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
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.
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?
The problem of pellet guns in Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of the Indian union dogged with an overridden unhealthy political atmosphere. The valley of Kashmir is beset with a major governance deficit which has given renewed impetus to the dissenting voices of the masses day in and day out. Dissent is the hallmark of a democracy which acts as a medium for the expression of the masses against the system. There are certain rights and duties guaranteed by the Indian constitution for the citizens, including the right to freedom of expression and right to life. Caught in the quagmire of a political crisis that has deeply permeated the society, the people in Kashmir from time to time vent up their dissent. Hartals are the tools for the masses through which they ventilate their pent up emotions. Kashmir is not a different case. It is also amuck with crisis and caught in a looming distress day in and day out. Kashmir is the most sensitive zone of the whole Asian sub-continent, where situations turn awry with the passage of time, like the seasons of the year and is the only state of the Indian Union where there has been a reckless use of the pellet guns without any regard for the precious life of the common man. This is a sort of dichotomy.
The use of pellet guns is a major problem which has not only maimed, blinded and killed the masses, but also shaken the collective conscience of the people, who have fallen prey to a different approach of dichotomy of the government. The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 brought about a volcanic eruption in valley which not only deteriorated the situation in Kashmir, but also increased the massive alienation of the masses. The waves of grief and anger against the day-to-day killings and maims that the people felt increased with each passing day. In order to control the crisis, the security agencies used the deadly pellets which caused heavy damage to the sufferers. More than 1200 people lost their vision in 2016. According to a report of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), more than 75% people suffered injuries due to pellet guns, ranging from minor to major in 2016.There was a heavy loss of life.
Although small in size, these black metallic balls have deteriorated our young generation. The use of pellet guns has wreaked crisis in Kashmir. For the security agencies, it is meant to disperse the crowds, but, for the common masses, it is a problematic affair. Pellet guns are pump-action shotguns which fire a cluster of small, round, metal pellets with high velocity over a broad range.
Recently, after the killing of a militant from Pahalgam area during the anti-establishment protests, a number of people were injured due to pellet A nurse working in the same area personally told me that we healed at least 100 plus pellet injured victims. The bloody Sunday of this year’s April and the subsequent clashes of the protestors with the security agencies left many injured, with multiple cases of pellet injuries to the eyes of the protestors.
Naseer Ahmad Bhat of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag was killed by the security forces during the post-Burhan phase of 2016 protests in Kashmir. He was an able worker and a good cricketer who fell silent to the pellets. Not only the collective conscience of the people was shaken, but also a state of disparity ensued. These deadly pellets have not even spared the school going children and snatched the power of seeing of the victims. Insha, a pellet victim who passed her matriculation examination last year despite odds is an inspiring hope for the likewise victims.
Pellets cause a number of biological ramifications in the victim, like the loss of vision, the state of paralysis, in case, the damage is caused to the spinal cord, defacements, and death in case of damage to the vital organs of the body, like, heart, kidneys, lungs, brain, etc. Moreover, the pangs of guilt that a victim suffers in silence dishearten one and all. The use of pellet guns as a crowd-control method during protests, whether in case of cordon and search operations (CASO) or common protests has added a volley of questions to the psyche of the common man? Being a part of the Indian union, that two acing the crown, Kashmir has been treated otherwise all through the passing times. People have got million queries, but, there are no solid answers to their problems and subsequent tactful solutions.
The substitution of pellet guns with PAVA shells can in no way control the crisis. The way people of other parts of the country are treated should form a close semblance in case of protests in Kashmir. Why the security forces are using pellets and bullets against the people whom the system claims with a sense of belonging. There can be other alternatives, like the use of water cannons without any damage and subsequent ensuing crisis that engulfs the society and creeps the psyche of the common men. If this is the notion of the system to punish dissent, then dissent itself takes a u-turn of additions and alterations with the passage of time. The bleeding valley is giving a close call for one and all to unite and ensue a state of peace and order. There is an urgent requirement of the administrative and political will to stop the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.
Whatever is happening to the people of Kashmir has not been experienced by the other people of the country. After all, it is a question of humanity. People suffer out of the ways as circumstances decide or may be destined otherwise. But to expect a peaceful valley without the intervention of a political will would be an underestimation of statements. There is a dual intolerance in Kashmir, one from the people and next from the system. The systematic targeting of the protestors from a point blank range irrespective of regard for the human life has shattered several families in Kashmir
Kashmir is passing through the phases of testing times with each passing day. The ugly turn of the situations and recurring events and the amateur dealing of the same has created an unhealthy atmosphere everywhere, where people have lost faith in the governance systems. The safety and security of every Tom, Dick and Harry is the looming question of the hour. Exits from dwellings and adieus from home don’t guarantee the safe return of the leavers. The interlocutor of the centre in vale, Mr. Dineshwar Sharma once reiterated that, ‘the priority is to prevent Kashmir turning into Syria’. The imbroglio has crippled the educational scenario, down slowed the economy, increased the unemployment, but, above all, the ultimate question is the redressal of the problem at stake, which for God sake can erupt into a lava-laden volcano one day and engulf the whole peace, stability and order of the South Asia, if not tactfully handled in the current times by the government.
The victory of BJP at the centre with the thumping majority after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ falls short of words and has partially failed in the state of J&K.The killings of the common masses are in no way remedies to the political ailments. There should be the ultimate regard for the human lives. Why has the blood of the people become so cheap .When will peace return to the valley of Kashmir? The government of India had constituted an expert committee in July 2016 to explore other possible alternatives to pellet guns as non-lethal weapons. Although, the committee submitted its report and the recommendations were taken into account by the government for implementation. But, what happened afterwards lies in the public domain for discussion. The use of pellet guns is tantamount to the violation of rights of the people.
In order to direct the valley towards the state of peace and development, the role of multiple players of India, Pakistan and Valley is necessary. This way the government can make a significant contribution in the restoration of normalcy. The need of the hour is the unity of all the stakeholders of the society, like government, non-governmental parties, NGO’s, etc. to help these pellet victims via financial or other means.
Although, there has been a strong criticism of the use of pellet guns not only at the local level ,but also at the international level, but the main part of the problem resolution lies with the government of India and the state. Although, much has been said and written about the people of Kashmir with the flow of waters of the river Jhelum, but the stability of the region is a farfetched dream. Here, comes the role of the government into play. The use of pellet guns against the dissenting masses has wreaked havoc and wounded the collective psyche of the people, particularly those who have lost their near and dear ones due to the deadly metallic balls. Those who have fully or partially lost the vision and are living in dark suffer in silence. The government should review the situation and put a full stop for the future use of pellet guns. Those who have lost their dear ones should be financially compensated or by provision of bread and butter. However, the clarion call of the people is the complete ban and stoppage of these pellet guns in order to prevent the further damage and restore the faith of the people in the system. The government of India should pass a resolution to put a terminal pause to the use of pellet guns in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The vital task for the current times is to build a consensus for the total pellet ban. The use of non-lethal methods by the security agencies like water cannons could be the best alternatives. This will not only restore the faith of the people in governance, but also generate a feeling of belongingness among the masses. The bruised scars of the pellets have defaulted the trust of the people in the political system. Although, the situation is worrisome for one and all, but, in which direction the boat sails lies with the future course of action. After all action speaks louder than the words.
Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions
Ever since 1998; the beginning of Pakistan’s nuclear age, the state’s self-defense mechanism has been a source of worry and unrest for India and the US. Both these states never really accepted that a small state like Pakistan could develop the prestigious asset and was now well capable of defending itself against external threats. US opposed the program on the grounds that it had been tested after the signing of NPT and that it is an “illegitimate” program. Their basic concern was Pakistan not being a party to NPT and US non-proliferation efforts failing. India, though very much against the program, could not openly oppose it on the same grounds because its own Nuclear Program had the same issue i.e. it was tested after the signing of NPT and they had also not signed the treaty.
There are a lot of ambiguities surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear program which are there intentionally for the benefit and security of the program and state. However, there is one thing which has been kept very clear since day one and that is the Indo centric nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The program was developed because the conventionally strong next door neighbor had developed their program. Pakistan, in an attempt to ensure territorial security, had to develop its own program as well. US, China, Russia, France or the UK were never a threat to Pakistan nor was Pakistan on their attack agenda. India on the other hand was in close territorial proximity, a historic enemy, conventionally stronger and now also a nuclear power. After evaluating all these factors any national strategist would suggest a nuclear program for Pakistan and that is exactly what the state did.
There have been news in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that Pakistan is more of a threat to Israel than Iran. This was published on 20 May, 2018. The grounds for this allegation have been identified as Pakistan’s growing arsenal and other similar reasons which have always been popular in the western policy circles. Iran, a conventional enemy, one with which there have been numerous conflicts, has been ruled out as a threat to Israel since they do not have a nuclear arsenal.
However, there are many concrete facts that have been ignored in this propagating debate. For instance Pakistan has had no wars with Israel. Both the states have never even been on the verge of an all-out war. The states have never even had a conflict that could’ve led to war. Although Iran does not have a nuclear arsenal at present but that did not stop the states from indulging into conflicts before and although initiating a nuclear war might not be a possibility for Iran but a conventional war is very much within their skill set.
Pakistan is already indulged in a two front defense strategy on its eastern and western borders. The Taliban threat from the west and the ever present Indian threat from the east, particularly along the line of control is already consuming most of the state’s energy, attention and resources. Under such circumstances, jumping into any sort of venture as far as Israel without any apparent or direct conflict seems like an amateur move which is not expected from Pakistan whatsoever. If any linkages are being made based on the fact that Iran and Israel have cordial ties then they are weak to begin with. On the other hand India and Iran have more than friendly ties and India’s nuclear arsenal is growing rapidly with the US help. However, this does not mean that just because India is a nuclear state and a friend of Iran, it will be inclined to attack Israel.
Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for the safety and security of the nation against any external threat. The program is not for the state to pick and choose enemies and start non-existing conflicts. That is definitely not how Pakistan intends to use its resources and deviate from the real agenda which is to protect the state of Pakistan. The only condition under which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons against any state would be if they choose to attack the territory of Pakistan in a nuclear or non-nuclear manner. The state has been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning of its nuclear era.
Behind Indo-Pacific Vision
Mike Pompeo’s recent speech titled, ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision – at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum’ at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC has been carefully observed across Asia. Beijing has understandably, paid close special attention to it. Pompeo emphasized on the need for greater connectivity within the Indo-Pacific, while also highlighting the role which the US was likely to play (including financial investments to the tune of 113 Million USD in areas like infrastructure, energy and digital economy). The US Secretary of State while stating that this vision was not targeted at anyone, he did make references to China’s hegemonic tendencies, as well as the lacunae of Chinese connectivity projects (especially the economic dimension).
The Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s speech was interesting. Senior Chinese government officials were initially dismissive of the speech, saying that such ideas have been spoken in the past, but produced no tangible results.
An article in the Global Times ‘Indo-Pacific strategy more a geo-political military alliance’ response is significant. What emerges clearly from this article is that Beijing is not taking the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’ lightly, and neither does it rule out the possibility of collaboration. The article is unequivocal, in expressing its skepticism, with regard to the geo-political vision of the Indo-Pacific vision. Argues the article:
While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert
It is optimistic with regard to the geo-economic dimension, saying that this would be beneficial, and would promote economic growth and prosperity. What must be noted is that, while the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been put forward as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the article also spoke about the possible complementarities between the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ and China’s version of BRI. While Mike Pompeo had spoken about a crucial role for US private companies in his speech, the article clearly bats in favor of not just between Indian, Japanese, Chinese, US governments as well as companies. This is interesting, given the fact that China had gone to the extent of dubbing the Indo-Pacific vision as the foam on the sea” “that gets attention but will soon dissipate”
While there is absolutely no doubt, that there is immense scope for synergies between the Indo-Pacific vision, and BRI especially in the economic sphere. China’s recent openness towards the Indo-Pacific vision is welcome, but one of the propelling factors is the growing resentment against the economic implications of some BRI projects. While in South Asia, Sri Lanka is a classical example of China’s debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing provides loans at high interest rates (China has taken over the strategic Hambantota Project, since Sri Lanka has been unable to pay Beijing the whopping 13 Billion USD). Even in ASEAN grouping, countries are beginning to question the feasibility of BRI projects, Malaysia which shares close economic ties with Beijing is reviewing certain Chinese projects (this was one of the first steps undertaken by Mahathir Mohammad after taking over the reigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia).
Second, that while for long the Indo-Pacific Vision has been dubbed as a mere ‘expression’ and one of the criticisms has been a lack of gravitas in the economic context (and even now 113 Million USD is not sufficient). Developments over recent months, including the recent speech, indicate that The Department of State seems to be keen to dispel this notion that the Indo-Pacific narrative is bereft of substance. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Pompeo’s speech was followed by an Asia visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore).
Countries which are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific narrative need to keep in mind the following:
US needs to walk the course and apart from investing, more it needs to think of involving more countries, including Taiwan and more South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific partnership.
Second, the Indo-Pacific speaks in favor of democracy as well as greater integration, but not only are countries becoming more inward looking, even their stand on democracy, and Human Rights is ambiguous. Japan is trying to change its attitude towards immigration, and is at the forefront of promoting integration and connectivity within the Indo-Pacific. Neither US, nor India, Japan or Australia have criticized China for its excesses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.
Finally, there is scope for China to be part of the Indo-Pacific, but it needs to look at certain projects beyond the rubric of the BRI. A perfect instance is the Bangladesh China, India Myanmar BCIM Corridor which India was willing to join, but China now considers this project as a part of BRI.
In conclusion, Beijing can not be excluded from the ‘Indo-Pacific’ narrative, but it can not expect to be part of the same, on its own terms. It is also important, for countries like US and India to speak up more forcefully on issues (within their domestic contexts, as well as external) pertaining to Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and immigration issues, given that all these are essential for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’
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