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India’s neighbours drifting towards China: Has PM Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy failed?

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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India’s neighbours drifting towards China: Has PM Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy failed?


Global Views 360

Publication Date

October 16, 2020


Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a 2014 SAARC Meeting

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a 2014 SAARC Meeting | Source: Wikimedia

Back in 2014, when BJP came to power in India under the leadership of Narendra Modi, he invited the heads of government from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka to his swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.­ The move set the tone nicely for Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” foreign policy and was hailed by experts and critics alike as a positive step towards bolstering regional connectivity and improving cross border relations. Cut to 2020, and the ongoing China-India conflict has exposed plenty of problems for New Delhi regarding its relations with its neighbouring countries, particularly, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

In recent days China has increased its investments in Asia and beyond even as India and the West have watched from close quarters. Most of the investments have revolved around Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road (BRI) Initiative , which aims to create a Sino-centric global trading network and sphere of influence. The BRI initiative is a matter of concern particularly for India because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is perhaps the most important project under the BRI initiative.

India has, traditionally, played a dominant role in economic and political matters concerning most of its smaller neighbours. However, with the BRI initiative, China gradually built up its political ties with countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, while India’s relations with these countries have become less cordial in recent years. Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, who were once considered allies to India appear to have tilted in favour of China.

The changing nature of India’s and China's relation with India’s neighbouring countries was evident in the silence of these countries when there was a serious flare-up on the India-China border. It is important to note that every South-Asian nation except Bhutan has signed on to China’s BRI. Bhutan is still following India’s lead in not joining BRI due to its own border dispute with China, for which India’s support is essential.

Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli with PM Modi | Source: Wikimedia

Nepalese PM KP Oli had called Indian PM Narendra Modi, on 15th August, India’s seventy-third Independence anniversary. A statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated, “‘The leaders expressed mutual solidarity in the context of the efforts being made to minimise the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in both countries.” However, in June 2020, the Nepalese Armed Police Force fired upon a group of Indian citizens at the India-Nepal border, killing one person and injuring two others. A third Indian who had been detained was released later. The move came in the aftermath of the Nepalese Parliament declaring the Indian territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani as a part of Nepal.

Historically, India and Bangladesh have maintained close ties with each other. Modi’s rise to power in 2014 had no effect as Bangladesh’s PM Sheikh Hasina continued to maintain relations with India. In June 2015, when Modi visited Bangladesh 22 bilateral agreements were signed, including the resolution to a border issue that had existed since 1947 through a successful land boundary agreement (LBA). India also pledged $5 billion worth of investments in Bangladesh. When Sheikh Hasina visited New Delhi in April 2017, a civil nuclear tripartite pact was signed between India, Russia, and Bangladesh. Under the pact India will play an important role in establishing a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. Even as late as March 2019, Narendra Modi had launched four projects in Bangladesh.

PM Modi, during a meeting with Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina donates the steering wheel of INS Vikrant (R11) to the Bangladesh War Museum | Source: Wikimedia

However, India’s relationship with Bangladesh turned sour post August 2019, when the BJP government implemented the NRC in Assam, a north-eastern Indian state. The process of NRC was meant to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The 1.9 million people left out in the Assam NRC were a cause of concern for Bangladesh owing to the fear of a sudden influx of people forced out of the Indian state. Bangladesh thus turned to China under its “look East” policy in a bid to reduce its dependence on India. China replaced India to become the top trade partner of Bangladesh in 2015 and has provided assistance to Bangladesh through the BRI via 27 agreements signed on Xi Jinping’s visit to the nation in 2016.

“China is behaving how emerging superpowers generally tend to behave—they try to flex muscles and project power—all of which China is trying to do at the moment," says Happymon Jacob, associate professor of disarmament studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). “When that happens, states around that emerging power will either stand up against it (like India) or jump on the bandwagon (like other smaller south Asian countries)."

While China continues to make rapid strides, India is left to wonder as to how to deal with this apparent crisis surrounding its neighbouring countries. Modi’s neighbourhood first policy has certainly failed to deliver the promises it made and relations with most neighbouring countries have worsened over the past six years. New Delhi has missed out on several economic gains that would have strengthened ties with neighbouring countries and thereby would have helped to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region. It remains to be seen as to how India decides to get over this tricky situation and improves its ties with its neighbouring countries.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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