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African Challenge, African Hope: Resource-seeking by the Indian State

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Authors: Suresh George & Andrew Amayo

This paper attempts to analyze how the Indian state is managing its institutional strategy in the midst of inter-state competition for energy resources in the African continent. On its way to becoming the third largest economy globally, India is expected to import 61% of its energy resources, while the demand for energy resources by India is expected to outpace that of China by 2035 (BP 2014).

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, visited key energy-rich states in the first six months of his election, proving that India is no longer content with playing ‘catch-up’ to other resource-seeking states (Saritha 2014) and is redefining its state-driven energy security strategy.

Energy security is one of the Indian state’s chief strategic and political issues as it seeks to consolidate its economic success over the recent decade. Dadwal and Sinha indicate that over 70% of India’s crude oil demand was met through imports using a mixture of short-term policy mechanisms built on relationships with international oil companies (IOC) and to seek preferential terms from these IOCs. Today, the state is seeking to acquire energy assets overseas and competing with IOCs and National Oil Companies (NOC) within a formal resource-driven approach. India’s growing oil demand has forced the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to ‘acquire acreages abroad for exploration as well as production.’ (Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas 1999). A new institutional approach that has been enshrined in the state’s ‘India Hydrocarbon vision 2025 report’ clearly points to a more aggressive resource-based approach from the Indian State. This new energy security approach indicates that the state is using multiple approaches to drive resource-seeking, especially in the African context.

These strategies can be broadly classified into the following:

1.A market-based approach of energy security

2. An institutional-based approach using all state and non-state assets to seek and obtain access to energy sources

3.A security-based approach that offers a security umbrella to resource-rich actors.

Some of the specifics of these approaches are:

(i)The Indian state has begun to leverage India’s energy “Buyer Power” to access quality E&P projects abroad or what we would like to define as a market-based energy security approach.

(ii)Diversification of Energy Supply: The Indian state is also considering several diversification options to ensure supply security; hence the need for diversification into new supply sources as well as securing new routes of supply.

(iii)The inclusion of the private sector through the Confederation of Indian Industry’s energy division that has been holding seminars and conferences, increasing the visibility and uptake of the state’s new approach.

(iv)The creation of a specialised energy security cell within the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) that is staffed with career diplomats who have expertise in specific and strategic markets that India would like to access as well as defense and industry experts in the field of energy asset acquisition.

(v)The use of diplomatic and political strategies for the import of energy resources from geographically close states has become an instrument of state policy enshrined in its institutional-based approach. For years, policy mandarins have indicated that state inertia combined with a lack of coordination amongst several ministries prevented the Indian state from competing with China. This is no longer the case apparently.

(vi)Indian foreign policy and its execution by the Foreign Service are of prime importance in this new scenario. The Indian state is moving aggressively to increase the diplomatic corps as well as language /geography specialists.

(vii)The policy of the state to encourage the transportation of crude oil through Indian flag vessels was proposed as a form of its security-based approach. An example of this approach has been the very recent political engagement India is seeking with Indian Ocean states. According to Chatterji (2015) the security-based approach is a response to protect the sea-lanes of communication (SLOC) that transport India’s energy resources as well as to increase the state’s ability to extract resources from newer distant markets.

(viii)The new reality of geostrategy within Asia, with China acting aggressively in both the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, is forcing India to abandon its traditional non-aligned approach and move to aggressively engage its immediate neighbourhood.

The importance of the African continent and renewed focus on East Africa in particular has been visible in the political and economic engagement of the Indian state. In 2011 India imported over 21% of its total oil and gas imports from 8 African countries, with India’s national oil company OVL planning to invest $12 billion, focusing primarily on African connections. (Pradhan 2012) In addition, a joint-venture with ONGC and the Mittal group announced a $6 billion investment in Nigeria to set up a refinery, power plant, and railway infrastructure. (Pradhan 2012)

The Chief Executive of the world oil and gas assembly, Narendra Taneja, has been quoted in Pradhan (2012), stating that ‘today’s growth story is India and in 15 to 20 years the growth story will be Africa. India wants to be in Africa as a strong partner.’ There is a renewed focus on East Africa due to historical connection and the influence of the Indian diaspora within the economic sector of several African states. In addition, the Indian state feels that governments in East Africa are becoming more transparent and willing to do business with Indian firms. Several Indian companies have already been engaging with East Africa for export markets as well as to provide new segments for products and services. As an example, one of India’s largest telecom providers, BHARTI Telecom, is currently one of Africa’s biggest telecom service providers. But in spite of Africa’s potential, India has been slow to engage due to the perceived inability of the state to compete with China in resource-seeking on purely commercial terms as well as the political difficulties of engaging with fairly unstable states in the region.

We attempt to look at this issue through an analysis of India’s involvement in Kenya. The state of Kenya in Africa was chosen partly due to its historical connections to India and the researchers access to key political and economic elite within the Kenyan state. Consideration was also given to Kenya’s status as a new oil producer state, the role of the Indian diaspora in its development, and its recent key engagement with Asian powers. India’s NOC, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC), through its overseas exploration subsidiary ONGC Videsh (OVL), has been reported to be considering the takeover of Tullow Oil PLC in Kenya. (Verma 2014) By taking over the company, the Indian state through OVL will have access to existing oil fields in the Turkana region of Kenya as well as the Jubilee oil field in the offshore waters of Ghana. (Verma 2014) This study focuses on three key aspects: the resource-based view approach used by firms; the institutional context of how firms deploy a mixture of resources and institutional capabilities to obtain the best possible competitiveness advantage; and how the state creates and fosters specific policy and institutional environments that support these strategies.

Figure 1 :Author Analysis of existing state owned Oil Assets

Some of the resource-seeking activities of the Indian state in key African markets from (Pradhan 2012) are:

africanmarkets

(i)Nigeria- ONGC and the Mittal group. Another private firm, the Essar group, is reported have procured exploration and production blocks in Nigeria as well. The Gas authority of India Ltd (GAIL) is also looking to invest in a liquefied natural gas plant in Nigeria.

(ii)Egypt – The Gas authority of India Ltd (GAIL) is reported to have entered into a joint venture with Egyptian natural gas (NATGAS) to distribute gas in Egypt.

(iii)Mozambique- Reliance industries and the Essar group have sought official government permission to bid for new exploration and production blocks.

(iv)Sudan – ONGC Videsh (OVL) was expected to invest $200 million in a 741 km pipeline that would link Port Sudan with the capital, Khartoum.

(v)Mauritius – In March 2006 India signed an MoU with Mauritius for the exploration of its offshore waters

(vi)South Africa- India’s negotiating to set up a compressed natural gas network.

(vii)Kenya – ONGC Videsh (OVL) plans to take over Tullow Oil PLC. By taking over the company, the Indian state through OVL will also have access to the offshore waters of Ghana.

Despite historical closeness to the continent as well as geographical proximity, the Indian state has not deployed any of its diplomatic assets or soft power because of the lack of institutional will to truly engage the African continent. The geographical proximity of Africa is one of the key reasons why there was renewed interest in Africa as a market and also due to the resources available in offshore waters. The African continent provides India with a wealth of opportunities in an ocean that the Indian state has dominated. Most of the African states around the Indian Ocean, like South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania, have historically attracted Indian investment and trade partnerships. In addition, India has been working to nurture relations with other oil-producing states like Nigeria, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. For example, in 2011 India signed a uranium agreement with Namibia and has also used state-owned companies like ONGC Videsh, private owned firms like the Tata group, and Vedanta resources to buy stakes in key resource assets. The potential of Africa as an alternative to dependence on the Middle East was also pursued by the Indian government through special government-to-government supply contracts as well as through special lifting quotas of oil resources. There is still much to be done to see the full realization of Indian development on the African continent. But progress is being made and the future will likely only see more intensive engagement and pursuit of mutually beneficial activities. Much of the literature today focuses on China’s presence in Africa. May this be the first step in making more realize how important a player India will be there as well.

(*) Andrew Amayo is a member of the faculty at Birmingham City University in the UK.

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Religion Freedom Index of Bangladesh: Current Developments and Government Responses

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Pope Francis joins in prayers led by a Rohingya Muslim man at an inter-religious conference at St Mary’s Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on December 1, 2017. Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) recently published its annual Religious Freedom in the World 2021 Report (RFR) that scrutinizes the situation for all major religion groups in 196 countries across the world. The report found that, over the past two years, oppression against susceptible faith communities has augmented in all but one of the 26 countries listed in the survey’s worst (‘red’) category. Bangladesh is that only country whose position on the red list of religious persecution remains unchanged.

The annual report says that religious freedom is being undermined in one out of every three countries in the world which composed two-thirds of the world population. 62 countries out of a total of 196 face severe violations of religious freedom. The situation of minorities in India and Pakistan is deteriorating further. The situation in China and Myanmar is the worst. According to the report, the situation is worse in 95 percent of the 26 countries where persecution is taking place. Nine new countries have been included in this list- seven from Africa and two from Asia.

The report on Bangladesh says that the torture of minorities has not increased in recent years but the influence of Islamic groups is increasing in the politics of Bangladesh. However, the government has been successful in subdue the influence and maintaining religious freedom. For instance, after the rise of Islam-fabric politicization leading by “Hefazat-e-Islam”, the top leaders and at least 375 people nabbed for their recent violent activities. The strict position of law enforcement agencies against the rampage of the group denotes the zero-tolerance of Bangladesh government in ensuring religious freedom and upholding “secularism” which is one of the state principals of its constitution. The argument can be evident with the recent report of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) titled, “Bangladesh and Pakistan: acting against extremism versus making a show of acting against extremism”. Highlighting the activities of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam (HIB) in Bangladesh and the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) in Pakistan, the report comments that Bangladesh government has been making “noticeable progress in dealing with the radical Islamist HIB whereas Pakistan has floundered dramatically in its inconsistent, ill-considered and ill-implemented attempts to pacify the TLP”. Besides, the initiatives of the Bangladesh government in protecting the minority rights are so much praiseworthy.

According to the 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom of US Department of State, to advocate the minority rights and to foster religious tolerance, Bangladesh government has taken a number of initiatives such as-

•Providing guidance to imams throughout the country to prevent militancy and monitoring mosques for “provocative messaging”.

•Deploying law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considering potential violence. The Economic Times reported that 30,000 and 31,272Durga Pujas were organized across the country in 2017 and 2018 respectively without any security issue.

•Zero-tolerance to Islamic militancy. For instance, Special Tribunal convicted and sentenced to death seven of eight defendants who were accused in the 2016 killings of 22 mostly non-Muslim individuals at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

•Offering stipends to students from the minority groups in the primary and secondary level; and

•Providing funds for minority rituals and social activities.

Most importantly, Bangladesh ensures a level playing field in the employment sectors and a viable people-to-people contact. ‘Dhormo Jaar Jaar, Utsob Shobar,’ (Religion for own, but festivals for all” is a testimony of its secular values and communal harmony. The ACN report itself showed, in Bangladesh, where due to fear of infection, minority faith groups were incapable of offering the last rites to family members, an Islamic charity buried not only Muslim but also Hindu and Christian victims of COVID-19. Besides, reliefs were equally provided to every sector of the society regardless of their race or religion.

To conclude, Bangladesh always believes in fraternity beyond ethno-religious affiliations and practiced secularism in daily life throughout the history. But at present, due to the rise of right-wing populist politics both at regional and global level and rise of fundamentalism, religious harmony in Bangladesh is also affected. However, comparatively, Bangladesh is doing better than many regional states and the country is destined to overcome the challenges in near future due to the pro-active role of the government in this regard.

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West Bengal Election: Implications for Indian Politics

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Polling officials collecting the Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) and other necessary inputs required for the West Bengal Assembly Election, at a distribution centre, in Uluberia, West Bengal on April 05, 2021. Image source: Election Commission of India, Government of India

After a tumultuous eight phase election process, Trinamool congress has become successful to retain power for consecutive third terms amidst growing popularity of saffron tide. However, Mamata Banarjee’s Trinamool congress has successfully halted the tide at West Bengal frontier. The victory of TMC in the state testifies to “Bengal Exceptionalism” and is also a victory for Indian secularism.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) victory in the assembly election has far reaching repercussions for wider Indian politics. For one, it sends a resounding message to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that their dream of monolithic Hindu India is still far-fetched. While BJP was much enthusiastic and ardent to gain a victory in the election, as evidenced by Amit Shah’s intermittent visit to Bengal and the latter’s incendiary rhetoric and Prime Minister Modi’s several visit to state to canvass votes. Interestingly, the ubiquitous display of Narendra Modi’s posters led one commentator to sardonically quip whether NarendraModi is vying for chief minister position. This partly explains the importance BJP and Narendra Modi attached to West Bengal election.

Above all, this election was important for BJP to prove their regional appeal. BJP’s vision of “one state, one party” largely hinged on the victory in the Bengal. If BJP could win in Bengal, there had been possibility that other states would fall in order. This significance of Bengal election illuminates the importance that BJP attached to Bengal and their buoyant activities to seal the victory.

Bengal was long been known as bastion of ethnic politics rather than communal one. It was never been a fortress of all-India political parties. Even, in its heyday of all India politics, Indian National Congress (INC) couldn’t gain much favor in Bengal election as the politics in Bengal is driven by an appeal to “Bengali-ness” which other nationwide party lacks.

However, upheavals in Bengal politics had been unmistakable in recent times. Especially, the event of BJP’s significant performance in 2019 union elections led some observes to presage an ominous trend of Bengal politics unfolding. The BJP’s 40% share of vote from Bengal is largely an anomaly in the Bengal’s election history where all India political parties had hard time managing minuscule portion of the votes. The 2019 election result therefore doesn’t augur well for TMC in 2021.The defections of stalwart TMC leaders in favor of BJP exacerbated this grim predication and forbade an electoral mishap for TMC.

The detractors implicated Trinamool Congress for power abuse, extortion, misappropriation of welfare money and egregious Muslim appeasement. Especially, BJP seek to frame Trinamool Congress as anti-Hindu party. They had pointed to how Mamata Banarjee had benefitted Muslim clerics inordinately by providing them with benefits which their counterpart of Hindu religion was deprived of. Beside, “Bangladesh Card” had been recurrently employed to accuse the alleged lenient approach of TMC with regards to Bangladeshi migrants.

BJP capitalized on anti-incumbency resentment emanating from prolonged period of TMC role which had generated local level corrupted politician and scandals of misappropriated welfare schemes facilitated BJP rhetoric. Besides, BJP promised that the coordination with center government will be far easier if BJP gains state power. BJP rallied unemployed youth with the pledge of jobs had BJP

ascent to Bengal throne. Above all, BJP appealed to Hindu sentiments of the 60% majority Hindus of the state.

However, with the charismatic leadership of Mamata Banarjee and the promise of being rooted in Bengali soil and a proponent for peaceful communal relations, Mamata Banarjee’s TMC has been indomitable as manifested by resounding victory of Trinamool Congress.

The BJP’s promise of “Hindu Bengal” hadn’t materialized as West Bengal had long been a fortress of communal harmony, largely an aberration from all other Indian states. This communal harmony has been again bolstered by defeat of BJP in the assembly election.

The result of the election will largely reverberate across India with far-reaching consequences. Firstly, the victory of Trinamool Congress means that Modi’s vision of monolithic India isn’t viable in view regional peculiarities. Secondly, it safeguards the federal structure of India in face of increasing intrusion of central government. It also will restrain Narendra Modi’s unchecked centralization of the state. Thirdly, it will make Mamata Banarjee a spokesperson and central figure of anti-BJP movement in absence of vigorous congress presence. Fourthly, it puts an end to NarendraModi’s contentious CAA(Citizen Amendment Act) and other policies.

Lastly, this win of Mamata Banarjee has the possibility of catapulting her to the heft of an all India leader. Especially, in the absence of a BJP’s strong chief minister face, Mamata Banarjee was vying with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has momentous implication. This will consolidate the popularity of TMC in other states also with the image of Mamata Banarjee and memory of implicitly defeating Narendra Modi serving as an accelerator of her all-India appeal.

Nevertheless, there is marked indications that the Bengal politics has irrevocably altered in the process of this election. While Bengal had long been the indisputable image of Indian secularism, the communal tendencies have made deep inroads in Bengal politics. BJP has surpassed all other local political parties and now only second to TMC. This trend is unnerving for secular Bengal as well as India. However, it can now rightly be articulated that saffron tide of communalism has been retarded. This victory of Mamata Banarjee has reverberation across India and can be termed as the victory of Indian secularism and federalism.

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Feasible Outcomes after Withdrawal of US Troops from Afghanistan

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According to US President Joe Biden’s announcement, the process of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan has begun. On September 11, 2001, there was a militant attack in the United States. The United States went on a military operation in Afghanistan in the wake of that attack. Now all US troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the longest war in U.S. history. US President Biden commented that the goal of the US war in Afghanistan has been achieved. After the Taliban’s overthrow, the civilian Afghan government was established in Kabul with US support. The US administration now feels that the present Afghan government is capable of ensuring the security of its country.

The announcement during Trump’s tenure was that the troops would leave on May 1. Biden pulled it off in September. Biden’s Republican party has persuaded him against the rapid departure of troops. The reason behind Biden’s announcement of the new withdrawal date lies in repairing relations with NATO, which suffered under Trump. This transatlantic relationship was damaged by several of Trump’s statements. According to Trump, NATO members were not doing what they were supposed to pay for the alliance and wanted to approve Germany, Afghanistan’s top contributor after the US. When the withdrawal agreement was negotiated with the Taliban last year, the demands of NATO members, who are dependent on the US military for airlift support, were not considered sufficiently. Now it appears that NATO also announced the withdrawal of troops after Biden announced the withdrawal of troops to fix September 11 as the withdrawal date. This time change has given NATO members the opportunity to work to coordinate with the United States for their departure from Afghanistan. The Biden administration’s move could be seen in the context of efforts to bring US foreign policy back to multilateralism.

The United States also feels that rebuilding relations with NATO and other partners is very important. Because it will enable the US to stay in better position to face various global challenges like China’s rise and climate change. Already China has expressed concern over the decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan. China thinks foreign troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan in a responsible and orderly manner. According to them, this is necessary to ensure a smooth transition from Afghanistan as well as to prevent any terrorist group from taking advantage of the chaos. But the real problem lies for China as US officials point out that the United States now wants to focus on addressing other important challenges, including the threat from China, by shifting its focus from Afghanistan.

However, the long-term presence of US troops did not eventually defeat the Taliban. Afghan forces and the central government in Kabul could not be able to increase control over the entire country. After 20 years of war and thousands of deaths, US officials have acknowledged that the Taliban are at their strongest military level. We see that the attacks have increased dramatically in the last one year. The Taliban has taken over and has destabilized the position of the Americans in Afghanistan. The provincial capital, briefly occupied by Afghan troops, is regularly recaptured by rebels. US forces are leaving behind a deeply unpopular Afghan government that has not won the confidence of the people. Afghans blame Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s weak leadership for the Taliban’s resurgence. His reluctance to share power is hampering the initial move to map a post-war future, which is a barrier to peace.

The Taliban are indicating that they want to return to the role of the previous regime when American troops leave. Their desire is single authority. Unwilling to compromise and run the country, they want full authority after September. They are talking about establishing their own model of ‘Islamic rule’. But it won’t be that easy for them as they have full control of only 20 to 30 per cent of the districts of the country. The same is true of government forces. Both taliban and government forces hold power in the remaining 50 percent of the area. However if Taliban are able to take control over the whole country, women’s society and the media are most afraid of their past rule. Higher education institutions are often attacked by the Taliban. Millions of girls went to school while Americans were still there, who were forbidden by the Taliban to receive any kind of education. From under the protective shield of Americans, women became doctors, entrepreneurs, Parliamentarians. They will now be in danger. Similarly, Afghans who have struggled to make the country a more hospitable and socially tolerant place will be at risk. Meanwhile, about 17,000 Afghans from those communities are waiting to get U.S. visa.

It remains to be seen whether Afghanistan’s warring sides come to an agreement. As the US moves away, it is time for Afghans to lead the talks and agree on a permanent ceasefire and peace settlement. The coming months will tell how much faith the Taliban and the Afghan government can give to the war-weary Afghan people and show the leadership they need to rule. Whether the Taliban will undermine the rights of women and minorities returning to Kabul has become a question. It also remains to be seen whether the Taliban will allow al-Qaeda and IS militants to be active in Afghanistan if they return to power. There is a possibility of high levels of polarisation across the country due to insecurity among the groups. Stability can come only if the present government and Taliban in Afghanistan work together.

The United States is now more interested in shifting attention from Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East and looking to Eastern Europe and Asia-Pacific region. The United States is reluctant to take responsibility for the negotiations even though it has announced the withdrawal of troops. Biden’s announcement does not have a roadmap for how the country will run after their departure. The United States wants Russia, China, Pakistan and India to participate in talks on Afghanistan. As a major power, it is dependent on who will be in governance in Afghanistan in the interest of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and India. China and Russia are interested in Afghanistan for regional dominance and trade reasons, but India has a major interest in Afghanistan’s geopolitics in the conflict-making relations with Pakistan and the Kashmir crisis. The current deal will benefit the Taliban as well; It will also help Pakistan create a comfortable position in regional politics. Pakistan would like its backed Taliban government to be established in Kabul in its desire to consolidate its influence. But Pakistan also has a reason to worry. If the Taliban cannot bring peace to the country, the world society will put the responsibility on Pakistan. The refugee wave in Pakistan could rise another round if Afghanistan is newly disturbed. India, on the other hand, will want Pakistan’s influence-free Afghanistan. Again, in northern Afghanistan, where the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek people live, they will not easily accept Taliban forces controlled by the Pashtun population. So there is a risk of long-term unrest. Afghanistan’s future situation depends a lot on what the role of regional powers will be after the withdrawal of US troops and how much the agreement of international community to control itself will be implemented there without being in Afghanistan.

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