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Image source: Nikkei Asian Review

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. — African Proverb

The Indian public opinion on India opting out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in Bangkok last week remains distinctly divided. “Embrace the world,” was the first reaction of a senior Kerala-based analyst, known for his balanced views on topical developments, when the news broke on India’s refusal to join the proposed regional economic bloc that could have become the largest free trade bloc covering ASEAN and its six large partners. With India in it, RCEP would have comprised about half the world population and boasted of around 40 per cent of the global GDP.

“Victory of the bureaucrats,” was the sneaky observation on Twitter by a well-known Delhi-based journalist and political commentator with her barb aimed at the bureaucrat-turned politician at the helm of affairs in the Ministry of External Affairs. Others followed suit, some even asking the Prime Minister to lead the nation to its future rather than limiting himself to leading his party to electoral victories. A highly respected journalist and author, currently a distinguished fellow with a leading Delhi-based think tank, said the Prime Minister should persuade people to “endure short-term pain for longer-term gain”, and thereby “lead a larger economic transformation of the country”.

Some left liberal observers had set the social and new media ablaze on the eve of the Bangkok Summit with the possible negative consequences of India joining the RCEP, enumerating how farmers, particularly those engaged in cash crop agriculture in states like Kerala, never recovered after implementation of the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (India-ASEAN FTA) beginning January 2010. They lamented that India joining the RCEP would sound the death knell for the entire agricultural and manufacturing sectors of the country. That their expression of satisfaction at India pulling out of the RCEP deal did not go beyond heaving some feeble sighs of relief is understandable. 

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Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research

Muraleedharan Nair
Muraleedharan Nair
Muraleedharan Nair is Senior Fellow with CPPR. He is a retired Indian diplomat who has served in the Indian missions in China (Shanghai and Guangzhou), Singapore, and Hong Kong. Mr Nair is one of Kerala’s foremost experts on China and writes for prominent magazines and newspapers in India. He can be contacted at muraleedharan@cppr.in

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