The plush office of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) is an island of calm in contrast to the humdrum that usually prevails on the busy Rao Tularam Marg connecting South Delhi to the Inner Ring Road. For the past five years, it has been the command centre of Peter Rimmele, Resident Representative to India of the German think-tank. Three years ago, KAS completed 50 years in India. Rimmele says his stint “is hopefully going on well and will be exciting”.
Of late, Chinese manoeuvres along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have been occupying his mind. “In the last three years, we focused on how India feels, mainly the country’s reactions to the Chinese behaviour. We increased our commitment to India’s foreign and security policy. We joined Observer Research Foundation’s Raisina Dialogue and are working with different institutes dealing with China and Chinese studies in relation to India,” says Rimmele at the outset.
KAS sees itself more as a facilitator and demand-driven. The political think-tank is active in 120 countries with about 100 foreign offices. In India, it works in the areas of peace, freedom, justice, democracy, social market economy, and development and consolidation of the value consensus. Other thrust areas of KAS include foreign and security policy, economic and energy policy, rule of law, social and political change and local self-governance, and training programmes for students of journalism.
“We are here to promote Indo-German relations and ways to make this relationship better. We have a worldwide strategy to support countries, especially democracy, rule of law, and freedom of expression.We also look into economic and energy policy and sustainability. One of our programmes in India is to connect the judges of the Supreme Court of India with judges of the apex court of Germany to share their experiences on common law and codified law systems. Many years before, we did this at the grassroots level, with the Panchayati Raj system,” says Rimmele.
So, with many international political organisations and think-tanks active in India for decades, what is unique that KAS brings to the table? “Building bridges for India with not only Germany, but the whole of Europe,” he says. “As a political foundation, we work with many NGOs and governments and parliamentarians. One of KAS’s important roles is to boost political exchange between members of the Indian parliament and state legislative bodies with their counterparts in Germany and Europe.”
On providing a global platform for India-focussed discussions
The Raisina Dialogue, the flagship event of the Delhi-based global think-tank, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), is a milestone in Rimmele’s tenure in India. It is a conference on geopolitics and geoeconomics aimed at addressing prime issues facing the global community. An annual event, it has leaders from politics, business, media and civil society converging in New Delhi to discuss the state of the world and explore opportunities for cooperation. A structured, multi-stakeholder, cross-sectoral discussion, it also has local government officials, thought leaders from the private sector, media and academia.
“Last year, together with ORF, we held Raisina Dialogue sessions from the KAS Berlin office. The new, around-the-world platform started in Canberra and went on to Delhi and then to Berlin and Washington. Our office in Berlin is part of this initiative and it is planned for 2022 as well,” he says.
KAS is also supporting ORF’s latest initiative, Colaba Conversation 2021, coming out of Mumbai. “The discussion is more on a regional level, where KAS has connected Indian NGOs with German ministries and mayors, using its connections within Germany and Europe to get people as speakers,” adds Rimmele.
On the need to sustain democracy
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is another crucial area for KAS. The political think-tank’s core belief is that democracy needs sustainability and for this continuous information and education are necessary. “Democracy is not only about elections; it needs democrats.
You need to sustain democracy, work on that permanently. However, unfortunately, if you look at the world, you see a drift to more authoritarian systems like China — a systemic rival, that is a competition of systems,” he says, underlining the importance of social parameters like the SDGs in the new setting.
KAS has integrated the SDGs in its work with its Indian partners. It is working on a training manual for trainers. It breaks down the complicated language of the SDGs for better local understanding. The manual does not address all goals, but key issues like water supply and education, says Rimmele.
We are here to promote Indo-German relations and ways to make this relationship better. We have a worldwide strategy to support countries, especially democracy and rule of law
He emphasises that KAS is particularly good in the case of SDG 17, Partnerships for the Goals. “In recent years, in the ranking of political think-tanks and NGOs, we have always ranked among the best worldwide for our networking capacity. We consciously use this capacity to try to bring people together, and the same is being done with the SDGs. One practical example of this was seen last year, when we had a project on ‘blue economy’, an area relevant for India. KAS, with FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) and NMF (National Maritime Foundation), had a webcast —the third in the series —as a part of a chain of diginars organised in the thought-leadership project called Blue Economy-India’s Pathway to a Sustainable, Secure and Resilient Economy. As a part of the series, six webcasts and a national conference were conducted in 2020-21,” he says.
The blue economy concept seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion and preservation or improvement of livelihoods, while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of oceans and coastal areas. It is a priority for the Government of India that has a budgetary allocation of about ₹53,000 crore since 2017 for the combined sectors. A sustainable blue economy can support not just SDG 14 —Life Below Water —but also other key global goals on poverty, hunger, jobs, gender equality, partnerships, resilient communities, and climate change (1, 2, 8, 5, 17, 11 and 13, respectively). “With the programme, KAS has tried to bring FICCI, TERI, and NMF together to address the blue economy issue and have a common understanding of it, which includes the security and sustainability aspects and economic necessities for further development. In 2022, we will continue to work on blue economy,” says Rimmele.
Prior to the meeting with Tatsat Chronicle, Rimmele held a meeting to discuss an idea that is not limited to India but crucial globally for sustainability and climate change. “With our worldwide network and partners, we were looking into the idea of having a Climate Club, where the members can commit more than what they committed to in Glasgow at COP26. It will be a club that is open and inclusive with a few members more active than the rest. The approach is to bring different think-tanks from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and other regions together and unite several countries with suggestions,” explains Rimmele.
On how it is time to re-think supply chains
One SDG that is particularly important for India is SDG 12 i.e. Sustainable Production and Consumption. “India did not have too many choices after independence; it was left behind in many sectors. This is not true for the IT sector, though, yet the country needs technical improvement in other sectors to be more competitive. India’s competitiveness will help the world amidst the crisis of supply chains in the pandemic era. The world has faced interruption of global supply chains, mostly based in China. We need to re-think these supply chains,” he says.
KAS has integrated the SDGs in its work with its Indian partners. It is working on a training manual for trainers. It breaks
down the complicated language of the SDGs for better local understanding
The India head of KAS believes there is a strong link between democracy and global supply chains and India, being the largest democracy, is a key player. “The country should play an important role in this worldwide quality resetting of supply chains. Vietnam has done this. Today, Vietnam has got everything to its capacity and cannot expand more, making way for countries with resources, like India, to do so. Appropriate technology must come to India to make the country more efficient and less resource consuming,” points out Rimmele.
He has tips for India for smart work at production and consumption levels. “There must be a check on energy consumption and wastage. The country is energy-hungry and needs to build more and more coal plants, which is not a sustainable way to produce electricity. Excessive use of electricity is a challenge to sustainable consumption,” he points out.
On the pandemic showing the way
Rimmele feels the Covid-19 pandemic is as bad as can be. “It has shown up dependencies and lack of sustainability, as seen in disruptions in supply chains. We used to get products from elsewhere, but then lockdowns closed major suppliers like China. Yet, this failure of systems and over-dependence on China have a silver lining,” he says.
“The situation is now set to change. China is facing increased production costs and an ageing population. India has a younger population in comparison. China needs to replace labour with robots, something you can do anywhere in the world and it is not an advantage anymore. Every country is now trying to be independent, but one must always follow the old principle: never put all your eggs in one basket and try to diversify supply chains. So, if one fails, at least another is still working.”
The country should play an important role in this worldwide quality resetting of supply chains. Vietnam has done this. Today, Vietnam has got everything to its capacity and cannot expand
Rimmele is of the opinion that the world must move away from limiting concepts like deglobalisation and protectionism that kill competitive spirit in order to build sustainable global supply chains. He insists that India must explain that its Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign is not a protectionist concept. “In my experience, protectionism is always the worst instrument to use. Countries like India and South Korea have constantly been under the pressure of competition, which created an attitude of innovativeness. On the other hand, if you are protected, you lean back and eventually lose out,” he elaborates.
One of the few positive takeaways from the pandemic has been alliances among like-minded people, organisations, and countries to work together. “Democratic countries sort of protect their system not in terms of protectionism, but in terms of strength and with the idea that supply chains can be reorganised with that understanding— notwith dependency. Like, in the health sector, we have the vaccinations. It’s still rather unfair that one part of the world doesn’t get vaccinations and in a few other parts there is an over-supply. India is doing a good job as a vaccine supplier but, learning from the lessons of the lockdown months, countries may not want to depend on India. Many countries want to re-organise production and supply chains for pharmaceuticals,” he says.
For Rimmele, the era of globalisation is here to stay. “We are too interdependent, which is better than being dependent. It is helpful in terms of cooperation and division of labour. The one who can do something best should do it in principle. So why do investors come to India?Not because they just want to get rid of their money, but because India can do something better or cheaper than elsewhere. However, Indian bureaucracy can be more welcoming to global corporations.”