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India Will RK Nagar outcome define future of Tamil Nadu politics?

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]ith just a few days left for the crucial RK Nagar bypoll in Tamil Nadu, campaigns are gathering momentum in the constituency of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa and stakes are running high especially for the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) which is now split into three factions, making it difficult for any of the factions to win for AIADMK.

A bypoll was necessitated following Jayalalithaa’s demise on 5 December under mysterious circumstances. RK Nagar in Chennai will see 62 contestants—the highest since its inception in 1967— when the constituency goes to vote on 12 April.

Historically speaking, the incumbent ruling party has always had an advantage in by-elections in Tamil Nadu. But now the ruling AIADMK party does not look confident to retain the seat while Panneerselvam look forward to win it for Jayalalithaa- even public seems to have sympathy for his Puratchithalaivi faction but DMK is all out to outsmart him. Deepa may not have chance to win this time.

The poll is particularly important for the DMK, ruling faction and OPS faction of AIADMK and end game fight is very tensed. Money is being distributed for votes and ruling AIADMK is being blamed for buying votes.

Now that the ruling AIADMK is formally split into AIADMK (Amma) and AIADMK (Puratchithalaivi Amma) and with the EC freezing the party’s two leaves symbol, the traditional AIADMK voters would be weighing between the new symbols—hat and lamp post.

DMK has fielded N. Maruthu Ganesh—the party’s secretary for RK Nagar east division and a journalist with party mouthpiece Dinakaran—as its candidate. While former chief minister O. Panneerselvam camp—AIADMK (Puratchithalaivi Amma) which has been allotted the lamp post—is fielding veteran E. Madhusudhanan as its candidate, the Sasikala faction—AIADMK (Amma) with the hat symbol—has Sasikala’s relative T.T.V. Dinakaran in fray.

According to analysts, the opposition DMK is in a better position amid the confusion within the ruling party. Depending on which faction of AIADMK takes the second and third positions, the future course of the party will unveil. Analysts don’t rule out the possibility of a merger between the two groups even one day before the poll day.

However, Ruling faction is interested in knowing which of the factions would ains more votes will be in a commanding position to bring the party together. Depending on which camp (of the AIADMK) wins or who gains better share of votes, there could be a consolidation or realignment within the two factions of the party.

RK Nagar, Chennai

Traditionally any bypoll is won by the ruling party, but given the political turmoil and chaos over the last three months within AIADMK, the opposition DMK would have an edge.

Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar, the high-profile constituency in north Chennai that elected former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa twice, is all set to once again choose its legislative representative on April 12. A total of 62 candidates, including eight women, are in the fray in the by-election. The AIADMK has won seven out of 11 times in the constituency in the last 40 years. This time, three candidates are are claiming to be the ‘real face of the AIADMK.’

The late Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa contested from the RK Nagar (Chennai) constituency for the first time in the 2015 by-elections. She chose it again the following year to win the assembly elections. RK Nagar has become Jayalalithaa’s home turf in public perception, even though Srirangam was the Iyengar-Brahmin’ (which is what she was, by birth) constituency, from where she won to become the CM in 2011. Freshly acquitted, wrongly, of any wrongdoing in the disproportionate assets case, Jayalalithaa won by a margin of over 1,50,000 votes in the 2015 by-elections. This might seem like a bonafide celluloid miracle wrought by a party that was born and raised by filmdom, and run by ‘Amma’, who was once ‘Anni’

In 1989, after MGR’s death, the AIADMK split into the Janaki faction and the Jayalalithaa faction. In the ensuing elections, the DMK won hands down, since the votes were split between the two factions and their allies. Both AIADMK factions (Jayalalithaa Vs Janaki) in 1989 laid claim to the ‘two leaves’ symbol.

The AIADMK’s two leaves have – metaphorically speaking – split, into the Sasikala faction and the O Panneerselvam faction. There is the DMK, led by Stalin, and the MGR Amma Deepa Peravai, led by Deepa Jayakumar (Jayalalithaa’s estranged niece). All four parties now seek to fill the legendary and occasionally notorious shoe-rack of Jayalalithaa.

Sasikala’s ADMK, with Edappadi Palanisamy as the chief minister, is by far the most stable party. As the ruling party, they will have access to resources and the machinery to whip up a good campaign- and they are doing that even though public is not impressed. The lack of trust is all thanks to the public angst against Sasikala, who is still seen as a conspirator in Jayalalithaa’s demise.

Political analysts say a win for Dinakaran would assert his position in the party and he could even claim the chief minister’s post. But Mr. Dinakaran had said that Edappadi K. Palaniswami will continue to head the government.

The fate of both Sasikala and Dinakaran’s party posts will be decided by the Election Commission as the rival AIADMK camp has claimed that the appointments are not in line with the party’s constitution. The Enforcement Directorate has imposed a ₹28crore fine on Mr. Dinakaran for money laundering. He is also facing two 20-year-old FERA cases for acquiring foreign exchange from unauthorised dealers.

Votes for currency notes

The Election Commission (EC) is closely monitoring the bypoll. Following a complaint by opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the EC ordered the transfer of Chennai police commissioner S. George. It has also transferred almost all the officials involved in the RK Nagar bypoll, appointed as many as five observers—the highest-ever for a constituency in the country—and deployed two IAS and two IPS officers on night patrol until the polling is over.

Meanwhile, income tax officals have raided the residences and offices of many important people in Chennai and elsewhere, including ministers, VC of MGR University. Money and documents shave been reportedly recovered from them.

Ahead of RK Nagar by-poll In Tamil Nadu, 15 Lakh seized and 28 men arrested. Public says money Rs500 and 200 are bribed for each vote and a lot of money is being distributed to voters even in public. Reports suggest around Rs. 15 lakh was seized and 28 persons were arrested on Wednesday for their alleged roles in various incidents of money distribution to voters and violence in the run up to the April 12 RK Nagar assembly bypoll. Authorities said seizure of Rs. 14.92 lakh was made by EC’s flying squads and static surveillance teams in RK Nagar where bypoll was necessitated due to former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death.

The day also saw the Election Commission ordering transfer of 22 police officials, including two IPS officers, out of RK Nagar even as the opposition parties lodged complaints with Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni against the alleged distribution of money to voters by the AIADMK’s VK Sasikala faction. While three AIADMK activists (VK Sasikala’s Amma faction) were arrested for allegedly attacking DMK cadres over a row, 25 others were arrested on the basis of 15 cases registered for alleged distribution of money to voters, police said.

The attack on DMK men was over a row related to the alleged money distribution. Meanwhile, videos of alleged money distribution in RK Nagar and markings made in the area to facilitate it are doing the rounds in social media and messaging app Whatsapp.

Commenting on the alleged money distribution, PMK chief Ramadoss demanded countermanding of RK Nagar bypoll and said it should be held after the cash distribution’s impact faded. The bypoll should be held by drafting officers only from outside Tamil Nadu and by deploying Central police forces, he said. EC replaced Additional Police Commissioner (North) MC Sarangan with H M Jayaram (now IGP, Operations) besides 21 other police personnel.

Meanwhile DMK Rajya Sabha MP, RS Barathi in a petition to Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni said, “The ruling party (Dinakaran faction) is planning to continue the illegal distribution of money to voters. We, herewith, enclose proof of the illegal distribution of money.” He demanded steps to stop it. Former Minister KP Munusamy of O Panneerselvam-led faction too petitioned the CEO on the matter.

Anger toward ruling Sasikala AIADMK

As the fight over the seat started, AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi, who was campaigning at the 42nd ward in support of VK Sasikala’s nephew and party deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, had slippers and tomatoes thrown at her.

The whole of Tamil Nadu is concentrating on the upcoming RK Nagar by-election, which is now being considered as the zone that will decide the future course of politics in the state. As the fight over the seat started, AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi, who was campaigning at 42nd ward in support of VK Sasikala’s nephew and party deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, had slippers and tomatoes thrown at her. Saraswathi was heard screaming, “You are throwing stones and slippers at me. Is this right? We’ve come to ask for your votes but you’re throwing slippers at us!”

Team EPS and team OPS have been hurling allegations at one another, with Dinakaran accusing the rebel party faction led by O Panneerselvam of manipulating its poll symbol of electricity pole as ‘two leaves’. Not to be outdone, team OPS blamed team EPS of distributing money for votes.

And in support to the claim by team OPS, a man was yesterday arrested for distributing money for vote, and what apparently gave him away was his flashy ‘hat’ (symbol for team EPS) carrying the AIADMK flag’s color. Already many videos have gone viral on social media where people had altercation with such money distributors.

Candidates and promises

Every candidate has come out with certain promises but the ruling AIADMK and Panneerselvam faction have put forward interesting promises.

Dhinakaran, the candidate from team EPS for the by-elections, has promised people that should he win, 57,000 house would be constructed for RK Nagar residents. Team OPS, which is fielding Madhusudhanan as its candidate, has on the other hand promised a judicial inquiry into Jayalalitha’s death within a week of their victory, and to also turn the late TN Chief Minister’s house into a memorial. When asked how their promises are related to RK Nagar victory, they said that whoever wins the by-poll, will control the party and by the government.

An AIADMK veteran, E. Madhusudhanan was the party’s presidium chairman. He has contested in R.K. Nagar four times and represented the constituency in the Assembly during 1991-96, the first tenure of Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister. Madhusudhanan was convicted and later acquitted in a free dhoti-saree scam during his term as Handloom Minister. He has some 19 criminal cases pending against him, which he claims were politically motivated. When Madhusudhanan switched to former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam’s side, Sasikala dismissed him from the party. Maintaining that he is still the party’s presidium chairman, Madhusudhanan ‘expelled’ Sasikala. . Madhusudhanan is a strong Jayalalithaa loyalist and stayed with her when the AIADMK split into Jaya and Janaki factions in 1989. He has been associated with the AIADMK since the party was formed and is a North Chennai strongman. He is contesting using the ‘Electric Pole’ symbol under party name ‘AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma’.

The DMK has fielded N. Marudhu Ganesh as its party’s candidate. A journalist-turned-politician, Mr. Ganesh is the party’s area secretary of R.K Nagar (East) unit and belongs to a family of DMK cardholders. Ganesh hopes that his introduction to the local people as a Dinakaran journalist will work in his favour. R. Loganathan is the CPI(M)’s candidate. But the CPI and the VCK, alliance partners of the People’s Welfare Front, have declined to support his candidature. Loganathan is a member of the party’s North Chennai district Executive Committee. The party is banking on the sizeable working class population in the constituency.

P. Mathivanan is DMDK’s North Chennai District Secretary. He lost to Mr. M.K. Stalin in the 2016 Assembly elections. As a resident of Kodungaiyur,he is pinning hopes on voters to elect a ‘local person.’ Film director-turned-politician Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar Katchi has fielded Kalaikottudhayam as its candidate. Kalaikottudhayam runs a Tamil news channel called Tamizhan TV and has produced a few movies.

Tamil music director Gangai Amaran, younger brother of legendary music composer Ilayaraaja, is the BJP’s candidate for the bypoll. He joined the BJP in 2014 and is currently the president of the State unit’s cultural cell. Gangai Amaran had accused Sasikala of forcing him to sell his 22-acre farm at Payyanurin 1994. He was one of the prosecution witnesses in the disproportionate assets case. The BJP is betting on Amaran’s popularity and caste. The constituency has a significant number of Dalits, and the BJP hopes they would vote for him.

J. Deepa

Jayalalithaa’s niece J. Deepa is also contesting the bypoll as an independent. She has been allotted the ”boat” symbol. Ms. Deepa rose to fame after the death of Jayalalithaa. She claims to be the “rightful successor of Jayalalithaa” and had managed to gain support from a section of AIADMK followers. A staunch opposer of Sasikala and her family, Ms. Deepa floated a political outfit called MGR Amma Deepa Peravai on Jayalalithaa’s birthday last month, putting an end to rumours that she will join hands with the Panneerselvam camp.

The Election Commission on Thursday tightened the screws on the by-election to the RK Nagar Assembly constituency, scheduled for April 12, by putting in place more measures to ensure free and fair polls.It appointed as many as five Observers, the highest ever in any constituency in the country and deployed two IAS and two IPS officers on night patrol until the polling is over. Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha said, “The Commission will monitor the arrangements closely and will not leave any stone unturned to ensure free, fair, transparent and inducement-free election.” CCTVs would be deployed in major streets and junctions and checkpoints in the constituency to monitor movement of vehicles and persons.

Observation

Election commission is making all efforts to help the people vote without fear.

So far the ruling Sasikala faction of AIADMK has made any move for merger of factions as it is keen to see OPS faction is finished even if DMK wins comfortably in that process. Possibly Sasikala is working towards ending MGR-Jayalalithaa rule in the state. .

Now Tamil Nadu without Jayalalithaa as the only vote puller of the party one has to see if OPS could emerge the winner of the hearts of Tamils, even if unable to win the poll due ot split politics.

Absence of Jayalalithaa phenomenon in Tamil Nadu politics, both DMK and BJP are back with new hopes. While DMK wants to win the RK Nagar to push for a government change in Madras Fort sooner than later, BJP is eager to make a presence in Tami Nadu politics once again.

DMK has got a solid vote bank unlike the AIADMK where there seems to be a three way split. Moreover Congress party is backing the DMK candidate. CM Palanisamy has not been able to make a decision to take step forward, without prisoner Sasikala’s nod, to merge with Panneer Selvam faction to let Jayalalithaa legacy live in the state without further major setbacks. Sasikala seems to be toying with idea of ending the MGR rule in the state. She knows once down, AIADMK cannot revive its fortunes as there are no charismatic and loyal leaders in the party. .

Without the symbol of two leaves, the voters who want to vote for Jayalalithaa party could be confused. New symbols are bound to confuse the common or ‘aam voter’.

Money and other resources play very important role in polls. Sasikala’s faction and the DMK have the money-power to repeat this tradition. The OPS and Deepa camps lose this round.

The by poll results in RK Nagar constituency in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai would give an idea of the changing course or otherwise of politics in Tamil Nadu in the post-Jayalalithaa era, particularly an assessment of popularity of the ruling AIADMK (Amma). The results would also show the benefits of DMK would gain from the death and division of AIADMK in the state and, if BJP could make any profits from the fluid situation obtaining from the untimely demise of Jayalalithaa.

The current situation indicates that DMK could sail through albeit with a small majority and that would be big success for the opposition party which is eagerly awaiting a government change in Madras Fort for quite some time and so long as Jayalalithaa was in control, it could not make any head way in achieving its goal.

When Jayalalithaa won the general poll with a resounding victory for the AIADMK for the second consecutive term without any truck with any of the parties, notwithstanding the BJP’s attempts to be a partner of the ruling AIADMK to win a few seats in this southern state, she indeed made a history in Tamil Nadu politics and took all politicians by shock.

Now the situation is back to square one! Speculation is indeed thrilling!

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South Asia

Aftermath of US-Afghan Peace Talks

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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In Doha, the Capital of Qatar, an unprecedented meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse factions interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and 60 Afghan representatives comprising delegates from political parties, government officials, and civil society organizations engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement. This meeting has raised hopes for peace, but it must now be followed up by a cease fire to pave the way to lasting peace in the country.

The Taliban, which has repeatedly refused to negotiate with the West-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, agreed to join the Peace Talks meeting on the condition that the attendees will do so in a personal capacity. For the first time since the United States started negotiating with the Taliban last year, two Afghan government officials were face-to-face with Taliban representatives at US-Afghan Peace Talks. The Doha peace talks were unlike many other conferences. The Taliban agreed to reduce their reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Many Afghans vulnerable to terrorism and living under severe violence have newfound hope.

The peace talks represents huge success keeping in view the Taliban’s harsh policy toward women and youth. Women, in particular, have been the victims of ignorance and extremism throughout the dark chapters of Afghan history. Thus, it was a momentous development for Afghans as the Taliban leadership dined with female representatives, including one of their leading critics, Fawzia Kofi, a former MP of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament. This indicated a remarkable shift in Taliban’s perspective towards women as they said that women would protect their rights within an Islamic framework. This change in perception had promoted a democratic framework in Afghanistan which resulted in a significant step in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Women now work freely in the government and private sector. They represent an important portion of society and have been a symbol of change.

Moreover, the participation of youth at the Doha conference offered another notable step. It was exceptional to see those under the age of 30 who were raised under the threat of war and feared violence by the Taliban, discussed and consequently asked them for the violence to end and hope for a peaceful Afghan future. The Doha framework was conducive to discuss concerns that both sides felt comfortable to share and presented a satisfactory and excellent example of a way that both Taliban and Afghan representatives could clearly raise their thoughts patiently and in a friendly manner.

With productive peace talks between Taliban and Afghan representatives, a remarkable conclusion was reached after strong criticism and arguments. Both sides agreed to reduce violence by withholding attacks on religious centres, schools, hospitals, educational centres, commercial markets, water dams, and workstations. But the understanding now needs to translate into a tangible cease-fire across Afghanistan. The recent non-binding agreement and continued peace talks with the Taliban are suggestive of a few points.

First, the Taliban are willing to accept some sort of cease-fire as they stated that they also feel guilty for killing civilians who are fellow Afghans but they also said that they simply might not have an alternative strategy. Secondly, conferences in Doha, Moscow, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan signify the group’s desire to build a new positive image. Let’s not forget that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of the 1990s was tumbled by the U.S. government for sheltering Al-Qaeda terrorists.

To portray their positive image, the Taliban are currently involved in a public relations campaign to demonstrate they are not as unfathomable as the international media has represented them. Sitting openly with Muslims, non-Muslims, and female journalists, as well as dining with them, paints a convincing picture. This could be another tactic to have an influence on Afghans in order to achieve their goals, such as US NATO troop’s withdrawal and establishment of an Islamic State also. The Taliban will not easily abandon their goal of establishing an Islamic Emirate despite continued diplomatic efforts. But in case of a cease-fire, they will certainly function as a political party that might hold major offices in the Afghan government, will also mould the current criminal code of Afghanistan because they consider it as mixture of Roman-Germanic and Islamic sources which is not acceptable to them at all, hence they will work towards adamantly implementing what they view as Islamic Shariah law.

Keeping in view the above mentioned discussion, some hope of peace has been achieved despite corruption, poor internal situation and after 18 years of chaos and instability in Afghanistan. But a country which has undergone four decades of war needs time and space to restructure and overcome such differences. The present version of Afghanistan is altogether different from the pre-9/11 Afghanistan. From women empowerment and youth participating in different fields to technology in villages by which people share their concerns and happiness, via social media, the ideological transition in Afghanistan is incredible. Somehow violence has been switched by better systems through discussions and a positive comprehensive political approach. In an ideological governed nation like Afghanistan, which is predominately tribal, it is fundamental that its own people bring change through talks that concrete the path towards peace and prosperity. The peace in Afghanistan holds significant importance for the neighbouring countries also, but the path toward sustainable peace can be laid only once a cease-fire is agreed and adhered to by all the parties.

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Pak-US Relations: The Way Forward

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Cooperation and Trust is the only way forward for Pakistan –US relations. Both countries have wasted a huge time experienced severe challenges since the relations become soars. Both nations have learned bitter lesson s during recent history and realized that both have suffered a lot due to the coldness of relations between the two countries. I believe it is never too late, always “There is a way if there is a will”. I think the time has reached to restore traditional trust and cooperation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to travel to the USA on 20 July. He will meet President Trump and senior administration during his stay in the USA. He is also accompanied by a powerful high-level delegation to make the decision at the spot instantly. However, Foreign Offices at Islamabad and State Department in Washington are working day and night to make this visit a turning point and historic success.  Expectations are high from both sides. The whole world has focused on this important visit and make their own opinion. Some of them are discussing the challenges, and others are focused on positive outcomes. I myself am very much optimistic.

It has been realized by the US administration that they cannot achieve strategic goals in this region without the instrumental role of Pakistan. And Pakistan has also suffered a lot, especially on the economic front without US support. It is in the best interests of the two nations to respect each other and cooperate with each other. The way out is trust and dialogue, but not the coercion and isolation.

Background

During the Cold War, Pakistan was a big supporter of the US and protected American interests in the region, including during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan was also a close ally in the “war on terror” after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Our history is full of success stories and excellent cooperation.

However, although Pakistan extends a cordial hand of friendship to the US whenever it needs support, the US always steps back when it no longer needs a Pakistani role on an issue, and relations decline. Pakistan has faced some of the toughest and strictest US-sanctions in history.

The two countries have always cooperated with each other on their common goals and interests, though the US has failed to value Pakistan’s interests and has kept on making demands. “Do more” has been the message of the US leadership in recent years, without understanding Pakistan’s capacity to comply, or its own interests. Our relations were transactional in nature and limited to assignment based. Once the project was completed, the relations were cooled down.

During the past few years, the US has blamed, coerced and threatened Pakistan. The US used all international forums to pressurize Pakistan like FATF, IMF, UNSC, etc. Extended hands of extreme friendship toward India, without considering the impact on Pakistan. The sacrifices of Pakistan being the ally of the US, especially casualties of 8000 Pakistani nations during the Afghan war and an estimated economic loss of US$ 250 billion, along with a gift of extremism, terrorism, gun culture, corruption, misgovernance, ethnic violence, and religious divide, etc. Of course, there exist some concerns on both sides, and some of these may be genuine, but some are based on misunderstandings only.

Afghan Situation

Currently, the major part of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. Americans cannot walk freely and fearlessly in the streets of Kabul or any other big city. They are not safe except inside military camps. In practical terms, it is the Taliban who rule most of Afghanistan, not the US-supported government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The US is the superpower, spent US$ trillions and used all possible lethal weapons along with best-trained troops, could not win the Afghan War. The US was fully supported by NATO and its allies, utilized their resources and involved India, but still failed to achieve any success.

A situation has been reached where the US administration has decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Whether they can withdraw easily? A big question mark? Afghanis bordered with China, Iran, Central Asia, and Pakistan. I think only Pakistan can help peaceful and honored the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

There is a convergence of interests in resolving the Afghan issue. Pakistan and the US may cooperate with each other in a very positive way. But, after the assignment is over, what will be the behavior of the US with Pakistan, past experience was never satisfactory.

But we are optimistic that the Visits of Imran Khan may bring a different outcome. We may cooperate on the Afghan issue and hope the US will respect Pakistan’s strategic interests with China, Russia and in the region. The US may not create hurdles in smooth execution of CPEC and acquisition of defense needs from any country including China and Russia. The US may not allow India to use American support against Pakistan, American weapons and technologies against Pakistan, American intelligence against Pakistan.

The way forward

However, Pakistan is a peace-loving country and our record in the UN peacekeeping force is admirable. Our sacrifices during the “war on terror” go beyond any other country.

We promote peace, stability, and prosperity all around the globe. Our role in this region is vital. Pakistan’s geostrategic importance is well known to the US. Think-tanks, civil and military leaders in the US also understand Pakistan’s importance.

Pakistan wants good relations with all countries and would like to extend all possible support and cooperation for achieving the common goal of “Peace, Stability, and Prosperity” throughout the world. We desire to work closely with all countries – including the US.

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From Gujral doctrine to Modi doctrine

Punsara Amarasinghe

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Eshan Jayawardene*

The predictions made by larger number of academics based in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta about Indian General elections vouching that Narendra Modi would not get his second term as prime minister were shattered in reality as Modi could uphold his strong position better than the previous time resulting a steeping success of his Bharatiya Janatha Party which won 302 seats in Indian Lok Saba. The election result has palpably shown a shocking decline of India’s largest political party National Congress led by Rahul Gandhi as Congress could solely win only 52 seats in the legislature. The gob smacking results of the election seems to have given a clear picture of voters pulsation as the ground reality in the sub-continent albeit many pundits made pro congress predictions while accusing Modi’s poor economic policy and demonetization as two major factors behind the economic crisis India has been facing now.

However, the Himalayan image Indian premier has built up on himself among countries majority Hindu population has been mainly attributed to his stanch belief in Hindu ideology and his image seems to have depicted as a Hindu messiah who has come to regain the deserving place for nationalist forces. It is an important question to focus whether such ideological attitudes possessed by Modi and his Bharatiya Janatha Party would make impacts upon carving India’s foreign policy for next five years. Before reaching the position of Indian premier’s approach towards foreign affairs, particularly regarding South Asia, it becomes an interesting factor to trace how Indian foreign policy on South Asian states were shaped under Gujral Doctrine which happened to be a milestone in Indian foreign policy when it was rendered by minister of external affairs in Dev Gowda’s government in 1996. Basic mantra of Gujral doctrine affirmed India being the larger power in South Asia should not ask for reciprocity, but gives all that it could in good faith to the neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh. Notably Pakistan was excluded from this benefited category and it further elucidated that no country would allow to be used against the interest of another country in the region. One of another pivotal principle of Gujral doctrine was the noninterference of the internal affairs of the neighboring countries and resolving disputes through amicable bilateral negotiations.

This doctrine has been regarded as a strategy initiated by Mr. Gujral in reducing the influence of both Pakistan and China in a hostile manner while upholding a stable peace with other neighbors. In fact, this doctrine has played an indispensible role as a major principle for many prime ministers since 1996 though none of them had officially admitted the influence of Gujral doctrine over their foreign policy mechanism. Yet the changing winds of Indian foreign policy seems to be evident after the astonishing victory of Narendra  Modi and it would be an interesting task to assess how would Gujral doctrine prevail before the galactic persona of Modi as a leader who seeks much dominating authority in his foreign relations in South Asia. Since Modi became premier in India, its foreign policy was heavily affected by his personal aura and besides his troublesome past of his alleged involvement in the communal violence of Gujarat in 2002 during his tenure as its chief minister, many countries have received him with awe and Russia honored Modi by awarding him the highest state decoration called “Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle “in 2019.

In understanding his foreign policy for his second term, it becomes salient that his famous slogan “neighborhood first” is likely to continue, at least nominally. But the truth in reality is Narendra Modi’s sole personal image driven by his Hindutva ideology would make some lasting impacts in foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbors and beyond it. The next notable factor appears to be stunning in Modi’s foreign policy is that contrary to India’s fervent position of defending secularism, the space for religious diplomacy has rapidly increased for past few years in India’s foreign policy. In the contest between China and India as rivals for decades, it is a question beyond doubt that Chinese political, militarily and economic powers are far ahead of India, yet in terms of soft power mechanism India has successfully forged ahead and Modi’s approach to his foreign relations too has taken a special interest in portraying India’s spiritual legacy to the world extensively as propaganda tool. For example during most of his foreign tours as premier, Modi paid frequent visits to major Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh sacred sites, also his active role in introducing June  21st as International Yoga Day shows his effort in propagating India’s ancient practice of meditation yoga as a soft power tool beyond the sub-continent.  The utmost veneration towards Indic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhismas an important feature in foreign policy had not been a principle practiced by previous Indian prime ministers since Nehru who was a doyen of secularism. On the other hand the notion of Hindutva stemming from Modi’s political party BJP and his personal ideology may confront with carving the foreign policy of India generally. The notion that Hindutva involves an obsession with national power needs to be placed in its historical context. V. D. Savarkar, M. S. Golwalkar, H. V. Sheshadri, and other stalwarts who developed its ideational foundations believed that the golden age of ancient Hindu civilization had been lost owing to material and moral weakness, which had brought it under the prolonged subjugation of Muslim and Christian/ British power. The great iconic personality he has been creating abroad as leader coming from a greater civilization and his ardor of using Hindi as the language of communication in his foreign state visits even though he is well versed in Hindi are the most notable examples showing the way of his foreign policy driven by Hidututva ideology.

Modi’s beginning of his first term was quite optimistic in terms of his attitude to India’s immediate neighbors in South Asia and this was visible as all South Asian leaders were invited to his inaugural ceremony in Delhi in 2014,but throughout his first term it was evident that Modi could not keep his grip over India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh where Chinese influence have appeared to be a predominant factor. For instance New Delhi was alleged to have some involvement in toppling former president Mahinda Rajapakse from power yet his successor Maithripala Sirisena and government of Sri Lankan premier Ranil Wickramasinghe have not been able to completely get rid of Chinese presence in Sri Lanka despite both personalities are known for their pro Indian policies. Modi” s last few months may have brought him a sudden success from the jingoistic voters from Hindu mainstream in India as last February India’s jet fighters crossed into Pakistan territory and engaged in aerial combat in first time in nearly 50 years. In India’s history since independence several prime ministers had confronted Pakistan militarily, yet the propaganda used by Modi convinced the people only he is able to keep India secure from Pakistan.

Cardinal approach likely to be adopted during Modi’s second term on Indian foreign policy has much idealistic feature to uphold Indian hegemony in South Asia and moreover Modi’s foreign policy would pay a much attention in using soft power as a greater strategy in India’s path to global governance. Rise of Xi Jinping as China’s powerful assertive president and his astute actions on expanding Belt and Road initiative across South Asia seems to have created a sneaking agitation in India for past few years. In such a situation Modi’s foreign policy for next four years five years would be decisive in terms of uplifting India’s image a key player.

*Eshan Jawardane is a Sri Lankan researcher currently lives in New Zealand. He holds BA in Sociology from Delhi University and completed MA in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He served as a guest lecturer at Sri Lanka Open University for a short period. Eshan can be reached at eshan.jayawardane[at]gmail.com

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