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



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

Saudi Prince Mohammed’s religious moderation unlikely to change Asian realities

Dr. James M. Dorsey



Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be seeking to revert his kingdom to an unspecified form of moderate Islam but erasing the impact of 40 years of global funding of ultra-conservative, intolerant strands of the faith is unlikely to be eradicated by decree.

Not only because ultra-conservatism has taken root in numerous Muslim countries and communities, but also because it has given opportunistic politicians a framework to pursue policies that appeal to bigoted and biased sentiments in bids to strengthen their grip on power. Nowhere is that more evident than in Asia, home to several of the Islamic world’s most populous countries.

Examples of the fallout abound among recipients of Saudi largess. They include institutionalized discrimination In Pakistan against Ahmadis, a sect considered heretic by orthodox Muslims, as well as biased policies towards non-Muslims and Shiites in Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. The amendment was a condition for Saudi recognition of the young republic and the promise of substantial financial support.

Reports that Prince Mohammed in a dramatic gesture to Shiites, who have been discriminated against for years in the kingdom and demonized by its religious and political leaders as part of Saudi Arabia’s public affairs war with Iran, plans to visit the Shiite religious citadel of Najaf in Iraq is likely to do little to change things on the ground in Muslim majority nations in Asia.

Neither will his meetings with Christian religious luminaries in Egypt and elsewhere even if they demonstrate that Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s two most holy cities, is, under Prince Mohammed’s guidance, embracing principles of inter-faith dialogue and religious tolerance.

Reporting on a visit to the ultra-conservative Indonesian region of Aceh, Islam scholar Kamaruzzaman Bustamam-Ahmad noted that “supporters for anti-Shi’ah in Aceh are Wahabism, an Islamic political party, a group of young Acehnese who finished their study in the Middle East….They play their role in urban areas. After the Tsunami (in 2004), many of pesantrens (religious seminaries) from Wahabism were built in Aceh. They received funding from ‘outside’ Aceh.”

Bangladeshi journalist Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, who fled his country after a failed assassination attempt by religious militants, recently sketched Bangladesh’s migration from a nation founded with aspirations of “economic, political and intellectual emancipation” to one in which the “will of the military and its leadership was key in shaping politics towards selfishness and subornation” and “political parties are willing to go to any length to hold on to power.”

It was a process abetted by Saudi Arabia. Mr. Chowdhury noted that “the healthy trend of democratic and progressive politics was never able to regain a footing in Bangladesh” with freedom of speech and the press as one of its major casualties. Unlike human rights lawyer and writer Ikhtisad Ahmed, Mr. Chowdhury shied away from referring to the role of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism in his country’s political development.

One strand of ultra-conservatism, Salafism, that Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz wanted to elevate to an official Islamic school of thought shortly before his death in 2012, gained, according to  Mr. Ahmed, currency under the coalition government in the first years of the 21st century formed by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, a controversial group that opposed the country’s independence.

Like in Pakistan, of which Bangladesh was part until, 1971, the military as well as political parties maintained opportunistic ties to militants such as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jihad that were often as opposed to secularism as they were to Saudi-style monarchy.

As a result, Bangladesh, the world’s fourth largest Muslim nation, is at the heart of a struggle between liberalism and ultra-conservatism that questions Saudi Arabia’s legacy and is about reforms that go beyond anything envisioned by Prince Mohammed. It is a battle in which free-thinking, journalists, writers and intellectuals have paid a heavy price.

In the latest incident earlier this month, prominent scholar, award-winning science fiction author and outspoken critic of religious militants, Muhammed Zafar Iqbal was stabbed and seriously injured in a knife attack in the north-eastern town of Sylhet.

Mr. Iqbal was the latest victim of more than 30 machete attacks, shootouts, and bombings in Bangladesh in the past three years, including last year’s assault on the Holy Artisan Bakery in Dhaka in which 22 hostages were killed.

The country’s battle was fuelled by a 2010 Bangladesh Supreme Court decision to roll back the Saudi-inspired amendment of the constitution and restore secularism as its basic tenant as well as the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders for war crimes during the 1971 Pakistani-Indian war that gave birth to Bangladesh.

In response, ultra-conservatives and militants demanded death for “atheists and apostates” who had demonstrated in favour of the death penalties, stricter anti-blasphemy legislation and a crackdown on alleged un-Islamic cultural practices.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia, a country that is itself in transition, is unlikely to be backing the ultra-conservatives and militants. Yet, their struggle and deep-seated polarization in Bangladesh are offshoots of the kingdom’s past ultra-conservative support and the creation of an environment in which politicians and state organs can opportunistically exploit religious sentiment.

Criticism of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s weak response to the violence, if not inaction, coupled with the battle for the soul of Bangladesh serves as evidence that reversing the fallout of four decades of Saudi promotion of ultra-conservatism as an anti-dote to Iranian revolutionary zeal will take time and often be volatile. The same is true for efforts to counter creeping ultra-conservatism in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.

In fact, what the struggles in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia suggest is that today’s culprits are not Saudi Arabia, even if it bears a responsibility, but politicians and/or national governments. Said Mr. Chowdhury: The failure to bring culprits to justice in many of the recent attacks in Bangladesh has “been the deliberate goal of the government. It supports their ambition to continue holding on to power by silencing critics and pandering to the religious right.”

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South Asia

Hurdles in Pakistan’s Quest for Reaching Space



Space exploration is an expensive national objective for the state to pursue. In addition, if a state is a developing country facing much pressing traditional and non-traditional threats, space exploration has a tendency to end up an optional objective.

Every state has a right to prioritize which ever national objective it wants to achieve first. When it has issues like poverty, corruption, unemployment and terrorism etc. at hand, aiming for the space becomes a herculean task. Same happened in case of Pakistan.

However, a question arises that in the age of globalization, telecommunication and information technology is it plausible for a state to achieve its national objectives without investing into space technology? Space technology is becoming an essential as dependency on modern technology is increasing. Developing state cannot stand with developed nations of the world without investing into space technology. Space satellites are becoming a necessary technology to not only ensure state’s progress in information technology but they are vital for military interests of state as well. Space satellites are dual use technologies that are equally effective for military usage. These satellites enable the states in intelligence gathering, navigation and military communication, high resolution imagery and most importantly in developing early warning systems. With the help of early warning systems, states could detect the flight paths of incoming ballistic and cruise missile from enemy as well.

Though Pakistan is a developing state but it never shied away from pursuing ambitious technological pursuits. Pakistan’s space program “Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO)” established in 1961, is an example that as a nation importance of space exploration is not lost on state. Pakistan was the first country among its regional neighbors to pursue space program. However, these glittering generalities are part of the past that Pakistan witnessed regarding space satellites. Currently Pakistan is lagging in space program. In this day and age Pakistan has yet to launch remote sensing satellite in space which is essential in monitoring, recording change and in intelligence gathering as well.

Contrary to Pakistan its neighbor India which initiated its space program 8 years later, is now a record holder of sending more than 100 commercial and national satellites in one go. Furthermore, India has so far launched more than 100 satellites and establishes its network of satellites not only for commercial purposes but for military purposes as well. At the moment, India is using its 13 satellites for military purposes including Cartosat 1 and 2, Risat 1 and 2 and GSAT-7 or INSAT-4F for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over enemy areas.

The fact that India is also a developing country where the population is increasing and resources are becoming scarce by the day, is thought compelling. It is evident that by being mindful of military and economic benefits of space exploration India never gave up on its progress in arena of space technology. Significant contribution to India’s space program came from the development of strategic ties with the US and consequently its accession to MTCR and Wassenaar Arrangement. It’s beyond any reasonable doubt that India’s space program achieved its glorious heights after making strategic ties with the US.

International support received by India is one of the significant reasons behind robust success of its space program but the same is not the reason behind slow pace of Pakistan’s space program.

There are several contributing factors behind inactive space program that Pakistan is running. One of the biggest technical short comings Pakistan is still facing in its space satellite program is the dearth of launching vehicle for space satellite. The satellite launch vehicle enables a state to enter its payload into an outer orbit from earth’s surface through the help of carrier rocket. Recent telecommunication and digital satellite launched by Pakistan utilized China’s assistance. So, the biggest short coming in technical sphere is absence of satellite launch vehicle. Pakistan is a state with sufficient man power but needs financial sources to build satellite launch vehicles.

To reserve finances for space program it is essential that government builds state narrative on importance of space exploration as satellites are not only essential for military purposes but is also a growing industry. In a time where super power is governing international system through the help of information technology and globalization has massive effects on state affairs, space satellites are becoming economic opportunity to be seized. So far in South Asia only country which is tapping space is India and thus seizing all the economic benefits along with military benefits. Economic benefits of the space exploration are undeniable; states providing launch facilities to the host space satellites earn huge revenue for providing the launch facilities. At the moment, India is only South Asian regional player which is hosting commercial satellite and is even providing services to companies like Google.

Another concerning matter is smart spending of budget when it comes to technological innovation. This concern should be considered as the need of the hour for Pakistan. Lamentably, it is evident from the political history of Pakistan that the leadership in its particular residency was more concerned with spending on items that helped their political cause rather than for the matters of national interest.

Therefore, along with economic resources, public support and technical innovations to develop a space program at its full potential is mandatory. A democratic government should show staunch political resolve in favor of space exploration. This will not only enable Pakistan to have an eye in the sky but it can put money in state reserves by providing commercial services to international/national actors and take nation to glorious technological highlights. Moreover such initiatives are essential for making Pakistan self-sufficient state and will endorse the political resolve to alleviate unemployment by creating jobs in the new avenues for the generations to come.

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NAM, NaMo- NATO? Indian Foreign Policy in Transition

Akshat Upadhyay



Trajectory of a nation’s growth rests on its past, and looks towards a better future with the present middling its way, improving upon the former and consequently attempting to improve the latter. India has had the dubious distinction of being just stable and detached enough to warrant a cold shoulder, sometimes self inflicted, from the major powers at their heights of confrontation. It has never been a ‘frontline’ state in any ideological or grand struggle, be it the Second World War, the Cold War or the War on Terror. The country was led by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru for almost 17 years, the statesman also donning the role of External Affairs Minister and for a brief period of time, Defence Minister. These years were crucial as they shaped the way Indian strategic thinking would evolve. While its western neighbour Pakistan has milked its sponsor since 1947 by first presenting itself as an ally in the war against communism and later creating and charging to destroy a Frankenstein monster of terrorism, its huge eastern neighbour has thrived under a unique combination of communist authoritarianism and state sponsored capitalism, creating the perfect dialectic. However, India today has been accorded an opportunity to help usher in a more liberal international order or at least maintain the status quo, in face of an ambitious and belligerent China, state sponsored terrorism, non-state actors, migrant crisis, ethnic cleansing, an increasingly hostile nuclear environment and climate change.

What do I mean when I say India has an opportunity of a lifetime? Who or what presents this? Why only India? To answer this, lets take a broad look at the current international scenario, region wise. US, the borderline global superpower finds itself oscillating between an isolationist (withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP and Paris Climate Deal) and interventionist stance (Expanding presence in Africa, continuing interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, pressurising Iran and sanctions on North Korea). From an overt nuclear posture to assisting the Taliban and colluding with Pakistan, Iran and China, Russia presents a broad spectrum of challenge (subconventional to nuclear) to the US and its allies. The entire West Asia/ North Africa (WANA) region is in disarray. Turkey has initiated its own war with the Syrian Kurds, post military rout of ISIS, with battles raging in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Iran may suffer a renewed round of sanctions. Most of South and South East Asia has been charmed, coerced or compelled to be part of China’s or more specifically Xi Jinping’s mega project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The future of EU is uncertain. A migrant crisis, coupled with Brexit, lone wolf attacks and rise of xenophobia has forced cracks in the supra-state. India, due to its current stability and especially its past stands on the cusp. An opportunity has been created due to a diametrically opposite combination of India’s past and present resulting in a transitional foreign policy whose future is still uncertain.

India has followed a policy of strategic restraint since its independence. Its leaders saw the armed forces as wasteful expenditure and contributors to imperialism. The Non Aligned Movement (NAM) was created by Nehru, in conjunction with prominent leaders of the Third World, out of a need to stay away from the two heavily militarised Cold War camps. India’s posture of non alignment had benefits for Jawaharlal Nehru’s image as an internationalist. It also created India’s image as a non-aggressive, peace loving nation and a chaotic yet stable democracy which believed in the rule of law. However, as an incipient nation state, flanked on two sides by hostile neighbours, India found it difficult to carve out a strategy to either contain, suppress or rationalise relations with Pakistan or China. Fears of an omnipotent military, exacerbated by coups and dictatorship in Pakistan and China distanced the political class further from the armed forces. As a result, India was able to generate military force but never military power, an important component of any state’s foreign policy. After all, a country’s success in its foreign affairs, whether one may admit it or not, rests to a great extent on its country’s coercive strength, whether latent or overt. Non alignment also meant missing out on security umbrellas, technical knowhow and state of the art weaponry. What non alignment did allow was for India to attempt to chart an independent course for itself. By taking part in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) in the aftermath of the Korean war, it established itself as an impartial mediator in conflict resolution. It undertook a genuine humanitarian intervention by stopping the genocide in then East Pakistan in 1971. However, shackled by Nehruvian restraint, India, whether under the Congress or the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), still tried to act and behave under a moral shroud, unmindful of the dangers of indirectly appeasing a country like Pakistan which kept on pushing India’s non-existent red lines.

India, on the eve of national elections of 2014 was on shaky ground, in terms of international prestige and national security. BJP’s election manifesto of 2014 promised a sea change in India’s foreign policy and national security apparatus including an overhaul and review of India’s strategic nuclear programme. Instead of treaties and deals based out of fear or dependence, this manifesto aimed at leveraging India’s advantages in constructing a web of interlocking relationships that would be favourable to all parties involved. Instead of behaving as an arrogant power or regional hegemon, India invited all the countries in its neighbourhood to interact with it on an egalitarian basis. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi (NaMo) embarked on an ambitious tour of countries (56 and counting) in his three years since coming to power on a landslide victory. Following an aggressive stance and creating personal rapports with heads of states, NaMo revitalised India’s foreign policy. From heavily focusing on the economic and strategic parameters of its relations with ASEAN and beyond in a revamped Act East Policy to strengthening ties to the US to connecting with West Asia and Iran, NaMo has prioritised India’s national interests above everything else. Some of the foreign policy benefits that have accrued to India due to NaMo are:

Conversion of Look East into Act East

Given that around half of India’s foreign trade is dependent on the economies of South and South East Asia, it was just a matter of time when India had to focus on the region. Actuation of the Act East Policy (AEP) is an acceptance of the same. AEP heavily focuses on increasing connectivity between India’s still-neglected North East and the East Asian countries. A number of connectivity projects have been initiated, both single mode and multi-modal, to give impetus to people-to-people and economic links. AEP has graduated from a solely economic and cultural policy to a more strategic one, with the Indian Navy playing an important role in ensuring safe passage of merchant traffic and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), apart from conducting multinational exercises and humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) operations. The Indian Navy’s primary area now extends from the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Southwest Indian ocean, Indian Ocean Region (IOR) island nations and East African littoral states, while the secondary area for the first time addresses South China Sea (SCS) as well as Western Pacific and East China Sea. Indian warships will start patrolling the Malacca Straits for protecting the SLOCs. This is a signal that India aims to act as a Net Security Provider for the SLOCs passing through the greater Indo-Pacific region. Signing of an agreement giving Indian ships logistics rights at Changi, Singapore is a step in that direction. India has also agreed to take part with Japan, Australia and the US in a grouping of democracies called the Quadrilateral (Quad). This has been ostensibly to coordinate in the fields of ensuring Freedom of navigation (FoN) in international waters, a free and open region and adherence to rule of law but considered as a counter to rising Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Many analysts consider it as the beginning of an ‘Asian NATO’ though its feasibility still remains to be tested.

Neighbourhood First Policy

NaMo has focused on improving relations with its neighbours, although that seems to be floundering at the moment. From HADR missions to Maldives, indirect financing of weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) through Russia, negotiations over Teesta waters and exchange of enclaves, concluding a civil nuclear agreement with Sri Lanka and attempting dialogue with Pakistan, NaMo government has made connecting with the neighbourhood his priority. NaMo has understood that for India to flourish economically, militarily and culturally, its neighbourhood has to offer a conducive environment. This can only with an active policy of shaping events and policies as per its national interests. India has offered SAARC nations benefits of telecommunications and e-medicines through the use of SAARC satellite, sacrificed real estate on its eastern border for better relations with Bangladesh and come to Bhutan’s aid when defending its territorial integrity in face of Chinese aggression. India has however sent tough signals to Pakistan that its benevolence cannot be taken for granted by conducting surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads post the Uri attacks of September 2016.

Entries into Strategic Clubs

Modi’s presentation of India as an emerging power and his personal style of diplomacy has ensured entry of India into various ‘untouchable’ clubs and groupings such as the Australia Group, Wassenaar Agreement and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This has helped India in inching close to the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which will help in it gaining access to unprecedented nuclear material, technology and equipment, without acceding to signing the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Also, India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) may help it in gaining access to the Central Asian Republics (CAR), alternatives to India’s dependence on the Middle East for energy sources.

Closing in with the US

With an unprecedented five trips to the US, Modi has indicated a definite change in its non aligned mode towards coordinating with the US on a number of converging issues. India’s entry into important clubs and groups has been facilitated by the US, its status has been upgraded to being a Major Defense Partner of the US, it has been feted as a pivot for countering China through the Quad and President Trump in his newly unveiled Afghanistan strategy has admitted to India’s stabilising role in the war-torn country. Major defence deals such as acquisition of M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers, C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Guardian drones for the Airforce have resulted in the further diversification of India’s arsenal, long dependent on Russia. The US has designated Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), an old pro Pakistan terrorist organisation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) along with placing its chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist. An India-specific Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) has been signed based on the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). However the rest two foundational agreements also need to be agreed upon and signed in order to provide a platform for future collaboration with the US forces in countering common foes and sharing of sophisticated technology with India. There however needs to be a note of caution for India for not hugging the American coast too closely, as it still needs to find its feet.

Under NaMo’s leadership, India is currently transitioning from a strategic self restraint phase to a more assertive one. But this can easily be set aside as an aberration rather than the accepted norm considering India’s past policy of under-influencing events. The momentum that has been gained will suffer setbacks as happened in Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka but India has to push on. India has to accept the rise and ascendance of China on the world stage. It has to accept that it cannot match China’s financial investments in its neighbourhood that have led to China leaning governments in Nepal and Maldives, re-encroachment on Doklam in Bhutan and fructifying of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India’s tryst with realism is still in its infantile stage due to a number of reasons. The way forward is to leave the past of non alignment behind, and engage the world based on its priorities. This will lead to situations where policy decisions affecting one country may be a hindrance to another. A classic example is India’s relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). On one hand, India has a major strategic relationship with Israel especially in arms deals, on the other India trains the officers of PA’s small military in its academies. These discrepancies will arise and will have to be dealt with in a diplomatic and mature manner. Instead of Non Alignment, India needs to follow National Alignment, facets of which can be summarised below:-

Improving Diplomatic Footprint

Though NaMo leads from the front when engaging nations, this personal touch must be seen as a superimposition over India’s diplomatic prowess and not as a standalone setup. India’s pool of 3000 diplomats compares poorly with countries such as Japan (5700), South Korea (4500) and the US (20000). Change of government may reduce the personal nature of diplomacy currently being followed and dedicated and expanded cadre of officers will be able to handle the political fluctuations.

Countering China

China has arrived on the global stage. This is a fact. States have to learn to live with this. Despite the US egging on India to take on China and Japan clamouring for giving the Quad more teeth, India needs to realise its present strengths and limitations. It needs to deal with China more diplomatically and needs to give dialogue more opportunity to work. It has to realise that the US and Japan each have their own motives to counter China and those motives may not resonate with India. India needs to focus on reducing its trade deficit with China, upgradation of its border infrastructure and engaging in dialogue but ceding no space on Doklam. Despite India’s stance on CPEC crossing India’s sovereign territory, a pragmatic decision can be made on agreeing to be part of BRI as India’s projects in South East Asia will invariably clash with it, and a collaboration outlook should be more constructive for the countries involved. Indian armed forcesneed to be upgraded in its eastern sector to deter Chinese aggression.

Keeping Promises

India needs to slow down future investments and step up completion of already promised projects in various countries. The much heralded Trilateral Highway connecting India’s North East to Myanmar and Thailand, a crucial link in India’s AEP still remains incomplete with the earliest completion date now being pushed to 2020. India’s soft loans of around $24.2 billion in the form of ‘lines of credit’ to various countries in Central America and Africa also needs constant monitoring.

Stop Moralising, Start Realpolitiking

It is not important that two countries’ national interests align perfectly. Although US expects its allies and major strategic partners to follow its foreign policy, India needs to chart its own course as per National Alignment. As an example, post pullout of the US from the Paris climate agreement, India must coordinate more deeply with China with regards to climate change. Despite voting against shift of Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, India can still expect to consummate an extensive arms deal with the country. India also needs to take on board the US, Russia and China in terms of countering terror. As of now, India seems to be the only country that seems to straddle many boats and in the process, promote a horizontal bonhomie amongst nations.

The days of the strategic alliances are all but over. NATO may have got a second chance at survival with the resurgence of Russia but whether Article Five of collective defence will be sustained by the Europeans is not as clear as it states. The current US administration’s self professed isolationism in major issues has put the efficacy of security umbrellas in question. India, unlike the US, understands that all international problems do not have a military solution. It needs to step away from contemplating a NATO like model, even with like minded democracies (Quad) and focus on diversification that helps its national interests. But it should also shed its inhibitions regarding establishment of overseas bases, basing of ships and troops of other countries and conducting joint exercises with the Quad on ground and air. The idea of two mutually destructive superpowers sitting on an arsenal of nuclear weapons can be replaced with that of society of states with economic, cultural and technical linkages but with adequate coercive power to deter a challenge. What lies in India’s destiny? Part of a NATO like entity or an independent yet interconnected foreign policy? Its the latter that would benefit the entire world.

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