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Indian politics: regional polls 2016: Fall of Congress party amid shaky rise of Hindutva BJP

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The long wait for poll outcomes and political trends in 5 Indian states viz Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Pondicherry and West Bengal that went to poll in May recently to elect new assemblies is finally over and results are the most disappointing for the Congress party.

When the counting for all seats in the five states have been ended and results have been announced, the trends indicate that the Indian voters are now more matured than ever before, especially in Tamil Nadu where the ruling AIADMK won the poll again while DMK has also won sufficient number of MLAs to apply pressure on the ruling dispensation. Post poll predictions said Tamil Nadu may have a hung assembly. But the AIADMK won the poll.

To put it straight away, the ruling AIADMK has retained power in Tamil Nadu while the leftists have returned to power in Kerala by defeating the ruling Congress led UDF, while DMK- Congress alliance won in Puducherry, BJP got Assam, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has comfortably thrashed Congress-CPM alliance in West Bengal. Congress and CPM had ruled the state for decades until TMC replaced it last time and since then both have failed to make their presence felt in the state and now they decided to fight the poll jointly. And again they have failed now.

In the Union Territory of Puducherry, Congress-DMK alliance was ahead in the 30-member assembly closely followed by AINRC headed by Chief Minister and former Congressman N Rangaswamy. J Jayalalithaa has won from RK Nagar constituency in Chennai. .AIADMK won Hosur seat by 22,964 votes, wrests the seat from the Congress that held the seat for three terms.

A major casualty of the just occurred in assembly polls in 5 Indian states, as speculated, is the Indian National Congress party with longest history in the country fairing baldy in most of these states, while Hindutva BJP, though also in a bad shape, is trying to find new spots to expand its Hindu vote bank agenda into new states as part of RSS ideology. And the steady fall of Congress signifies existential crisis for the party as its electoral alliance strategy with Communists has also failed in West Bengali, while it lost power to left parties in Kerala and BJP in Assam and it plays subordinate role to DMK in Pondicherry and also in Tamil Nadu where it made some gains as part of DMK led alliance.

When ruling Congress lost Kerala to Communist parties with which it forged alliance in West Bengal only to lose again, the BJP has stormed the North Eastern state Assam for the first time, unseating the clueless Congress. Even before the polls Assam has been on the road to making history with BJP set to get its first government in the North East by dislodging Congress which has been in power for three consecutive terms.

West Bengal has re-elected Trinamool Congress led by CM Mamata Banerjee in a big way. The Congress could take solace from its projected victory in the tiny Union Territory of Puducherry where it is likely to get power in alliance with the DMK. DMK chief and former CM, Karunanidhi has won by over 60,000 votes over AIADMK’s A N R Paneerselvam in Tiruvarur constituency.

In Kerala the defeat of corrupt and scams ridden Congress led UDF was rather expected but now there is a strong feeling among Congress men that had Oommen Chandy quit CM post and let state Congress chief Sudheeran or Ramesh Chennithala, perhaps UDF would have come back. The Muslim League has made enough success in Muslim dominated districts but cannot be in the new government.

In Kerala, the Left Front dislodged Congress from power in an anti-incumbency wave against the corrupt UDF government keeping up the tradition of voting out the incumbent government. Also, because of the strong effect of anti-incumbency and RSS Hindu vote mobilization strategy, BJP has opened an account for the first time in its political history in Kerala as its candidate and former central railway minister Rajagopal defeated the sitting CPM MLA in Nemom constituency in the capital. This the first ever win of Rajagopal who so far has never won an election in the state though he contested poll after poll in Kerala during his entire political career and this win uplift his image as loser. He was made a Rajya Sabha MP by the Vajpayee government and also inducted into his cabinet as rail minister. PM Modi did not adopt the Vajpayee method and Rajagopal remained jobless. Kerala corporate lords are eager to see a Kerala politician to be made a minister in Modi government but have failed.

CPI (M) veteran V S Achuthanandan won from Malampuzha constituency by a margin of 23,142 votes, defeating C Krishna Kumar of BJP. As it has become clear that her party will retain power, Jayalalithaa has thanked the voters: “I convey my heartiest thanks to voters who have reaffirmed their faith on me and given me another chance. False campaigning by DMK has been defeated. People of Tamil Nadu have rejected family politics carried out by our opponents”.

It argued that there would be change in the attitude and performance of the ruling AIADMK governance and the party faced a serious threat from its arch rival DMK which has got 89 seats against the AIADMK’s 131 seats in the assembly to apply a pressure on the government constantly. Jaya will end liquor culture in a phased manner.

In Kerala outcomes reveal a strong anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Congress led UDF and people voted to oust the corrupt Congress party led government and this explains how BJP also could open an account in the state.

There could be reasons, including the Vijayakanth factor, why Jayalalithaa and her party were elected back to power by the people of Tamil Nadu. We will discuss this in another article.

The TN elections witnessed a multi-cornered fight with the AIADMK, DMK, BJP, PMK and the PWF as the major parties. But it is AIADMK chief and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa who has emerged triumphant and swept the polls. Jayalalithaa has made history as she is the second chief minister after MGR to be elected for a second consecutive term.

Interestingly, the Hindutva BJP has suffered a complete rout in the assembly poll for the first time in years, though it could send an MLA to Kerala assembly and hopes to replace Congress party there in course as per its ideology to make a India free of and without Congress.

Though BJP has won in Assam, it is also on the decline at national and state levels, albeit at a moderate speed. People who had voted for BJP earlier, thinking they are honest and sincere about people’s causes, have rejected the party in the next poll, because they found the Hindutva parties also a bunch of fakes and a copy of the corrupt and dishonest Congress party.

While the BJP is for all practical purposes out of Tamil Nadu, Congress somehow has managed to stay on in the state thanks to its poll alliance with DMK. BJP says since the major parties refused to agree for an alliance with it, the Hindutva could be crushed by DMK-AIADMK rivalry.

DMK is down but not out. Although Karunanidhi became the chief minister of the state at a reasonably young age of 45 in 1969, his run continued only till 1977, that too with two interruptions. Since then, it was three consecutive terms of MGR until he died in 1987. In fact, Karunanidhi had to wait for more than a year since MGR’s passing. Since he returned to power in 1991, it was never a continuous run. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa have been taking turns and by past trend and the verdicts of majority of exit polls, he should have been in office this time. But Jayalalithaa has successfully bucked the trend, and five years will be too long a wait for 91-year-old Karunanidhi. This decade-long banishment from power will be bad not just for Karunanidhi, but for his son Stalin and the DMK as well.

Vijayakanth’s DMDK is a classic example. He had allied with AIADMK in 2011 and notched up more than 8 percent vote-share while winning 29 seats. Soon, he fell out with Jaya and exited the AIADMK front and remained a lone ranger. He, however, continued to be very active in politics, fighting Jaya and energizing his support-base. Recognising his vote-share and popularity, the DMK was very eager to have him in its front in 2016 elections, but he refused. The DMK made repeated overtures, but he wouldn’t pay attention reportedly because of his chief ministerial ambition. Instead, he joined the ragtag team of MDMK and VCK called PWF. The man who had 29 MLAs last time couldn’t win a single seat, including his own. And his mythical vote-share fell to a dismal 2.4 percent.

The story is the same with the PMK as well. It’s a victim of the same grand illusion that the state has space for a non-Dravidian alternative. Unlike in the past, it refused to ally with not only the Dravidian parties, but also others, and ended up playing solo scoring nothing except a lone seat. The leader of the party and the man who claimed to be the most suitable to become the chief minister, Anbumani Ramadoss couldn’t even win his seat.

It’s rather strange that both the DMDK and the PMK did not realize about the inevitability of electoral compromises. Both the DMK and AIADMK are strong cadre-based parties and have historically polarized the state. Although it was the DMK which reaped the initial benefits of the Dravidian ideology, there was enough space for MGR, who was also endowed with a cult following, to split this support base.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has tendered his resignation to Governor PB Acharya following Congress’ defeat in the just-concluded Assembly polls. Congress could manage to win only 26 seats while the BJP-led alliance swept to power in the state winning 86 seats in the recently concluded Assembly polls. The three-time Chief Minister did not speak to media persons waiting outside the Raj Bhawan after tendering his resignation.

In West Bengal the victory of incumbent TMC led by Mamata Banerjee is indeed historic as it defeated the formidable alliance of Congress-Communists- both have got disillusioned now.

In Tamil Nadu the ruling AIADMK could win the poll almost all alone and defeated DMK-Congress led airbus alliance. While PMK has got a MLA in the new assembly the PWA, which has given a lot of hopes of the youth, has failed to make it to the assembly. The issue would be debated in public.

Interestingly, Congress has promoted the BJP to blackmail Muslims voters to vote for the Congress party if they want to protect themselves form the Hindutva forces live in the country and used it to target and control Muslims in India but now BJP wants to finish off the Congress party and consume its vote banks.

While Congress has nothing to show to the world as its ‘record’ in the regional polls, the BJP has managed the show in Assam by harping on foreigners’ issue (Bangladeshis). Hindutva parties cannot think of positive politics and one wonders if it can change its communal agenda any time in future for fear of losing Hindu votes

Congress-BJP nexus

There is no doubt that Congress and BJP play, like their product IPL, a joint game in the country’s politics even as they pretend to be fighting one another for power at national and regional levels.

The truth is that the BJP was the creation of the Congress party to target Muslims vote banks so that Muslims fearing the Hindutva crimes simply vote for the Congress party, not knowing the hidden nexus between them. The way both Congress and BJP delay the Supreme Court judgment to get back the Babri mosque for worshipping Allah the almighty, has finally opened the eyes of Indian Muslims – at least many of them if not all – about the hidden anti-Islam agenda of these tow national parties. They have stopped voting both Congress and BJP and that resulted in the fall of Congress and BJP parties in Delhi state where a new party Aam Aadmi party AAP of Arvind Kejriwal swept the polls with a huge mandate. In order avoid the BJP‘s Hindutva agenda, Muslims vote for Congress. While the Congress is helping BJP to get more Hindu votes, Muslims help Congress take away major chunk of Muslim votes.

Essentially both Congress and BJP, covertly linked to Hindutva RSS, have common roots and Congress indirectly supports BJP as wherever Congress rules or ruled, BJP comes to take over.   BJP has replaced Congress in several Indian states and Indian parliament, and it now rules Goa state with Christian majority. In other words, Congress, seeking to insult and contain, if not undermine importance of, Muslims in the country, makes way for the Hindutva party to replace it.

It appears the era of Congress party is over in India while BJP would enjoy the status of some more time until a national party with sincerity and commitment emerges to save the nation and people.

Corruption ridden Congress thrives and makes a comeback each time after the debacle, due mainly to the fact that Indian politics is not honest enough and bribery and corruption are rampant in the country. No ruling political party, except perhaps the AAP, is above corruption and they are not sincere and committed to people’s concerns.

So far, it is impossible to make it out of existence in Indian politics. Of course, each time an obituary was written about the Congress party, it always made a comeback by cleverly playing on the weaknesses of other parties that are equally corrupt. Anti-incumbency of other parties helps the Congress to win polls.

In fact, there is no political party in the country, at national and state levels, that has pursed honest politics.

Congress Surgery?

Poll outcomes in the high-stakes assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry are shocking for Congress ad not pleasing for the BJP. In West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where the incumbent Trinamool Congress and AIADMK respectively were surging ahead right from the initial rounds of counting, and they have drowned their foes and established their hold on to the people.

Congress high command led by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are deeply worried about the unexpected fate of the senior most party in the country. There is a suggestion to make Rahul as the president of the party but Rahul may not be interested in snatching party power from his mother.

The 2016 poll in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal has indeed further strengthened the respective ruling party’s hold over the populations. Kerala has displayed poor account of the Congress party.

The state elections have clearly shown that Indians have clearly disapproved the Congress party as their rulers and also they are not in a mood to trust the BJP either. In West Bengal where the Congress and Communist parties made poll alliance to defeat the CM Mamata Banerjee’s ruling party TMC, the opposition parties have been decimated as minor parties. It is doubtful if CPM and/or Congress can win elections in the state any time in the near future.

The poll debacle of BJP or DMK misfortunes in Tamil Nadu is not as serious fall as of Congress suffered in most of the states that went to poll in May. Similarly, the debacle of the new alliance PWA or PMK in TN is also could be temporary but BJP’s is a serious concern for the BJP leadership because all their campaigns have ended in disaster for the party. But both the PWA and PMK have done their initial work as alternative political parties, though they could not win seats or increased their vote shares against the powerful DMK and AIADMK.

One does not know how would Tamil voters have reacted has the DMK declared MK Stalin as the DMK’s CM candidate. There is a suggestion that people would have seen the development as a positive trend in DMK and even the poll outcomes would have been different. Not very sure!

There have been no changes in the AICC secretariat since the last Lok Sabha polls in which the party had its worst ever performance by securing just 44 seats in the 543-member House.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh has made a pitch for a ‘major surgery’ in the organisation after the party’s poor performance in the assembly polls. With the Congress losing power in Assam and Kerala, party President Sonia Gandhi has said it would introspect over the causes of the debacle and work with ‘greater vigour’ for the services of the people. However, taking to micro-blogging site, AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh said, “Today’s results disappointing but not unexpected. We have done enough Introspection shouldn’t we go for a Major Surgery?”

The Congress rejected suggestions that the party Vice President or President Sonia should accept blame for its debacle in four states. Digvijay’s suggestion has come at a time when there is talk of the much-delayed reshuffle in the AICC secretariat likely to be carried out soon and indications are that Rahul Gandhi could be elevated as party chief. He also added that since the party was under the overall leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, they are the ones who have to take steps to rejuvenate the party and build up a regional leadership. Even Congress leader Shashi Tharoor MP said it is now a time for action, not giving any idea about what exact change they want.

Over all confusion in the party about the future of the party is so strong there is no credible solution to make the party look healthy. Rampant corruption, insensitive misrule, promotion of RSS/BJP to blackmail the Muslim voters have created deep rooted crisis in the party which the BJP is taking full advantage in polls.

Is Congress era is over so early?

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South Asia

Why India won’t intervene militarily in Maldives

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An Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 islands, the Maldives is a tourist paradise. The Maldives is a low-lying country that is expected to be among the first in the world to go under water as a result of climate change. While it may take a few more decades for rising sea levels to wreak havoc on the archipelago, there are more immediate and pressing problems tearing the country apart.

Tourism is the backbone of the country’s economy, and tour operators have reported hundreds of daily cancellations since the state of emergency was imposed on February 5. Following the state of emergency, Maldives has been in a tensed state of existence in as the archipelago is facing a sort of turmoil, ransacking its tourism based economy.

Crisis

The current crisis was the result of a Supreme Court ruling on February 1, overturning the convictions of Yameen’s rivals. In addition to ordering the government to release the nine convicted opposition leaders, the apex court called for reinstating 12 parliamentarians who were stripped of their seats last year when they left Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives to join the opposition.

Two weeks after the government of the Maldives declared a state of emergency amid rising political tension, on February 20th Parliament approved a 30-day extension that, among other grave consequences, may result in serious damages to the economy, scaring away international visitors. On February 20, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom requested to extend the Maldives state of emergency for a total of 45 days. The Maldives government and the Ministry of Tourism have emphasized their commitment to safety for civilians and tourists alike.

The emergency “shall only apply to those alleged to have carried out illegal activities — it shall not apply to otherwise law-abiding residents of, or visitors to, the Maldives,” Yameen’s office said in a statement.

The opposition Jumhooree Party says the approval of the extension is illegal, and urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency in order to restore normalcy. “Despite the State of Emergency, the country is functioning as normal as possible,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism told TPG Tuesday before the extension was approved. “Schools and government offices are in operation and we do not foresee any threats to the public or tourists. We too are continuing with the promotional activities of the destination.”

Since Yameen became president in a controversial election in 2013, he has systematically crushed dissidence within his party and removed rivals from the political arena.

For instance, MDP leader and former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, the archipelago’s first democratically elected leader, was convicted on terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in jail. While Nasheed has been living in self-exile in Britain since 2016, several other opposition leaders, including a former defense minister in the Nasheed government, Mohamed Nazim; Yameen’s once “trusted” vice-president, Ahmed Adheeb; and leader of the opposition Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, are in jail on long prison terms.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) calls on neighboring India to militarily intervene to end the crisis, and let Nasheed become the president.

According to reports in the Indian media, the government has ruled out the military option for now, although it has activated its standing operating procedure for the Maldives by keeping troops ready for deployment there at short notice, should the need arise.

But India is said to be working with a group of countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, to pressure the government through imposition of sanctions. However, India has traditionally opposed the sanctions option to influence regime behavior, as sanctions affects ordinary people rather than the ruling elite.

Relations between India and the Maldives have been strong for decades; India played a major role in building the Maldives’ economy and military. It was India’s support that kept the authoritarian Gayoom in power for three decades.

However, bilateral ties have been fraying since Nasheed’s exit from power in 2012. That year, the Maldivian government abruptly terminated a $500 million contract awarded to India’s GMR Infrastructure for developing an airport in Male. Bilateral ties have deteriorated since then. Yameen’s “authoritarian governance” has irked India, but it is his tight embrace of China that has raised hackles in Delhi.

No invitation for invasion

A country could decide to send military forces to neighboring or any other country only on the request form that nation concerned. Otherwise the intervention becomes totally illegal and amounts to invasion. USA led NATO have been occupying many countries in Middle East and Afghanistan after invading them on false justifications.

Anyone who closely follows Indian state behavior abroad would quickly endorse the argument that India would not intervene in Maldives citing any reason.

In order to decide to sent troops to nearby Maldives, India must have got a request from the government of Maldives but that government has not sought it. In 1988 when India intervened in Maldives it was on the request received from the then President Gayoom.

When an external government is engaged in dealing with an emergency situation, naturally that power should be given huge service charges. Without any request from Maldivian government of Yameen, India won’t get any service charges. Though the exiled opposition leader Nasheed might be willing to pay the money to India as he has made the request to New Delhi, but India cannot respond to non-government actors.

This step alone can easily do away with any suggestion to India for intervention in Maldives.

The government of Maldives has not asked for Indian military to help bring peace and normalcy back to the island nation. India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion by the opposition leader who now lives in Srilanka.

Claiming to be a ‘terror victim’, India would not like to be seen as an aggressor as no amount of justification can  make New Delhi “innocent” although it has got that look. .

China factor

But there are some more important reasons that deny India any chance to send troops to Maldives which, in the absence of a request from the government,   would mean to remove the President and government from power.

Today, archipelago Maldives is not alone, though insignificant for non-tourists. China is fast becoming an economic ally of Maldives and might soon have its own military bases in the island nations as well.

Chinese nexus is the prime strength Maldives would operate on.

Unlike China, USA can only bully small nations but cannot spend money on them, does not invest there to help their economies flourish. Already, Beijing, knowing the Indian strategic community’s desire for a military showcase byIndia in Maldives, has expressed its opposition to outside intervention from India.

Unlike USA, India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion of USA or Israel or Opposition leader Nasheed and if that at all happens India would possibly be in a long term trouble.

In 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Maldives, Yameen handed over the airport project to a state-run Chinese company. The two sides signed a string of deals during that visit that saw Beijing participate in a big way in infrastructure building in Maldives. Maldives also became an enthusiastic participant in the Maritime Belt of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Then in December last year, the Maldives and China signed a Free Trade Agreement, much to India’s concern. Delhi is worried about Beijing’s mounting influence over Maldives and the strategic implications for India.

China’s growing presence in the Maldives is a serious concern to India given the latter’s geographic proximity to the Indian coastline. The Maldives also sit near international sea lanes through which India’s oil imports traverse. India’s security would be threatened should the Chinese set up a naval base in the Maldives. These concerns are not without substance; in August 2017, three Chinese naval vessels docked at the Maldives’ capital, Male, setting off alarm bells in Delhi.

India’s vulnerability

India is watching the unfolding crisis in the Maldives with concern. It is mulling different options. Not doing anything is not an option given India’s stakes in a stable Maldives.

A seemingly busy India, whose PM is on a perpetual foreign tours as India’s foreign policy with very little time for the people and keeps mum on all major anti-people events, promotes rampant corruption and the powerful lords  loot the nation and its resources for private use, steel cash from nationalized banks, illegal mining and land grabbing.

IPL Modi, PNB looter Nirav Modi- both have escaped from India and are now abroad thanks to timely help and aid from agencies of Indian regime, Kothari, et al are just the tip of iceberg in Indian sage of misappropriation of state resources while the intelligence and media lords are terribly busy blasting fake news about Pakistan and Muslims in order rot keep the fanatic sections of India.

The Indian government has said it is “disturbed” by the declaration of emergency in the Maldives and “the suspension of the Maldivian people’s constitutional rights.” It is “carefully monitoring the situation,” it said. Earlier, its Ministry of External Affairs issued a travel advisory to its citizens traveling to Maldives.

Sections in India are in favor of an Indian military intervention in the Maldives. Some argue that it does not behoove a rising power with big ambitions like India to shrink away from acting robustly to defend its interests in the region.

A section of the BJP leadership has described the current crisis in the Maldives as an “opportunity” for India “to stake its claim to being a global player.” It is “imperative” for India to intervene in the Maldives, they argue,  “since any global role is always dependent on a country’s performance in the neighborhood first. Those who want to see India a superpower as soon as possible with a magic touch, say that “time is ripe for a decisive Indian intervention in the Maldives.”  Such intervention by India would have the support of countries like the USA, Israel and UK, which, they reason, would be keen to see the pro-China Yameen removed from power. “This could be used to silence the Kashmiris who fancy for sovereignty”.

If India does decide in favor of military intervention, this will not be the first time it has done so in the Maldives. In 1988, India sent in a small contingent of troops to avert a coup attempt against Gayoom. But the circumstances of that intervention were different from what exists today. In 1988, President Gayoom invited India to intervene. Yameen is unlikely to do so now. Importantly as well, 30 years ago the coup plotters were just a small group of mercenaries. A military intervention today could leave Indian troops stuck in a Maldivian quagmire.

Yameen wins power struggle

Yameen, like most rulers today, is determined to cling to power. Not only has Yameen ignored the court order, but he went on to declare an emergency and had the judges who handed out the ruling arrested. Reinstating the 12 parliamentarians would reduce his government to a minority. That would enable parliament to oust him in a no-confidence vote.

Besides, Yameen seems apprehensive that allowing Nasheed to return to the Maldives and freeing the other opposition leaders would galvanize the opposition and boost mass protests against his iron-fisted rule. Presidential elections are due later this year and Yameen fears that he will be defeated by a strong opposition campaign.

With the proclamation of a state of emergency, Yameen has prevented parliament from meeting. The emergency will be in place for 15 days, during which he can be expected to pack the judiciary with loyal judges. He is likely to engineer defections from the opposition. He could extend the state of emergency as well.

Yameen has already appointed new judges, who have since annulled the court order releasing the opposition politicians. Former president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is Yameen’s half-brother, has been detained and Yameen has fired two police chiefs over three days.

With Yameen tightening his grip, Nasheed has called on India “to send an envoy, backed by its military to free the judges and the political detainees.” He has asked for India’s “physical presence” in the Maldives.

China has warned India against any military intervention in Maldives.

Observation

China is closely watching events in the Maldives. The archipelago is a popular destination for Chinese tourists; in light of the current uncertainty, Beijing has advised its citizens to postpone travel to the Maldives. Having invested heavily in the Maldives, China is concerned about the safety of its investments, projects, and personnel. It has asked the Maldivian government to “to take necessary measures to earnestly protect the security of the Chinese enterprises, situations and personnel.”

Unlike India, China has leverage with the Maldivian government. Yameen is likely to listen to China. But Beijing would not want to see him go.

China is opposed to India meddling in Maldives and has made this more than clear. An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times chided India for openly intervening in its neighbors’ domestic affairs. There is “no justification” for India “to intervene in Male’s affairs,” it observed.

Any military showcase by India could also prove counterproductive to India’s long-term interests. It would push Yameen closer to the Chinese, for instance. Besides, it would boost perception of India as a “big brother” and a “bully” in the region. Undemocratic forces in India’s neighboring countries have usually stoked anti-India sentiment among the masses by stressing such perceptions. This can be expected to happen in the Maldives too.

Importantly, an Indian military intervention is unlikely to benefit democratic forces in the Maldives in the long run as a democratic government, should one come to power in the archipelago following an intervention, would be seen as “made in India” with the USA acting as a “midwife.” Such a government would lack legitimacy in the eyes of many Maldivian people.

It does seem that the Sino-Indian contest for influence in the archipelago is as fierce as the ongoing tussle between Yameen and the Maldivian opposition.

Thus any suggestion for Indian military intervention in Maldives is ruled out.

India could perhaps act as a facilitator or even a mediator in a possible dialogue between Yameen’s Maldivian government and the opposition. But will Yameen welcome an Indian role against the Chinese wish? Moreover, he has reportedly defied Indian requests relating to the current crisis. India cannot have privileged the leverage to influence the decisions of Maldivian President.

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Into the Sea: Nepal in International Waters

Sisir Devkota

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A visit to the only dry port of Nepal will immediately captivate busy scenes with hundreds of trucks, some railway carriages and huge Maersk containers at play. Trains from the Port of Kolkata in India carry tons of Nepal’s exports every week. Every year, Nepal is fined millions of rupees for overstaying its containers at the designated dock in Haldiya Port of Kolkata. Nepal pays for spaces inside Indian ships to carry out its exports via the sea. This is the closest Nepal has come in exploiting economic opportunities through sea waters. Prime Minister KP Oli went one step further and presented an idea of steering Nepal’s own fleets in the vast international sea space. While his idea of Nepal affording its own ship was mocked; on the contrary, he was right. The idea is practical but herculean.

To start with, Nepal has a landlocked right to use international waters via a third country for economic purposes only. Law of the Sea conferences held during the 80’s, guarantees Nepal’s right to use the exclusive economic zone all around the globe. Article 69 of the Law of the Sea convention states that Nepal could both use sea as a trading route and exploit the exclusive economic zone of its sea facing neighbors. Nepal’s closest neighbor, India has a wide exclusive economic zone which consists of 7500 km long coastline. The article also allows landlocked nations to use docking facilities of the nearest coastal nation to run its fleets. An exclusive economic zone in sea waters is designated after a coastal nation’s eleven mile parallel water boundary ends; which is also a part of the coastal nations territory. Simply put, Nepali fleets can dock at India’s port, sail eleven miles further into international waters-carry out fishing and other activities, sail back to the Indian coast and transfer its catches back to Nepal.

Floating Challenges

Before ships can carry the triangular flag into sea waters, Nepal will need treaties in place to use coastal nation’s water to take off and build shipment facilities. Law of the Sea convention clearly mentions that the right to use another nation’s coast will depend solely on the will of the hosting coastal nation. Does Nepal have the political will to communicate and forge a comprehensive sea transit agreement with its coastal neighbors? Nepal’s chance of securing fleets in and around the Indian Ocean will depend on whether it can convince nations like India of mutual benefits and cancel any apprehension regarding its security that might be compromised via Nepal’s sea activity. The convention itself is one among the most controversial international agreements where deteriorating marine ecosystems, sovereignty issues and maritime crimes are at its core. Majority of global and environmental problems persist in the high seas; ranging from territorial acquisitions to resource drilling offences. Nepal is welcome into the high seas, but does it comprehend the sensitivity that clouts sea horizons? Nepal needs a diplomatic strategy, but lacking experience, Nepal will need to develop institutional capacities to materialize the oceanic dream. Secondly, the cost of operating such a national project will be dreadfully expensive. Does the Nepali treasury boast finances for a leapfrogging adventure?

How is it possible?

The good news is that many landlocked nations operate in international waters. Switzerland, as an example might not assure the Nepali case, but Ethiopia exercising its sea rights via Djibouti’s port could be inspiring. Before Nepal can start ordering its fleets, it will need to design its own political and diplomatic strategy. Nepal’s best rationale would lie in working together with its neighbors. The South Asian network of nations could finally come into use. Along with Nepal, Bhutan is another landlocked nation where possible alliances await. If India’s coasts are unapproachable, Nepal and Bhutan could vie for Bangladeshi coastlines to experience sea trading. Maldivian and Pakistani waters are geographically and economically inaccessible but Sri Lanka lies deep down the South Asian continent. If Nepal and Bhutan can satisfy Sri Lankan interests, the landlocked union could not only skim through thousands of nautical miles around the Bay of Bengal without entering Indian water space; but also neutralize the hegemonic status of India in the region. If such a multinational agreement can be sought; SAARC- the passive regional body will not only gain political prowess but other areas of regional development will also kickstart.

Most importantly, a transit route (such as the Rohanpur-Singhdabad transit route) from Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan will need to be constructed well before ships start running in the Indian Ocean. In doing so, Nepal will not only tranquilize Nepal-Bhutan relations but also exercise leadership role in South Asia. A regional agreement will flourish trade but will also make landlocked Nepal’s agenda of sailing through other regions of international sea strong and plausible. A landlocked union with Bhutan will trim the costs than that of which Nepal will be spending alone. Such regional compliance would also encourage international financial institutions to fund Nepal’s sea project. Apart from political leverages, Nepal’s economy would scale new heights with decreasing price of paramount goods and services. Flourishing exports and increased tourism opportunities would be Nepal’s grandiloquence. Nepal’s main challenge lies in assuring its neighbors on how its idea would be mutually beneficial. Nepal’s work starts here. Nepal needs to put together a cunning diplomatic show.

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South Asia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Fails

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm is only to capture power; the same, however, cannot be said of foreign policy administration, especially in dealing with our immediate neighbors, and China. The best examples of his policy paralysis are the way in which demonetization and GSTs are implemented, or his sudden visit to Pakistan in December 2015. He is always in election mode. During the first two years, he was in the humor of a general election victory. Thereafter, he has spent much of his energy in establishing himself as the sole savior of the BJP in state elections, and this year he will turn his attention to the 2019 general elections.

Two years ago, without doing any homework or planning, Modi travelled to Pakistan from Afghanistan to greet his counterpart, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to wish him well on his birthday. He hugged Sharif and spent only two hours with him to try to sort out the 70 year outstanding divergence between India and Pakistan.

Modi strategically hugs fellow world leaders. He has no strategic perception. He believes only in the power of his personal charisma in dealing with foreign policy matters. This strategy has failed considerably with China and with our other immediate neighbors, but he neither intends to accept these mistakes, nor is he interested in learning from them. More importantly, an alternative diplomatic strategy is necessary to maintain our international position; through prudent policy articulations. Let us examine the impact of his hug diplomacy.

During the 2013/14 general elections campaign he attacked the Congress-led UPA government on multiple fronts, including towards former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan. He proposed that the BJP government would have more guts to better deal with Pakistan. Under his administration, we lost numerous soldiers in fighting with Pakistan terrorists, experienced a 100-day shutdown in Kashmir, blindly allowed a Pakistan team to inspect our Pathankot Air Force Station, and generally continued down a visionless path in foreign policy. These indicate that Modi’s defensive and offensive strokes against Pakistan have failed completely, including the most politicized ‘surgical strike’ that did not contain the terrorists from Pakistan. Today, the Modi government is searching for policy directions in handling Pakistan, but sat in a corner like a lame duck.

In the beginning, when he took office, Modi perhaps believed that ‘everything is possible’ in international affairs simply by virtue of occupying the prime minister seat. Further, he thought that all his visits abroad would bring a breakthrough. His hugs with counterparts, various costume changes, and the serving of tea, indicate that our prime minister is using soft power approaches. These approaches were used by our first Prime Minister Nehru whilst India did not have a strong military or economy. However, India is not today what it was in the 1950/60s. Presently, hugging and changing costumes will not necessarily keep India influential in international relations, especially at a time when the world is undergoing multi-polar disorder. However, he is in continuous denial that his paths are wrong, especially in dealing with our neighbors.

What is the BJP led-NDA government policy on Pakistan? Does this government have any policy for Pakistan? Since 2014,Modi has not permitted the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, to contribute to any foreign policy articulations. As long as Sushma fulfills the duty of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs she will receive praise from the prime minister’s office.

During 2015 he met Sharif at his residence in Islamabad to give him a hug. This happened exactly two years ago. Further, this is a very serious question that the Media and Modi-supporting TV channels forgot to raise. Instead, without hesitation, they praised him for touching the sky, and described the moment as a diplomatic initiative for a breakthrough with our neighbor Pakistan. The Media will realize this mistake when their traditional viewers switch over to other channels to get centrist news.

What are the outcomes of Modi hugging Sharif at his residence? The results are terrible. India’s relation with Pakistan touches the lowest ever level in a history of 70 years. The Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest and has started a political party to contest the general elections in Pakistan next year. This government does not have the guts to put pressure on Pakistan to provide the evidence – as requested by the Pakistan’s Court – essential to keeping the trial alive against Saeed. Modi has often preached that his government succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the international domain. The reality would be as much India diplomatically isolating Pakistan from the international community as the vacuum has been comfortably filled by China without any difficulty. These are the achievements that Modi’s hugs have brought to India.

The stability of Afghanistan is in India’s long-term strategic interest. India’s ‘aid diplomacy’ to Afghanistan in various fields has been increasing day after day, including infrastructure development and the training of Afghan security forces. Yet, India’s influence in Afghanistan is in disarray. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. However, Modi’s policy makers in New Delhi are expecting the US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to maintain India’s active and significant role in Afghanistan.

India showed its displeasure during the constitutional crisis in Nepal, in halting energy supply to Kathmandu. This forced the land-locked country to obtain easy support from Beijing. Nepal was once the buffer state between India and China; it is now sitting on China’s lap and steering India. Modi’s mute approach to the Rohingya crisis speculates India’s major power ambition. This is a serious setback to India’s diplomacy: it is now pushing Myanmar to get support from China, along with our neighbor Bangladesh, in resolving the crisis with Rohingya refugees.

The first democratically elected government under Mohamed Nasheed was toppled unconstitutionally in Maldives. Since India has failed to raise any substantial voice against this atrocity, China has jumped onto the scene. New Delhi ought to have designed a policy to resolve the political crisis, but India, the world’s largest democracy, has watched this incident as a movie in the Indian Ocean Theatre. The highlight was the decision of our Prime Minister to skip a visit to the Maldives whilst on his tour of the Indian Ocean islands.

In Sri Lanka, China is designing its future battlefield against India. As the war against LTTE was over, Colombo started travelling in a two-way track, with India and China. Beijing’s love affair, apparently with Colombo, but with an eye on New Delhi, is no secret. Since Modi has allowed these developments without exercising any diplomatic resistance, he has given China a comfortable seat inside Sri Lanka. China has now realised that her weaved network against India can be strengthened easily in the Indian Ocean, because New Delhi only displays silent concern. After Modi took office, India – China relations have remained static. The border talks are on stand still. Beijing holds on to extend a technical hold on Masood Azhar, a UN designated terrorist. The dragon pulls our immediate neighbors to her side. These developments indicate that our foreign policy articulations are not supported by any clear strategic trajectory.

Modi’s diplomacy is like an air balloon which, once torn, cannot be refilled; a new balloon is needed. Hugging a leader does not lead to any commitment in foreign affairs. Personal charisma does not work as a foreign policy tool in dealing with a world power. For this reason, Modi cannot understand the setback he is facing with China, Pakistan, and our other neighbors. In comparison, Vajpayee’s or Dr. Manmohan Singh’s combined simple charisma as leaders or economists with appropriate home-work in the past; has caused tremendous results in foreign policy, including expected results in Indo-US nuclear negotiations. This is completely missing in Modi’s administration.

Hence, the newly elected Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has said, “Modi’s hug diplomacy fails”. It was a valuable comment that the ruling elite should consider as a meaningful insight. Alternative approaches are vital to regain our neighbors’ trust, as opposed to China’s. However, Prime Minister Modi’s this year of work will be focused on the 2019 general elections, compromising the proper attention due to India’s international diplomacy.

First published in Congress Sandesh

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