height and occupation in the ad in the city’s Mid-Day newspaper.

But instead of a girl, Iyer sought a suitable boy for her gay son — a 25-to-50 year old “well-placed, animal-loving GROOM,” according to the ad, the first such notice in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

The ad soon went viral on Facebook and Twitter, generating accolades for Iyer for challenging a widespread social taboo against homosexuality.

Writing on the website of a local news channel, her son — the prospective groom, Harish — said that the ad only made it into Mid-Day after being rejected by other newspapers, including the country’s leading English-language daily, The Times of India, which reportedly turned down the ad on legal grounds.

“I think it’s absolutely normal for any mother to wish for her son to settle down. My mother is no different. She’s 57, and fears I’ll be alone after she’s gone,” Harish, who is a leading LGBT rights activist, wrote, saying he had already received six responses to the ad.

“Last week, she asked me a question any mom would ask her 36-year-old son: ‘Are you dating someone? Are you fond of someone?’ And when my answer was in the negative, my mom did what any Indian mother would do — she decided to place an ad in a newspaper.”

India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality in late 2013, when it upheld a British colonial-era law that punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” with up to 10 years in prison. The judgement was widely criticized by human-rights groups, with the then U.N. human-rights chief Navi Pillay saying the ruling by India’s top court represented a “significant step backwards” for the country. “The Supreme Court of India has a long and proud history of defending and expanding protection of human rights. This decision is a regrettable departure from that tradition,” Pillay added.

TIME India

Indian Nurse Who Spent 42 Years in Coma Following Brutal Rape Has Died

The 68-year-old had been a pivotal figure for the South Asian nation's debate over euthanasia

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug, a former nurse who spent over four decades in a vegetative state after being raped at a Mumbai hospital in 1973, died Monday morning after a heart attack following a bout of pneumonia. She was 68.

“She was recovering and all her other medical parameters were fine. Today she suffered a sudden attack and could not be saved,” Dr. Ahmad Pazare, head of medicine at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial hospital (KEM), told the Indian Express.

Shanbaug began working as a junior nurse at KEM in the early 1970s, after moving to the city from the southern Indian state of Karnataka. On Nov. 27, 1973, she was brutally attacked by a hospital sweeper named Sohanlal Bhartia Valmiki, who tied her to a dog chain and sodomized her. The incident left her in a vegetative state owing to serious brain injuries. For the past 42 years, she had been confined to ward No. 4 of the same hospital.

In March 2011, Shanbaug became the face of the debate on euthanasia in India after the country’s Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the writer Pinki Virani that sought permission for a “mercy killing.” Virani’s move was opposed by the nurses and doctors at the hospital who had looked after Shanbaug since she was attacked.

Her rapist served seven years in prison after being convicted of robbery and attempted murder.

TIME India

Indians From All Over China Are Flocking to Shanghai to Hear Their Prime Minister Speak

CHINA-INDIA-DIPLOMACY
GREG BAKER—AFP/Getty Images India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at a joint press conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not seen) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 15, 2015

More than 5,000 Indian expats are expected to attend an event on Saturday

On Sept. 28, 2014, Narendra Modi addressed a packed-to-the-rafters crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The numbers were unprecedented. More than 18,000 people — either Americans of Indian origin or Indian expats living in the U.S. — converged on the iconic venue to listen to India’s new Prime Minister. They had been randomly chosen from over 30,000 who had applied to attend. A nearly identical public address less than two months later at Sydney’s Allphones Arena in Australia saw Modi draw another crowd of 16,000 members of the Indian community Down Under, followed by almost 10,000 Indian-Canadians in Toronto a month ago.

The crowd of 5,000 he is set to speak to in Shanghai this Saturday, one of the final stops on his three-day visit to China, pales in comparison to his previous megaspeeches abroad. But it will still be a landmark even for the Indian diaspora there.

“It’s a far cry from the figures you’d get just in the New Jersey area,” quips Amit Waikar, president of the Indian Association of Shanghai that will host the gathering. The Indian community in China is much smaller than that of countries like the U.S., with latest estimates by India’s Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs placing its numbers at just over 48,000 (in addition to 44,000 in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong). But the number of confirmed attendees has already significantly surpassed any event Waikar’s association has ever held, and what is more remarkable, he says, is that people are traveling from a dozen different cities across China just to hear Modi speak.

“Smaller cities, where you normally don’t even expect too many Indians to be, have come forward,” he tells TIME, citing small manufacturing hubs like Yiwu, Keqiao and Ningbo, besides larger and better-known Chinese cities like Beijing, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau.

As with a large section of the Indian population both within the country and abroad, the Indian community in China has great hopes and expectations from Modi.

“This is the first time we have got a Prime Minister who is not a politician but a leader,” says Notan Tolani, who will be traveling to Shanghai from Hong Kong in one of several delegations from the city. “He’s in touch with the ordinary people. He knows their pulse, he knows what the people of India want,” Tolani says.

Modi also represents increased optimism around India’s relationship with China, with his business-oriented policies and evident personal rapport with Chinese President Xi Jinping hopefully paving the way for greater cooperation between Asia’s two largest economies. The two leaders picked up this week where they left off during Xi’s visit to India last September, with the Chinese President welcoming Modi in his hometown Xian on Wednesday. (Modi had chosen to receive Xi in his home state of Gujarat, making the Chinese President the first high-profile foreign leader not to begin a bilateral visit in the Indian capital city of New Delhi.)

Modi’s visit to the Chinese capital Beijing on Friday, meanwhile, yielded 24 agreements worth $10 billion across several sectors, including railways, space cooperation, education and broadcasting. These too mirror the host of bilateral agreements signed during Xi’s trip to India, aimed at reducing the growing trade deficit between the two countries and promoting greater cultural exchanges.

“There are challenges,” says Vivek Arora, a Shanghai-based entrepreneur in the fashion industry who has been living in China for almost 20 years. “Indian and Chinese businesspeople need to learn more about each other to see what would be the best way to work together and add value to both societies,” he says. Arora is of the opinion that the two countries need to move beyond imports and exports or trading of commodities into more concrete investment opportunities, which he says will only happen through greater interaction and openness.

As for Saturday’s event, he says every other gathering of Indians organized in Shanghai “pales in comparison” to the anticipation and scale of this one.

“It’s the first time we have 5,000 Indians gathering in Shanghai,” he says. “Mr. Modi is a very good orator so his speeches are always quite uplifting. He’s trying to get India onto a path of progress, and that’s what everybody wants to hear.”

TIME Afghanistan

14 Killed in Afghanistan as Taliban Attacks Kabul Hotel

Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan
Mohammad Ismail—Reuters An Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan May 13, 2015.

At least two Indian nationals and an American were among the victims

Fourteen people, including 9 foreigners, were killed in an attack in Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul on Wednesday night after at least one gunman opened fire on a guesthouse, a government official said.

Fifty-four other hostages were rescued in the attack that only ended in the early hours of Thursday morning, the Associated Press reported. The assault began at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, when a gunman or gunmen opened fire at the restaurant of the Park Palace Hotel, according to Kabul’s chief of police General Abdul Rahman Rahimi.

U.S. embassy spokesperson Monica Cummings told the AP in an email that a still unidentified U.S. citizen had been killed.

At least two of the other victims were Indian, and three other Indians were rescued and were being sheltered at the Indian embassy, a diplomat told Reuters.

The Taliban claimed responsibility on Thursday, with the militant group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claiming in an email to media that they had targeted the hotel because of the presence of Americans and other foreigners there.

A majority of the guests were at the hotel, located in the same neighborhood as a U.N. compound and the Indian embassy, for a party honoring a Canadian citizen, American attendee Amin Habib told the AP.

A Canadian spokesperson said all its embassy staff were “safe and accounted for.”

Mujahid said in the email that there was only one attacker wearing a suicide vest and armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol, contrary to the three attackers cited by the Afghan security authorities.

The attack bears similarities to two others carried out by the Taliban in Kabul in 2014, at a hotel and a Lebanese restaurant respectively, and is one of the most blatant assaults since the extremist group announced its spring offensive this year.

TIME Economy

How Social Security Could Boost India’s Economy

Traffic make way in haze mainly caused by air pollution in Delhi, India on January 20, 2014. Air pollution in India exceeds that of China as diesel fuel subsidies encourage ownership of polluting vehicles. (Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg)
Kuni Takahashi— Bloomberg Finance LP Traffic make way in haze mainly caused by air pollution in Delhi, India on January 20, 2014.

This weekend, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched three social security schemes aimed at helping the people of West Bengal gain access to pensions and insurance. Earlier, Modi also launched a program to provide every Indian citizen with a bank account in a bid to promote financial management, especially amongst the poor, and to modernize payment methods for workers.

Social security, though not novel, is still an underdeveloped concept for a country where at least 30% of the population continues to live in poverty and where old age is often accompanied by extreme destitution for many. The current program covers only a small portion of the population and is primarily employer driven, limiting its scope to help the vast majority of people.

While Modi’s plans to create a bigger safety net for more citizens are still in their infancy, they could be a harbinger of an important change for the Indian workforce, one that can enhance the skill level of labor, enable entrepreneurship, increase consumption, and propel Indian commerce to new heights.

The concept, of course, has a successful precedent in the U.S. When President Franklin Roosevelt created social security in 1935, his landmark action arguably changed the course of American history by freeing Americans to aim for higher education, innovate, and take entrepreneurial risk instead of worrying about their welfare when they grew old. That spirit of risk-taking has been instrumental in creating America’s technology boom and boosting its economic power over the decades.

The same could happen in India if Modi succeeds in widening the scope of the nation’s social security program. It might even be crucial.

One of the highest areas of growth for the Indian economy has been its Information Technology sector, which accounts for 7% of GDP, grew at a compound annual growth rate of 25% from 2000-2013, and is creating new jobs at a rapid clip. But the industry may be slowing down, driven by international competition from companies such as Google and Microsoft, due to a lack of innovation, according to forecasts by Indian trade association IBEF and Livemint, a sister publication of the Hindustan Times.

While half of India’s population is under 21, creating a fertile labor pool for the future, a large rural population (68%) and poverty could hold the country back in being able to realize its potential unless its people are freed from a hand-to-mouth existence. For example, a lack of options and financial necessity still keep almost 50% of workers stuck in the agricultural sector, most of whom have no social security whatsoever, while what is needed is a shift of the workforce towards more skilled jobs, such as in IT or the equally emergent and large healthcare sector. A robust social safety net could well give such people the courage to migrate towards urban areas and pursue higher education and knowledge-based jobs.

In addition, social security will add to the Indian economy through increased consumption, which is important in a nation where the per capita income is only about $1,500, according to the World Bank. Once again, there is a striking parallel to justify this assumption. According to a report by the AARP, social security adds about $1 trillion to the U.S. economy every year, mainly through consumption.

Much of the attention surrounding Modi’s economic plans has focused on the Indian government’s opening up of its markets to foreign investment and lowering barriers to trade, but more subtle initiatives like social security will also play an important role in helping the Indian economy become the powerhouse that the Modi administration has promised it can be, and which the international investment community is hoping for.

Kumar has worked at leading U.S. investment banks in technology, media, and telecom mergers and acquisitions, He has also served as a strategic consultant to media companies and hedge funds. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and has lived in India.

TIME China

Why China and India Just Can’t Get Along

India's PM Modi presents a bouquet to China's President Xi before their meeting in Ahmedabad
Amit Dave—Reuters India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, presents a bouquet to China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad on Sept. 17, 2014

A stunning dearth of fraternal ties exist between the two Asian superpowers

In the 7th century, a Chinese monk traversed a ribbon of the Silk Road, through the forbidding Taklamakan desert and over the mighty Tianshan peaks, to India. The Buddhist cleric’s name was Xuanzang, and he spent 17 years abroad before returning home with a cache of sutras and religious relics.

On Thursday, Narendra Modi will make his first visit to China as Prime Minister of India. One of his first stops will be the Wild Goose Pagoda in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, which, legend has it, was originally built to store Xuanzang’s Buddhist treasures from India. With China’s President Xi Jinping at his side — a rare instance in which a Chinese leader will greet a foreign leader outside of Beijing — Modi is expected to pay respects to one of the first devotees of globalization. It’s no small irony that an ancient Buddhist pilgrim will bring together a Hindu nationalist and a Communist princeling.

Yet for all the feting of Xuanzang, India and China’s relations remain tenuous. The world’s two most populous nations comprise more than one-third of humanity. Yet bilateral trade hovers around $70 billion, less than half the dollar figure of commercial ties between China and Australia. Memories of border battles — the most recent in 1962 — fester, and the 4,000-km frontier, which cuts through disputed territory, remains tense. “The bilateral relationship cannot be very good unless the border dispute is solved,” says Zhao Gancheng, a South Asia expert from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

Imagine: there is not a single direct flight between two of Asia’s financial capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai. Between Beijing and New Delhi, nonstop flights only run three times a week. In 2013, 175,000 Chinese went on holiday in India, according to the Indian Ministry of Tourism. Thailand, meanwhile, attracted 4.6 million Chinese visitors last year.

Ahead of his China trip, Modi joined Weibo, the Chinese social-media service that has flourished partly because Twitter is blocked by Chinese censors. Modi may be a Twitter rock star, with 12.2 million followers, but he has attracted fewer than 50,000 fans on Weibo. By comparison, Apple CEO Tim Cook garnered 300,000 Weibo acolytes within 3½ hours of joining the Chinese microblogging network this week. Modi’s Weibo feed was seized upon by Chinese nationalists who demanded that India return “South Tibet,” as they refer to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. “South Tibet belongs to China,” went one comment. “Give it back to us. Otherwise we will take it back by force sooner or later.”

Such incendiary rhetoric notwithstanding, Modi spoke on the eve of his China trip of resetting the Sino-Indian relationship, focusing on economic pragmatism over troublesome politics. “I look forward to working out a road map for qualitatively upgrading our economic relations and seek greater Chinese participation in India’s economic growth,” he told Chinese media in New Delhi, “especially in transforming India’s manufacturing sector and infrastructure.”

MORE: Exclusive Interview With Narendra Modi: ‘We Are Natural Allies’

Still, the stumbling blocks are hard to budge. China’s historic friendship with Pakistan hasn’t helped, nor has India’s decades-long hosting of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whose political counterpart Modi invited to his inauguration last year. Asked to comment on Sino-Indian ties, several India experts from leading Chinese universities refused to talk to TIME, citing the sensitivity of the bilateral relationship.

The Global Times, a daily affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial on Monday accusing Modi of “playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China.” The editorial, written by an academic at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, went on to criticize the “Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their democracy,” as well as “the inferiority of [India’s] ordinary people.”

When Xi visited India last September, the trip was hailed as groundbreaking — the first time a Chinese President had stepped on Indian soil in eight years. Yet Xi’s visit resulted in an underwhelming $20 billion in promised Chinese investment over a five-year period. By contrast, Xi vowed $46 billion in infrastructure spending for ally Pakistan during a trip there last month. (India’s trade deficit with China reached $45 billion last year.) The bonhomie of Xi’s India trip was also marred by a strategic joust by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which reportedly dispatched hundreds of soldiers past the Line of Actual Control to a remote section of the India-China frontier.

Fourteen centuries ago, Xuanzang so impressed his countrymen that his travels inspired one of the most treasured classics in the Chinese literary canon, Journey to the West. Later during Modi’s China tour, in Shanghai, the Indian PM is slated to preside over the signing of a movie project celebrating Xuanzang’s life that will be jointly made by Chinese and Indian film studios.

But it’s also worth remembering that Xuanzang’s journey west was forbidden by the Chinese Emperor, who was battling Turkic nomads on the Middle Kingdom’s periphery and had therefore banned most Chinese from venturing abroad. By the time Xuanzang returned to China, his spiritual exploits trumped any imperial embargo. Still, even China’s most celebrated pilgrim was, for a time, an outlaw for visiting India.

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

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