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A Case for Simultaneous Centre-State Polls in India

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The Republic of India is the world’s largest democracy. More than 800 million voters are eligible to exercise their right to elect a government. Democratic decentralization has ensured that every voter has a chance to elect a representative of his choice at a national, state and local level.

The Indian democracy, in spite of large size, is highly stable and there has always been a peaceful transition of power between governments. Aside from Indira Gandhi’s brief flirtation with emergency, the democratic institutions of India have, are and will remain strong. The Election Commission of India (ECI) is an independent institution charged with conducting free and fair elections. One of the most famous Chief Election Commissioner of India, T.N. Seshan is credited with making the ECI free, ruthless and a highly competent body. During elections to the national or a state level, a mode code of conduct (MCC) is enforced in the region. During the MCC, all officers are under the jurisdiction of the ECI and the current dispensation cannot make any declarations or promises to sway the electorate. MCC ensures, a level playing field for all, taking the throne away from the king and forcing him to slug in the mud with his competitors. But on the flipside, during MCC, the entire government machinery is geared towards the successful completion of the elections, at the cost of their core responsibilities i.e. administration and execution of government schemes. Also, constant elections (1 National, 29 State and 2 UTs) ensure that the country is perpetually in a state of election mania and no party, ruling or otherwise can risk to take a stand contradictory to the voting patterns of the state about to go to voting. This has prompted a few leaders and thinkers to propose the need for simultaneous elections in the entire country.

The year 2014 heralded a new chapter in the Indian Politics. An ambitious leader, Narendra Modi supported by able and energetic supporters took the entire country by storm and won the first simple majority in the Indian lower house in over 30 years. It was no mean feat and considering the odds stacked against Narendra Modi, nothing less than a miracle. However, the leader (or more aptly the General) never halted his cavalries after this victory. His army fought battles after battles, for them every battle was a battle of survival. With his guns never stopped blazing, his horses ever on a gallop, his men ever on the move, the General found or had very little time to consolidate his victories. Consequently, very less time was actually devoted to administration and most of the time and energies spent on discussing the battle plans for the next fray. Three years on, with elections due every 6 months, Modi’s army is showing signs of fatigue. His army has bloated in numbers but is fast losing its edge and thus, needs new weapons and some much needed rest. Modi needs to put together newer weapons (programs & schemes for development and implement them on the ground) before his forces are led to another major battle. It thus comes as no surprise that one of the strongest proponents of the simultaneous polls is the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.    

It would be interesting if the polls for the India’s lower house of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Indian State Assemblies are help together. The ECI has claimed that it is well equipped to handle simultaneous polls. However, there are a few challenges that need to be solved before such a change can be implemented nationwide. The primary motive of this article is to explore the possible shortcomings of the idea and explore suitable solutions to it.

One of the primary shortcoming of such a system proposed by the detractors of the proposal is the lack of political consensus needed for such an arrangement. Yes, this is true. Barring a few parties, not many parties are keen on this idea. While political consensus on such an issue will be difficult to establish for the proponents of the proposal, the detractors seem to forget that the strongest political party in India, the BJP and its undisputed leader, Narendra Modi is firmly behind the proposal. The deft maneuvering of Narendra Modi and the political compromises made by his team to ensure a speedy passage of the Goods & Service Tax is not only laudable but also a template for how Modi & his team can ensure the passage of any sensitive matter or bill of importance.

Also, if we are to have simultaneous polls for the Centre & the State the terms of the various state assemblies will likely to be shortened or extended in order to accommodate such an arrangement. Possible candidates for start year of such an implementation are either 2019 or 2022. While it is too soon to comment on 2019 (Modi government lacks the critical numbers it needs to push forth various bills in the Indian Upper House), 2022-2023 appears to be a logical choice. Modi government can provide extension to all state assemblies going to polls in 2021 to the year of the poll and shorten the duration of election of the states that went to polls in 2019 or 2020. Also, there would be a need to shorten the duration of the National Lower House by a year or two if we go for this arrangement. While there are constitutional precedents for these type of arrangements, it would be interesting to see how this can be implemented nation-wide. Modi must need to win a simple majority in all the elections upto 2019 to see his dream pass else he would lose the numbers needed to pass for the constitutional amendments. Also, the term of the J&K assembly will have to reduce from 6 years to 5 years to bring it to the same length with the rest of the country.

Elections are a biggest celebrations of the human freedom and it is imperative that adequate security be put in place that all voters be at a peace of mind when the voting takes place. There needs to enough companies of paramilitary forces deployed so that voting can take place smoothly and free of violence. While it is true that Indian Paramilitary comprised of several different forces is stretched thin and has its hands full, with proper management and conducting the elections in multiple phases, the Indian Paramilitary forces are sufficient to conduct the elections smoothly. Also, since polling for both state and national assembly would be carried out in the same go, a single deployment of troops can ensure the protection without any hassles. This will also reduce the manpower requirement for the conduct of elections.

Now, a major question which arises is that what if any state assembly or worse, the national parliament are unable to reach a consensus on a new government or an elected government falls midway. In this case, by-polls for the region in question can be conducted and the newly elected government can hold charge for the remainder of the total duration, just like a constituency bypoll, only on a larger scale.

Hence, while it is true that simultaneous polls are a radical idea and its implementation, an uphill task but it nothing other the ordinary and the present dispensation can easily ensure its acceptance. However, if Narendra Modi loses in 2019, this idea will die a silent and quick death.

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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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Potential Consequences of Nuclear Politics in South Asia

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Established in 1948, Indian atomic energy commission turned towards United Kingdom for their first help in the making of Apsara. Subsequently, with a similar vision, the CIRUS reactor was supplied by Canada, where, the heavy water came from the United States.

India, over the years, has built a nuclear program that has led to the making of a number of reactors. India’s 1974 “Peaceful nuclear explosion” implies to their hegemonic ambitions as India has the capacity to produce around 300-400 nuclear weapons. The continuous upgradation of weapons by India could lead her as a hegemon nuclear power that can deeply unsettle Pakistan and China.

Calling into question India’s stated intentions, when it comes to nuclear tests, the plutonium for its 1974 and 1998 tests was diverted from its “civilian” nuclear facilities. After 1974, India continued to claim its explosion was “peaceful” and advocated global nuclear disarmament, even as it rejected proposals by Pakistan to denuclearize South Asia.

From Pokhran-I to Operation Shakti, India has traditionally relied on plutonium and thermonuclear technology. In 1992, the then Chairman of Department of Indian Atomic Energy  acknowledged that India had succeeded in the past for achieving the target of highly enriched uranium, while the centrifuge program was facing critical and technical hindrances. Also, it was admitted by the former Chairman of AEC, Raja Ramanna that India was working to produce more efficient centrifuges which were used for military purposes.  At the peak of all these developments, it is important to note that thermonuclear weapons have far more destructive power than a nuclear bomb.

India may also be considering using its civil power reactors to increase its stock of weapon-grade plutonium. Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s former top nonproliferation official told the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in March that the officials in the Bush administration had the ambition to sign a nuclear deal with India, to “work together to counter China- to be a counterweight to an emerging China.” He further expressed his views that the nuclear deal had unfortunate repercussions, because other nations concluded that Washington was playing favorites with India.

India is the only country in the region having uranium reserves that are higher than what other countries in the region hold. India has already received roughly 4,914 tons of uranium from France, Russia, and Kazakhstan, and it has agreements with Canada, Mongolia, Argentina, and Namibia for additional shipments. It also signed a uranium deal with Australia that has sparked considerable controversy at home.

This massive production of uranium annually can support its nuclear submarine program and current weapons grade plutonium production rate indirectly. These uranium reserves are enough for approx. 6-10 bombs per year.

Adding a twist to the existing fissile material build-up process, the Indo-US strategic partnership supplemented it. Under this dangerous bargain, it would continue to not only allow India to increase its fissile material but also the capacity to increase the build-up of nuclear weapon material.

Hence, the strategic stability in South Asia has been negatively impacted since the initial stages due to the hegemonic designs which India pursued with the start of CIRUS reactor. With the passage of time, the Indo-US nuclear deal and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver have already added more repercussions and now the discriminatory move to try to facilitate Indian NSG membership will further erode the strategic stability in South Asia.

Indian NSG membership and its potential exemption has adverse implications on non-proliferation regime. This has allowed India to expand its military program. As a result of 2008 exemption it has signed a number of agreement in nuclear domain with different countries. Interestingly, Mansoor Ahmed states that India has the capacity to utilize the uranium it is importing from these countries to produce more bombs.  The aforementioned reasons sum up India’s keenness to obtain NSG’s membership. This U.S.-backed move to make India a member of the NSG will be good neither for Pakistan nor for China, and it would set off nuclear instability in the region.

While looking at the dynamics of left alone Pakistan since late 1990’s, starting from Indo-US strategic partnership to now this geoploliticising of NSG. Consequently, this shall allow India to use all this a means of making the most optimum use of all its natural uranium stocks for weaponization. To offset the stakes, it might be prudent to have a close check on the international architects of India’s nuclear build-up. The alleged misuse of U.S. and Canadian controlled items by India must be enough to refrain from any cooperation if it is not abiding by group’s guidelines and commodity control list.

Furthermore, the more discriminatory the international nuclear order becomes, the less would be the effectiveness of deterrence and strategic balance in the region. The NSG will have to identify that India’s 1974 nuclear explosive test was the reason that nuclear supplier states established the NSG. It must also emphasize upon its commitment to uphold the principles of the nonproliferation.

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Who’s going to rescue Male?

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In the last three and a half years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, China has been allowed to easily interfere with the internal affairs of India’s close neighbors’. This demonstrates India’s reluctance to stand with its neighbors’as they face grave domestic challenges which require India’s assistance. The best example is the recent refugee crisis in Rakhine, western province of Myanmar, and the fleeing of the Rohingya Muslims to India and Bangladesh. Modi’s government only observes the issue from the perspective of security, and therefore seeks to send the refugees back to Myanmar; it does not attempt to resolve the crisis. India is supposed to take the lead in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis. However, its insular, defensive strategy has given the Chinese the opportunity to take a foothold; Modi is failing to address the situation. India is a country aspiring to become a major power but it is presently losing ground daily in the international power system. These raises serious doubt among the great powers and among those countries that desire and expect the rise of India.

The present Maldives crisis provides India with a chance to reclaim the trust of its neighbors. The first democratically elected President, Mohamed Nasheed, was arrested for terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years. In consequence of his health problems, he exiled in London now staying in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the Maldives’ Supreme Court has ordered (on 1 February 2018) the release of the former president Nasheed and the other twelve members of the opposition party. If President Yameen’s government complies with the court order, there is a good chance that it would lose its majority to the opposition party. Hence, Yameen refused to comply with the verdict of the court and declared a state of emergency. The Supreme Court has since taken a ‘U’ turn and revoked its judgment regarding the release of prisoners. Thus, Male is facing a great crisis.

In this article, I would like to argue that, since the Male crisis is occurring in the Indian Ocean Theater, it is for New Delhi to exercise its responsibility and resolve the crisis.

The Male Crisis

Modi skipped a visit to Male during his state visit in 2015 to the Indian Ocean countries. This was a policy mistake of the Modi’s government. Hence, “India’s leverage in the Maldives is less than it has ever been” (The Hindu). He should have visited at that time, to register a strong message in Male that ‘India will stand with them shoulder to shoulder to restore democracy’. This would have been a tough message to Yameen, to respect the law. Now, however, in the vacuum of the government’s mistake, Yameen is spreading his wings towards India’s adversaries – China and Pakistan. If it is allowed – this would be a serious security threat for India. China should not be allowed to dictate terms in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). So, by resolving the situation, Modi can rectify his past errors.

If India is to emerge from the containment strategy of China, then it should act with strategic assertiveness whilst simultaneously inviting both government and the opposition of Maldives’ to negotiating table, to recover the rule of law in Maldives, and allow elections to be conducted in September 2018.

India should now act sensibly by considering the request from ‘Nasheed the opposition camp’ for India’s support; they ask India “to send an envoy, backed by India’s military”. Nasheed believes that India alone can restore the democracy to the Island. Moreover, India cannot run from this emergency by citing “its long-standing claim not to interfere in other states’ affairs” (The Independent). The Indian Ocean is India’s backyard. India should not expect the West to come to the rescue of Male or allow China to interfere. The world knows that China is Yameen’s close ally. It also knows that the Male military has trained in Islamabad and that ammunition has been produced in Male with the support of Pakistan.

The traditional responses of India – such as “we are watching closely and are disturbed” – will not work this time nor gain any diplomatic advantage. This is the time for India to step in and prove that the Indian Ocean is indeed India’s Ocean, especially with increasing Chinese assertiveness therein. India should consider the sincere request of former president Nasheed, the condemnation of the West, and the support of the wider world.

China’s mouthpiece, The Global Times, advises that – ‘India must not interfere in Male’ as it has no justification. India is surrounded by more rogue states. If India does not interfere in resolving the Male crisis, then law breakers closer to home will presume that India’s desire to get along with China provides them with more impunity for breaking the law domestically. India’s relations with China have no space with Male crisis. Hence, India has the duty to reinstate democracy in the island nation of Maldives and proclaim to the world that India’s aspiration to become a major power has not faded. Modi should not forget that India is now a country with a “credible minimum nuclear deterrent”. Our “ballistic missile arsenal can deliver warheads on targets more than 5,000-km away – a range that encompasses China’s eastern centers”. India also possesses and we have the “air, sea, and land-based launching platforms” (CRS Report, 2017). India’s past leadership gave substantial power to Modi so that he would use it in situations of necessity like this, to safeguard India’s image on the Indo-Pacific stage.

Conclusion

What are the available solutions and who is going to rescue Male? The answer is very clear: India holds this responsibility.

First, whilst dealing in this matter, New Delhi should avoid crafting useless statements like “we are disturbed by watching the Male crisis”. This will not provide any positive results. India should being tough with the Yameen government; it should ring a bell about former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s realism of “1988’s Operation Cactus” to thwart the coup attempt to save the Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government in Male. Through this communication Yameen will have a chance to presume India’s strategic trajectory. Although China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the close allies of Yameen, India should not back down on this matter. To shy away from this challenge is akin to a suicide attempt for the Modi government. No one would accept this leadership if it took this course.

Second, India should communicate its stance with the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) countries, to stand together and to mount pressure on the Maldives. This would send a signal to Beijing that it ought to avoid any interference in the issue, and sternly warn Yameen, forcing him to reconsider his position.

Third, New Delhi could meanwhile obtain the backup of the US, EU, and Australia, to make a powerful statement of India’s intention to restore peace and order in Maldives.

Fourth, India should stand tall in this matter and tell the world that it is its duty and responsibility to earn and preserve the trust of other nations. This trust is now under serious threat, following the actions of the ruling elite in New Delhi. This trust was built brick by brick by India’s leaders in the last seven decades. To keep this trust with its ally alive, India should act wisely to maintain its interest in the Indian Ocean.

Fifth and finally, if Modi fails to defend India’s interest in the Indian Ocean, he should take moral responsibility. India’s neighbor is facing a very serious issue. It is also vulnerable to the influence of China in the Maldives, which increases whenever New Delhi stands still. If there is no keen watchfulness with China, there will be serious long-term consequences. This can be seen in Sri Lanka today.

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