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Kovind , little known RSS man from UP, is new rubber- stamp president of India

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Indian news is that Ram Nath Kovind, former governor of the northern Indian state of Bihar in the North, has been elected as the country’s new president. It is an accepted fact that under Indian setup, the president’s job is restricted to rubberstamping the decisions of the central government, faithfully. He cannot ask too many questions to the government or parliament unless he is ready to relinquish his top position.

BJP led NDA candidate RN Kovind has been elected the country’s 14th president. Former governor of Bihar, Kovind (71), is the second Dalit leader after RK Narayanan to occupy India’s highest but purely ceremonial or rubber-stamp post. In the final vote count, the Modi nominee Kovind received 65.6 per cent votes translating into 702,044 Electoral College votes, while Congress led UPA candidate Meira Kumar managed to get 34.35 per cent (367,314 votes). According to reports, there was cross voting in UP, Gujarat and Goa during the elections, which resulted into Kovind’s massive 2/3rd votes. 522 MPs voted for Kovind, while 225 parliamentarians voted for Meira Kumar.

A disappointed incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee’s term is ending on July 24 and Kovind will take oath the next day to become India’s 14th President.  In the last Presidential polls held in 2012, Pranab Mukherjee had defeated PA Sangma by over 69 per cent votes. 

Born on October 1, 1945, in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur Dehat, Ram Nath Kovind was the youngest among three brothers. After graduating in law from a Kanpur college, Kovind had gone to Delhi to prepare for the Indian Administrative Services. He failed to pass it twice and started practicing the law. He is a former President of the BJP Dalit Morcha (1998-2002) and President of the All-India Koli Samaj as well as the SC/ST representative at IIM-Calcutta.

Kovind, an advocate by profession, used to practice in Supreme Court and Delhi High Court. He entered politics in 1994 when he became a member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh and served as an MP for two consecutive terms till 2006. He had represented India in the United Nations in New York and addressed United Nations General Assembly in October 2002.  In 1977, Kovind had worked as the private secretary of the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Later Kovind had also served as national spokesperson of BJP. On August 8, 2015, Kovind was appointed governor of Bihar and now he is the first citizen of India. His tactics helped him to grow in career ladder.

Kovind, son of a cloth-seller, but never campaigned for a Dalit cause and he has kept a low profile. He stayed away from the media as he didn’t want to be controversial and he never attended Dalit programs. In fact, he never projected himself as a Dalit leader as he prefers to stay away from controversies. His unassuming, submissive nature is the main quality for which he has been assigned to Presidential palace as its custodian for a term. He, like his mentor Gujarati Modi, is fluent in both Hindi and English.

Kovind silently built up his political career from lower cadre RSS man to reach the Presidential Palace and thanks to his caste he became the Indian president.

Modi and Kovind have known each other for a long time. There is nothing wrong if the PM goes for a man with whom he shares chemistry. A “committed member” of the right-wing RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, Kovind rose to become a lawyer and served two terms in the upper house of parliament. He has also been the party’s spokesperson, led a BJP Dalit organisation and has held several important party posts. His closeness to the RSS helped him go places. A highly lucky man, indeed!

India targets Hindu low castes and Muslims

Dalit writer-activist Chandrabhan Prasad is not alone in claiming that he does not know about the man who has just been elected to the top constitutional post. His nomination by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) caused so much surprise that a local media report quipped that it “seems only two people knew about his candidature: PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.  Others in the party are insignificant as PM Modi is everything in the ruling BJP and the government.  Nobody has courage even to think of asking questions to Modi. Modi has gone for a man, who is not towering, is media shy and whose political and ideological orientation is in sync with him. The president should do exactly what the party and government wants him to do. New president Kovind fits the bill comfortably.  

The system which divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but here it means duty) is generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old. The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.

The Dalits sit at the bottom of the Hindu caste system in India and complaints of discrimination are still widespread. Many in fact, accuse the BJP of perpetuating the Brahmin-led caste order where Dalits figure at the bottom, and say Kovind’s nomination comes at a time when the party is being accused of being insensitive towards the community.

Four years ago, a group of upper-caste men arrived at Mehul Vinodbhai Kabira’s modest two-room home in Gujarat and threatened to burn it down. Bhayla is a nondescript village of around 450 low slung brick-and-cement homes straddling a highway dotted by pharmaceutical, engineering and bio-tech factories. Most of the homes in this dense village are owned by land-owning upper castes, but around 70 belong to Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) like Kabira, who form the lowest rung of India’s harsh caste hierarchy.

Kabira’s crime? He dared to park his newly-bought auto-rickshaw for passengers near the village at the bus stop, which also doubled up as its three-wheeler stand. His parents worked all their lives as scavengers, collecting manure, but their son had decided to shun the indignity of a lowly caste-based occupation. Instead, he took out a loan and started playing a three-wheeler. “Most of the auto-rickshaws here are owned by upper-caste men. They couldn’t tolerate a Dalit plying his trade at the bus stand. So they beat me up and threatened me,” he says. Kabira did not take any chances. He left the village with his family to live with a relative some 15km (nine miles) away and drove his three-wheeler. When he returned to Bhayla in 2014, he sold off his auto-rickshaw, paid back his loan and signed up as a 217 rupees-a-day ($3; £2.40) contract worker in the “housekeeping” – a euphemism for a cleaning job – at a pharmaceutical factory. A few houses away, Dayabhai Kanabhai Kabira, 42, faced the ire of upper-caste neighbours in a different way. A canny farmer, he had inherited two acres of farm land from his father, and sold it to buy a four-acre plot some 40km away to augment his income.

Rising violence

India targets weak sections of the nation, namely Muslims and low caste Hindus, Christians, among other such communities.  Most of the violence incidents against them are not reported in the press and media, managed by those lords who hate Muslims and low caste and all minorities. Even when reported, the regime and state government refuse to act. Governments instruct the police officials not to “entertain” the complaints of Muslims and others but just pretend being “gravely” concerned about the problems they face from their foes.  That is it.

Dalit lives have improved in Gujarat – and all over India – and many upper-caste people are finding it difficult to digest this. “Conflict increases where social conditions [for Dalits] may be getting slightly better,” says the Director of the Centre for Policy Research, a leading think-tank.

Atrocities against low Hindu caste Dalits are nothing new in Gujarat, the birthplace of former India leader Mahatma Gandhi, who waged a campaign against untouchability all his life. In the past, conflicts between Dalits and upper castes were restricted to fights over land, wages, water, housing and the practice of untouchability. But conflicts take place without any valid reasons.

Gujarat has only 2.3% of India’s 200 million Dalits – 14th most populous state for the community – yet it ranks high in terms of atrocities against them, with more than 1,000 cases of “crimes” against Dalits recorded in 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, 536 Dalits were murdered in Gujarat and 750 Dalit women raped. The conviction rate is abysmal: suspects in 95 of 100 cases are freed, according to one study. Eleven districts remain officially declared as “atrocity prone” for Dalits since 1981. “Dalits are protesting. They are asking questions, filing right to information applications, petitioning authorities and quizzing village council heads,” says Dalit rights activist Martin Macwan. “Upper castes are getting jittery and the violence continues.” His organisation Navsarjan Trust carried out a four-year-long study – published in 2010 – recording 98 untouchability practices in nearly 1,600 villages in Gujarat.

Most of the findings were startling, for example: More than 90% of the villages banned temple entry to Dalits; 54% of government schools had a separate queue for Dalit children for the midday school lunch; 64% of village councils had Dalit members sitting separately and being given separate tea cups or glasses; In 96% of villages, Dalits did not have access to burial grounds; But the recent violence against the Dalits, according to Shah, is rooted in a shrill campaign by radical Hindu groups “telling people what to eat, drink, dress and monitor their behavior”; Critics say the self-styled “cow protection” vigilantes are running extortion rackets and running amok even as Prime Minister Modi maintains a curious silence;  The agitation in Gujarat may not hurt the BJP in polls much – a third of Dalit voters have voted for the Congress party in the recent past. But, as psychologist Sanjay Kumar says, it might hurt the party’s electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, two states with large Dalit populations and which go to the polls early next year.

Things took a new, devious turn in Gujarat, one of India’s most prosperous states, ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP for more than a decade. A video surfaced showing four Dalit men being assaulted by zealous “cow protection” vigilantes. Their crime was that they were doing their caste job of skinning a dead animal. (Many Hindus consider cows sacred and the slaughter of the animal is banned in many Indian states. There have been attacks across India where Muslims have been accused of eating or smuggling beef.)

A night patrol with India’s cow protection vigilantes Angry Dalits came out in protest and the parliament in Delhi was in uproar. Some 30 Dalits, including women, have tried to take their own lives – and one has died- since the incident.

, tens of thousands of community members pledged to boycott some of their traditional tasks, including the disposal of dead animals and manual cleaning of sewers.

But, as social scientist Ghanshyam Shah says, even Gandhi was helpless when schools in Gujarat set up by organisations owing allegiance to his ideals refused to admit Dalit students. The state saw some of the earliest upper-caste agitations against affirmative action for the Dalits in the 1980s.

There is deep social conflict bubbling from below.  This cannot be good news for Modi who is only interested in and focuses on his next foreign tours.

Observation: Rubber stamp and India’s problems

The five-year job of Indian president is largely ceremonial but could be crucial when elections throw up fragmented mandates. The president apparently has no role in governance and other importance matters concerning policies – they rest with the Prime minister and his cabinet. The Premier calls all shots while the President just agrees with Pm and obeys him. Generally, the president is an insider who would not create any obstacles to the government and sign anything that is sent from the government like an obedient student.

It is said India president is equal to British Queen. The government of UK must take the advice of the Queen on all important matters, but in India president’s existence itself is forgotten. Media reports only when the president goes abroad or visits any state in India.  Of course, all top foreign dignitaries do meet the president and have sumptuous lunch or dinner as the care may be.  TV often shows how he receives foreign presidents.

Ram Nath Kovind will be the first RSS-BJP leader to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan, but his real test will be to not be swayed by his party on matters where he may have to take a call as per his conscience and assert his authority on issues having no precedent or requiring his discretion, as the Constitution may not be clear on what stand should be taken.

Kovind is not the first low caste President; Earlier, a distinguished carrier diplomat and educationalist KR Narayanan with a lot of experience in human resources management as an Ambassador to USA, China, among other nations,  the VC of JNU and Union minister for technology etc, was made Indian President and he knew how manage the political  leaders as well. 

While it is an open secret that governors are only following the diktats of the ruling party at the Centre, the opposition will approach the President — as governors hold office at the pleasure of the President — for redressal.

Though many would argue that the President of India is a mere “rubber stamp”, experience shows that on many occasions the head of the state has had to take tough decisions which altered the course of history.

In recent years,  renowned scientist APJ Abdul Kalam faced problems from the government as the  latter‘s recommendations  were not approved by the President who  returned the  recommendations of  the government for reconsideration but the government repeatedly resent the same proposal and it became a prestige issue for the government and a Presidency vs. government tussle ensued. When the government repeatedly resent the same proposals for presidential accent, Kalam had then to “obey” the government affix his rubber stand to end the crisis..Government wanted to show its is above the president.  Maybe, Dr. Kalam thought as the director of a military production organization (missiles), he could get everything he wanted from the government but as nation’s President he had to forget that privilege and prestige.

That is the rubber stamp president. Every President wishes to say he or she is not a mere rubber stamp but the Constitution has prescribed the role of the president in a way as being subordinate to the government. In contrast the president of USA or Russia is a powerful post and he is the “supreme leader” of the government. .

Kovind has been chosen in order to widen the vote bank of low caste Hindus for the Hindutva parties and that is the reason why the Congress also fielded a low caste Hindu woman just for the sake of opposing the sure candidate Kovind as BJP had mustered enough to support him to presidency.   

As President RSS operative Kovind won’t be like scientist Dr. Abdul Kalam, the widely known as the Missile man and respected globally as the Indian intelligent common man as president and who was committed entirely the to services to the nation, but as a low caste man he knows what India is all about and is likely to avoid any controversy surrounding the Presidency. Abdul Kalam was nominated by the then PM Vajpayee.  He can now plan his foreign tours to enjoy his stay at Rashtrapati Bhavan but should align his external plans with those of overtly ambitious PM Modi who is now the touring premier of India. .

At present BJP has a comfortable majority in the parliament and he is not going to have any problem at all, unless, of course, BJP loses power in the next parliament poll in two years .  However, many prominent Dalits say they are unaware what contributions, if any, the new first citizen has made on behalf of the community.

Kovind is not entirely without controversy, however, A 2010 Hindustan Times report quoted him as saying that “Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation” at a press conference calling for the scrapping of a report that recommended government job reservations for socially and economically disadvantaged sections among religious and linguistic minorities. This was a political statement and is still the stand of the RSS- BJP Hindutva duo.

Hoping to get another term from PM Modi at Presidential palace to enjoy life, Congress leader and incumbent president Mukherjee tried to appease and cooperate with the Modi government on most issues and promptly signed bills, he did question the issuing of multiple ordinances on land acquisition bill and summoned Union ministers to explain why this was being done. He also spoke critically about growing intolerance in the country. It would be interesting to see if Kovind would be critical of NDA government on any issue.

New precedents have been set by Presidents over the years. While President Shankar Dayal Sharma called Vajpayee to form the government in 1996 as BJP had emerged as the largest party in the Lok Sabha elections, this practice was not followed by his successors in the wake of this dispensation not lasting more than 13 days.

President APJ Abdul Kalam, who became head of state during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime was not a BJP member, had a good run but his decision to sign on the papers imposing President’s Rule in Bihar in 2005 earned him a lot of censure. That he had signed the orders while on an official visit to Moscow and without asking questions to the Manmohan Singh government and Bihar governor Buta Singh made matters worse.

Modi and RSS-BJP’s choice of a low caste RSS Hindu from Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the North means to further target mosque-structure politics for consolidation of Hindutva hold over low cast Hindus. After making a Sanyasi (saint politician) as UP chief minister the Modi government has brought in a low caste Hindu as Indian President. That means, Muslims fear, the RSS-BJP government and RSS-BJP president would jointly coerce the Hon. Supreme Court judges to deliver a pro-Hindutva judgment over reconstruction of grand Babri Mosque pulled by Hindutva criminal gangs belonging most of the Hindu parties of India in 1992 and might even save the false prestige of new Hindutva criminal crops.

This could mean two things. One, the Modi government would speed up judgment and give justice to Muslims and the historic Babri Mosque, illegally destroyed by Hindu criminal elements on fictitious stories spread by RSS with Congress government support.   Two, the Modi government, UP government and President would coerce the Hon. Supreme Court to disallow the reconstruction of the Mosque as the Federal Government of Narasimha Rao promised to the world on January 06, 1992 the day of destruction of the Mosque and let the government to promote RS criminal elements to further advance their Hindutva goals. 

Interestingly, the BJP regime is pushing ahead with the Congress policy of imposition of north Indian language Hindi in all states that would in due course replace the regional language, first by gradually reducing the importance of regional languages. Tamil Nadu opposes the ugly mindset of Indian government now being controlled by RSS.  Congress, the culprit in trying to force Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people of India must be too glad that the BJP which promoted to keep Muslim under check and reduce their presence in governments, assemblies, parliament, government services, government retirement beneficiaries among them. Insignificant Kovind could be expected to be with BJP-Congress duo in forcing Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people saying it could be a link language for national integration but it is indeed the linguistic imperialism. 

Unity of India lies in the hearts and minds of people- not in languages and forcing a language on people is strange. Only a government that has no constructive ideas would try to create problems of people in order to stay in power. Those who want to work in the North India would automatically learn Hindi. But in order to just visit North or other parts of India, no one needs to know Hindi or any other Indian language and necessary communication does take place as people are getting educated.

Hindi is like any other language in India- nothing more or less any attempt to impose it on every Indian would continue to fail, despite huge resources being allocated for propagation of Hindi as “special link” everywhere. Now the BJP government is also promoting another north Indian language Sanskrit in a big way along with Ayurveda pills while many other Indian languages lack central support; for instance, Tulu language does not have scrip and Union government is not serious about such important Indian issues. . . But Indians love their own languages and should have the right to promote their own languages whether BJP or Congress or Indian regime likes it or not.

It would be naive if anyone expects Kovind speaks for the Kashmiris who seek justice and sovereignty. India’s occupation forces have, brutally and through trap techniques, have slaughtered over 100,000 innocent Kashmiris, most of them are Muslims. Will he raise his silent voice against or Sri Lankan criminal assaults and regular atrocities against Indian Tamils at Katchatheevu, elsewhere? He is of course duty bound to support Indian case in Arunachal Pradesh which China is eager to acquire from India by supporting India cause in badminton, etc. China also joins India and Pakistan in occupational cries against Kashmiris. 

APJ Kalam could be a model president of India for every future president to enumerate for state performance. Kovind may have to take a call on matters unforeseen and without past examples and how he goes about it will determine his proper management of political human resources and a place in history of constitutional politics. Otherwise, one need not dwell into the choice of an unknown person for Presidential palace. That is the job of Indian political class to determine. PM Modi thinks India does not have any better person for presidency as Congress government and President Mukherjee thought a cricketer who was promoted by gambling masters and pampered by corporate -media lords should honored with the nation’s heist national honor Bharatratna.

Indian politicians have no shame in undermining and even insulting the national honors, though!

World expects a positive end to the Babri mosque demolition and construction of Hindu structure over the Mosque. Indian media lords think by denying Muslims their legitimate right to have mosques built in India, they would defeat Islam and insult Muslims.  They also insult the Constitution of India by seeking to degrade Muslim minority in place of due protection for them as minority. They have generated fear among Muslims, including those who are anti-Islamic by faith and practice.  They don’t mind more partitions if only that would make India 100% Hindus.

No one knows anything about the new President of India and none now thinks Kovind could be a better or good president.  Kovind’s first concern likely to be to come across as balanced and neutral whenever the opposition knocks on his door. Congress and other opposition parties have been raising objections to the way many governors in the NDA government are conducting themselves.

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Pakistan can maximize the benefits of CPEC by involving China experts

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Mr. Yao Jing, who has been to Pakistan three times at various diplomatic postings – very junior, mid-career, and senior-most position as Ambassador, a perfect expert on Pakistan. He was in touch with Pakistan for almost 25 years, and have deep interaction with various segments of the society, seen several Governments and virtually all political and regional leaders in Pakistan. He has also served in India and Afghanistan and understands well Pak-India, Pak-Afghan relations in a comprehensive manner. Being an Ambassador, he had interaction with the highest level official, military and civil bureaucracy, and leadership. His understanding of Pakistan is unmatched. At the end of his tenure as Ambassador to Pakistan, before departing, in one of his farewell, he expressed that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would be better served if Pakistan would have appointed officials who are experts on the functioning of the Chinese government and its market. He was happy at the progress that had been made between the two countries, and that CPEC was on the right track. Pakistan can maximize the benefits of CPEC by involving China experts.

There exist around 20,000 China-graduates in Pakistan in various fields and various age groups, with various lengths of experience to fresh graduates. The first badge of Pakistani students traveled to China for higher education in 1977-78. Initially, there were very few students, but a sharp increase was witnessed since year-2000 and onward. Currently, there are around 30,000 Pakistani students studying in China, almost all majors field of emerging specializations, in leading Chinese Universities. They are at various levels – Undergrads, Masters, PhDs, and Post.Docs, etc.

A vast pool of around 20,000 China-graduates in Engineering, Agriculture, Health Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Economics, Management Sciences, Social and Natural Sciences are available in Pakistan readily.

China graduates are the human resource required for CPEC, as they understand China in addition to their professional qualification. While studying in China, they interact with the Chinese teachers, students, and society and learns Chinese culture, Traditions, History, Philosophy, Thinking, Ethics, Values, and Psyche, Politics, Governance, etc. Based on their understandings of Chinese systems, they can negotiate with Chinese and work with them in harmony and successfully. The involvement of China-Graduates in the CPEC is key to success and may maximize benefits for Pakistan.

Chinese Ambassador further said,“CPEC is now well connected, much to the satisfaction of both sides,” furthermore. “The biggest concern, if there is one, is that Pakistani officials lack expertise on China, and do not know how the Chinese government works, and also how Chinese companies operate.” Due to a lack of understanding, some time faces misunderstandings and misinterpretations.“In China, for example, we have some experts that advise us on Pakistan’s governance model. There is a lot more to be done for Pakistani authorities to learn the functioning of Chinese markets and governance model,” he added. While considering CPEC as Oxygen to Pakistan’s economy and catalyst for economic take-off the country, there is no single interpreter of the Chinese language in the Government of Pakistan. In the private sector, there are few Chinese language experts, with 50% interpretation capability only. Communication and understanding may be a hurdle, which can be resolved by involving China-graduates simply. Pakistan needs to change its mindset from the Western approach toward understanding China, which may benefit in the smooth execution of CPEC.

Currently, those who are handing CPEC has little knowledge about China and sometimes face an embarrassing situation. It is not an individual’s  fault, but if China experts are given this task, they can perform much better. CPEC is handled by Western-educated or trained personnel, having little or no understandings of China can not achieve the desired results or optimal outcomes. Often, they compare China with the Western World, which is the wrong approach and may lead to a total disaster sometimes. China is a unique civilization, and having its own traditions and values, much different from the West. It will be highly productive, if the Government of Pakistan, utilize the China-graduates and China-trained human resource, to maximize the outcomes of CPEC.

Ambassador Yao Jing is a sincere friend of Pakistan; his advice carries high-value and may be taken seriously. Especially while we are entering into the Second-Phase of CPEC, where the private sector may be involved in Industrialization, Agricultural Sector, and Services Sector, China experts can play an instrumental role and maximize benefits for Pakistan.

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Interpreting Sheikh Hasina’s Foreign Policy

Shariful Islam

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September 28, 2020 marks the 74th birthday of Sheikh Hasina, the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh. On the occasion of her birthday, it becomes important to examine the foreign policy of Sheikh Hasina and the policy imperatives for Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina brought dynamism in Bangladesh foreign policy. In fact, the peace-centric foreign policy of Hasina becomes pertinent for world peace, stability, and prosperity. To make Bangladesh a developed country by 2041, the constructive, cooperative and peace-centric foreign policy of Hasina can play leading role. Thus, in this birthday, this article attempts to analyse Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy for a peaceful and better world.

Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009, and took oath for the third time as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 2019. This long period provided political stability in Bangladesh except some incidences of political violence at the beginning of 2014. This has also helped Bangladesh to maintain a consistency in foreign policy pattern/priorities. It is argued that political leaders play important role in the field of international relations and foreign policy formulations and executions. The personal characteristics of the leader, i.e. beliefs, motives, decision style, and interpersonal style become critical in understanding the foreign policy behavior of a state (Hermann 2011).

In fact, in the context of Bangladesh where the Prime Minister play vital role in the foreign policy formulations, the beliefs, ideologies, personal characteristics, norms, values, and the bold and visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina play crucial role in the formulation and execution of an independent foreign policy of Bangladesh based on norms, values and enlightened interest. One can identify the following key parameters of Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy.

First, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, laid down the foreign policy principle of Bangladesh, i.e. ‘Friendship to all and malice to none’. This policy helped Bangladesh to achieve Bangladesh’s recognition from states around the world and building cooperative partnership. However, except Awami League, this policy is not followed by other political parties in Bangladesh. After coming to power for the second time in 2009, Sheikh Hasina made a strategic shift in the foreign policy formulations of Bangladesh prioritising both India and China in the development trajectory of Bangladesh. Hasina government strongly followed the foreign policy principle, i.e. ‘Friendship to all and malice to none’ in the case of Bangladesh’s relations with both India and China. In fact, Bangladesh has been able to maintain the good relations with all countries including India and China due to the ‘friendship to all, malice to none’ foreign policy principle of Sheikh Hasina. According to Sheikh Hasina, ‘[W]hat’s the problem with it (maintaining ties with both China and India)? We have ties with all our neighbours. Bangladesh has no animosity with anyone because we are following the lesson taught by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’ (bdnews24.com, July 4, 2019).If the world would follow such peace-centric foreign policy of Sheikh Hasina, the world would be a better place to live in, one can argue.

Second,Sheikh Hasina follows a peace-centric foreign policy. As the earlier section notes, the foreign policy dictum developed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is strongly followed by Sheikh Hasina. For instance, while the major powers in the region and beyond closed their doors to the Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh opened the door for them. As a result, more than 1.1 million Rohingyas received shelter in Bangladesh. Bangladesh with limited resources is providing food, shelter, medicare and other facilities/services to this huge number of Rohingya refugees since 2017. To resolve the crisis, Bangladesh strongly believes in peaceful resolution through mutual understanding and dialogue.

Third,under the Sheikh Hasina government, Bangladesh prioritises economy over security or strategic issues in its foreign policy formulations. At Bangladeshi envoys conference, held in July 2019 at London, Sheikh Hasina has asked Bangladeshi envoys based in European countries to pursue economy diplomacy as top most priority to sustain the ongoing development in Bangladesh. At the World Economic Forum Economic Summit in New Delhi in October 2019, Sheikh Hasina presented Bangladesh as the economic hub in the sub-region and thus asked the global investors to invest in Bangladesh. Under the leadership of Hasina, Bangladesh is setting up 100 special economic zones, with one-stop service across the country to attract foreign direct investments.

The agreements on economic cooperation between Bangladesh and different countries shows the importance Bangladesh attaches to economic diplomacy in its foreign policy formulations and executions. Due to the prioritisation of economy diplomacy, the GDP of Bangladesh has grown from US$102 billion in 2009 to US$302 billion in 2019 (Hasina 2019). In addition, foreign direct investment has also increased from US$ 700 million in 2009 to US$ 3613 million in 2018 (Table 1). In 2018, Bangladesh was the second recipient of FDI in South Asia. In addition, Table 2 demonstrates that the volume of trade has increased between 2009 and 2018 which underscores the priority of economic diplomacy in the foreign policy formulations of Bangladesh under Hasina regime. According to UNCTAD, there is 9.5 per cent merchandise exports growth rate in 2018. Among the export products, 95 per cent covers manufactured goods. According to the UNCTAD statistics, among the top five export destinations of Bangladesh in 2018 included USA (US$ 5672 million), Germany (US$ 5626 million), United Kingdom (US$ 3460 million), Spain (US$ 2709 million), and France (US$ 2288 million).

Table 1: Foreign direct investment flow in Bangladesh (Millions of dollars)

Year2009201020112012201320142015201620172018
Value70091311361293159915512235233321523613

Source: UNCTAD (2015: A5; 2019:214).

Table 2: International merchandise trade: Total merchandise trade (millions of US$)

Sector2005201020152018
Merchandise exports9297191943237939252
Merchandise imports13889278214204760495
Merchandise balance-4 592-8 627-9 669               -21243

Source: UNCTADstat (https://unctadstat.unctad.org/CountryProfile/GeneralProfile/en-GB/050/index.html).       

Fourth, after came to power in 2009, Sheikh Hasina resolved the long-standing maritime boundary delimitation dispute with India and Myanmar peacefully through the help of international regimes. Bangladesh now has sovereign rights on all living, and non-living resources of over 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone and up to 354 nautical miles of the continental shelf of the country. Thus, blue economy has become a key area of Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy. Though India and China are rivals in many aspects, Bangladesh has signed Blue Economy agreement with both of them.

Fifth, resolving Rohingya crsis through internationalisation of the issue became a key foreign policy priority for Sheikh Hasina government. Thus, at bilateral, regional and international forums, Bangladesh advocated Rohingya issues strongly.

Sixth, under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh strongly advocates rules-based international order. Thus, Bangladesh promotes the agency of rules-based international order, i.e. regional and international institutions. The country respects the norms of the international institutions like the United Nations. In fact, the constitution of the United Nations is also reflected in the drafting of foreign policy principles of Bangladesh.

Seventh, conventionally, Bangladesh does not participate in power politics whether at regional or international level. Instead, regional and international cooperation based on rules and norms has been the guiding principles of Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy. In fact, cooperation and partnership at bilateral, regional, and global level are key defining features of Bangladesh foreign policy under Sheikh Hasina regime. Bangladesh is a strong advocate of regional and international cooperation. For instance, Bangladesh strongly supports South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral and Technical Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the United Nations. The country strongly promotes sub-regional cooperation. The country has already allowed India to use its land, water, and ports to access its Northeastern states. For instance, Bangladesh has asked Nepal and Bhutan to use its Saidpur airport, and Chittagong and Mongla ports which demonstrates the importance of constructive engagement with the neighbours and beyond.

Finally,South-South Cooperation is another defining feature of Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy. Bangladesh sees South-South Cooperation as an effective mechanism for development cooperation among the Southern countries. For instance, Bangladesh has included South-South Cooperation in its National Policy for Development Cooperation. Bangladesh has been awarded ‘South-South Award’ in 2013 to make a remarkable progress in the poverty alleviation. In addition, in September 2018, Bangladesh has received a special award in Bangkok from the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and UNESCAP in recognition of its outstanding contributions to South-South Cooperation.

This article also focuses on some policy imperatives. First, the above identified eight defining features of Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy need to be promoted in the days to come especially economic diplomacy. Second, the dearth of scholarship on Bangladesh foreign policy studies implies that it becomes important to promote foreign policy studies in the country. In this regard, the role of the state, and scholars becomes important. Bangladesh is a rising power which requires both knowledge production and dissemination. Consequently, Sheikh Hasina government needs to promote foreign policy scholarship both in the country and beyond.

Third, it becomes also important to promote the soft power diplomacy of Bangladesh. In this context, nation branding (a peaceful country, an emerging economic power, a strong promoter of regional and international cooperation) to the world community becomes crucial. Bangladesh’s contributions to the world peace and stability needs to be highlighted by writing op-eds, making presentations, publishing research articles and so forth by both the policy and academic community.

Fourth, internationalising the Rohingya issue will be another key issue area of Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy in the days to come. In this context, the role of active diplomacy at both Track I and Track II level becomes crucial. There are more than 10, 000 University teachers in Bangladesh who can write a piece on the Rohingya issue and publish it at regional and international media. This will be imperative to internationalise the issue and thus resolve the crisis.

Fifth, deepening economic cooperation, attracting foreign direct investment, promoting trade and commerce, sustaining the development partnership with major and emerging powers will become serious challenge for Sheikh Hasina government in the post-COVID-19 era. Thus, it becomes important to rethink Bangladesh foreign policy and diplomacy based on economic diplomacy in the post-COVID-19 era.

To conclude, in this troubled world where narrowly defined interest defines the foreign policy actions of states, arms races, and competition for influence, power and position becomes rampant, the foreign policy of Sheikh Hasina based on peace, friendship, and cooperation becomes important for the welfare and benefits of the people in the world. The foreign policy of Bangladesh under the Sheikh Hasina regime is improving Bangladesh’s relations with the major development partners of the country including with both India and China especially in the areas of economic and development partnership which has resulted in economic growth and socio-economic development in the country. And this has impacted the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in the country. Thus, the continuation of Sheikh Hasina’s foreign policy becomes important for Bangladesh and the beyond. This article concludes that there is no alternative to Sheikh Hasina and her peace-centric foreign policy for the 170 million people in Bangladesh and beyond.

In this great day, I wish, Happy Birthday to our Honourable Prime Minister. Long live Bangladesh, long live the Honourable Prime Minister.

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South Asia

Russia expanding influence in India and Sri Lanka

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Vedangshi Roy Choudhuri*

In the post-World War II era the diplomatic influence of former Soviet Union on newly  Independent India and its southern neighbour, Sri Lanka redefined a new foreign policy order based on Non Aligned principles. The changes  following the cold war marked the beginning of a new era of  diplomacy  between   Moscow with  New Delhi and Colombo

  Russia is a global superpower and a permanent member of the United Nations which paves a path to withhold a  significant influence on the global south. India is a  rising regional power being a  UN Security Council member and its southern neighbour Sri Lanka is geostrategically positioned in the Indian ocean which results in being vital nations for  Modern-day Russia’s Foreign policymaking. This Trilateral diplomacy needs greater assessment to reframe a new foreign policy doctrine to enhance economic diplomacy and for greater defence cooperation.

 Soviet  Union (USSR) and India

The USSR diplomatic collaboration helped  India on achieving its self-sufficiency in food production and to become an industrialised nation. The same period saw specific defence cooperation between  New Delhi and Moscow due to the changing security dynamics in the global security arena. In mid-1991, India accelerated the process of liberalizing the economy by removing controls as it was trying to adjust to the post-Soviet reality. The first phase of the post cold war diplomacy was marked by a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, and after a year they lined it up with a Military-Technical Cooperation agreement.

Russia – India

Historically India and Russia have had stable and cordial political relations and elevated the diplomacy to a ”Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”. The Bilateral relationship between the two nations is robust, with a wide agenda for cooperation. There are regular excessive-degree visits between the two nations. Moreover, for  Russia, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) continues to be an instrument for establishing better relations with India and with other South Asian neighbours

On an international level, Russia, and India are the predominant members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) organization of rising powers set to reshape the world economy. At present, India and Russia continue to share a common strategic rationale for their relationship: aside from bilateral collaborations, the two are members of various multilateral associations including BRICS, RIC, G20, East Asia Summit and SCO—where roads for cooperation on issues of common significance exist.

Trade Relations

 The agreement on trade and economic and scientific-technological cooperation until 2010 was signed in New Delhi in December 1998 which sought to boost bilateral trade and economic interaction in a qualitative sense between the two nations. Hence Economic interaction and trade are key focus points. On the trade front, India and Russia have called for enhancing and developing economic ties in priority areas to meet the bilateral trade target of $30 billion by 2025. Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)–India trade pact is a proposed platform which is to be used by the two countries to have a free flow of trade and eliminate trade barriers as currently, they have no bilateral free trade deals in place.

 Defence Cooperation

 In the post-cold war era, the diplomatic process of one of the most critical factors of the Indo-Russian strategic partnership is defence. The 1994 Moscow Declaration is a charter for Russian–Indian cooperation in their national and international security. However, Since the early 1960s, India purchased over 40 billion dollars’ worth of defence equipment from Moscow. The key partnership among India and Russia was marked in the year 2000 and the two nations plan to extend their strategic partnership, particularly in the areas of defence, nuclear energy and trade and investment.

The 2001 long-term Russian  Naval Doctrine goals in the Indian Ocean was to pursue a deliberate strategy of turning the Indian Ocean into a zone of peace, stability and neighbourly relations ensuring periodic Russian naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

Over time India has developed the  BrahMos Missile System, Joint development of the 5th generation Fighter aircraft and the Multi transport aircraft, in addition to the licensed manufacturing of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks. Lately, the plan is to assemble about 400 Kamov Ka-226 T twin-engined Russian helicopters in India.

 Soviet. Union (USSR) –  Sri Lanka

The predominant step towards the beginning of complete bilateral ties between the Soviet Union and Ceylon was in 1956 under the patronage of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Later, in the mid-Sixties when Sirimavo Bandaranaike won the elections and became Prime Minister, many believed that the new government would share a socialist ideology. however, the world’s first woman premier’s foreign policy was guided by the ideas of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Russia and Sri Lanka have crafted a grand approach based on the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ideas and old Soviet connections. As a result, looking back, one can declare the entire diplomatic process to be noticeably exceptional.

 In the course of this period, the Soviet Union was instrumental in reworking the agriculture-based economy into a competitive manufacturing country through her technical cooperation. Setting up Ceylon steel, Tyre and Sugar companies with the aid of the USSR created employment opportunities that significantly advanced manufacturing efficiency.

Russia- Sri Lanka

Comparing then and now, steps must be taken to make sure the free flow of foreign policy ideas to reshape external policy outreach. For a small country like Sri Lanka, it is vital to outline a new balance between external outreach and internal stability. For instance, tapping into Russian billionaires would possibly help Sri Lanka to draw foreign direct investment (FDI) opportunities. For Russia, the geographical position of Sri Lanka is a bonus for gaining access to the 1.3 billion Indian consumer market through the Indo-Lanka free trade agreement (ISFTA).

After the fall of the Soviet Union, these bilateral ties were tested, but Russia kept a close watch on the South Asian island nation until they had been revived to their old glory. In the past fifteen years, Russia has been even more steady in its foreign policy towards Sri Lanka than earlier.

Six decades of international relations among Russia and Sri Lanka have yielded strong accomplishments in retaining the long-standing partnership. it is determined that Russia’s foreign policy approach regarding Sri Lanka has played a firm role in turning a new chapter in each other’s diplomatic practices. Presently, evidence of this is substantial in the closeness between Moscow and Colombo. In most recent instances, the time-tested, deep-rooted friendship got stronger when Russian President Putin stated “Moscow remains a reliable partner of Sri Lanka” following the Easter Sunday bombings.

Conclusion

Lately, South Asia is perhaps one of the most challenging regions for Russia from the point of view of not only security in its traditional meaning but also of Russia’s prospects of emerging as an economic power. Russia attempts to pave a path between the developed  Russian constructive multilateral relations with the countries of South Asia and the further manifestation of its soft diplomacy in the region have opened the gates to its substantial regional influence.

*Vedangshi Roy Choudhuri is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (BA hons.) in Journalism and Mass Communication at the Jindal School of Journalism & Communication (JSJC). She mainly focuses on Indo-China global media relations. She was also a recipient of the ICASQCC Gold Medal in Mauritius. Roy is member of the SGRC at Jindal Global University and a social activist in Chennai.

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