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India: Implications of AAP win in Delhi by-poll for Indian politics

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As it was facing the threat of extinction following the rout in the local polls in Delhi state which it rules, Delhi’s ruling party Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has won a by-election for the Bawana seat by a big 24,000 votes, leaving behind the real threat BJP and the Congress, which had hoped to enter the Delhi assembly as it ran neck and neck with AAP in the early rounds of counting.

While the BJP has 4 seats in the Delhi assembly,  the Congress party has none.

Victory for AAP’s Ram Chander is sweeter as he defeated Ved Prakash, who had won Bawana as an AAP candidate in the assembly elections but quit the party just before key civic polls in March this year and joined the BJP.

Bawana seat is a reserved seat (Scheduled Caste), with a large number of Dalit voters. The AAP succeeded in playing up BJP’s presumptive ‘anti-Dalit’ image in its favour. Even in the past, this segment of voters had proved to be bankable for AAP.

In fact, the Aam Aadmi Party has retained the Bawana assembly seat in Delhi in a booster shot particularly for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who has no answer yet to the shocking defeat of his party in the parliamentary and local polls.

The win is significant as AAP was also trounced by the BJP in the Delhi civic polls, only weeks after being pummeled in assembly elections in Punjab and Goa.The poll was also seen as a test of the popularity of the rival parties ahead the 2019 national election, in which the BJP hopes win all seven Lok Sabha seats as it did in 2014.

Victory for AAP’s Ram Chander is sweeter as he defeated Ved Prakash, who had won Bawana as an AAP candidate in the assembly elections but quit the party just before key civic polls in March this year and joined the BJP.

AAP has demonstrated clearly as to who is boss in Delhi- Kejriwal or Modi. The Modi-Shaw duo that dictates term to national politicians could not pierce through Delhi assembly politics of Kejriwal.

Energetic campaign

After his ambitious national runs that almost always ended in disaster, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal seems to have finally learnt his lesson. And AAP’s victory in Bawana by-election by a record margin of 24,052 votes is a proof of that.

Kejriwal is back to the grassroots that catapulted him to power in 2015. He’s back to his old strategy and his greatest strength — connecting with people, especially the weaker sections and voters of rural areas, unrecognized colonies, and slum dwellers.

For a party that was trounced by the Congress in Punjab, by the BJP in MCD and by both in the Rajouri Garden bypoll, the Bawana result presents an opportunity for revival. Kejriwal’s outreach in the Outer Delhi constituency speaks to his party’s base – the urban poor.

Faced with popularity crisis, the Delhi Chief Minister, his ministers and other top party colleagues campaigned hard in Bawana, with the supremo Kejriwal camping there every Sunday for the past few weeks, asking voters to choose his party again.

During its campaigning in Bawana, AAP played up the ‘bhagora’ (deserter) factor against BJP. Ultimately, Bawana voters rejected the ‘detractor’ and BJP candidate Prakash. Besides, apart from its senior leaders, both Kejriwal and deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia virtually camped in Bawana to oversee both development work as well as an election strategy

First of all, learning a lesson from its past, AAP fielded Ram Chander, a candidate who had never won any election before. He had contested the last election as a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate. During Rajouri Garden by-election, AAP had lost because the voters rejected the party for its decision to allow the then-sitting MLA Jarnail Singh to quit the seat and contest the Punjab election.

Out of the six wards in Bawana, BJP had won five in the MCD election. Immediately, after the MCD polls, AAP had set an agenda of bringing development in the unorganized colonies, JJ clusters, villages, etc. The focus was on improving the long-pending civic problems of these areas. This helped the party to reconnect with its grassroots voters. AAP’s relentless demand for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was accepted and all the EVMs used in the Bawana by-election were equipped with VVPAT.

Delhiites have found the AAP and Kejriwal still relevant in their lives. People see AAP still better than other corrupt parties.

Huge setback for BJP

For the national ruling party BJP and PM Modi, the loss of Bawana is a big embarrassment, a land slide. Riding high on a series of victories, especially the by-election to the Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency in Delhi and the elections to the Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCD), BJP’s hyperbole failed to cut ice with Bawana voters.

The Bawana by-election was important for the BJP and PM Modi as they have to prove that people are behind the decision of the AAP MLA who quit the party and joined the BJP. It was also a prestige battle for the BJP’s Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari, who draws key support from Delhi’s “Poorvanchali” voters, made up of people from UP and Bihar. Bawana, one of Delhi’s biggest assembly constituencies, has a big presence of Poorvanchalis.

The Bawana by-poll result underscores BJP’s failure of strategy and misplaced optimism.

Why did BJP fail to corner Bawana seat? Answer looks very simple. AAP’s strategic attack on BJP failed the BJP’s Delhi assembly strategy. 

PM Narendra Modi, trying to take back Delhi poll in the next poll, was said to be watching the Bawana election closely. The BJP and Modi had hoped to add a fifth seat to its kitty after snatching the Rajouri constituency from AAP in another by-election earlier this year.

Contrary to his ‘anti-Narendra Modi’, ‘anti-BJP’ image and criticisms, Kejriwal maintained a stoic silence and restrained communication, ever since the MCD result was announced. Abandoning his strategy of attacking Modi, Kejriwal single-pointedly focused on carrying out the development of the area. An internal post-poll survey by the Pradesh Congress Committee also underlined this fact and mentioned that this would make AAP a winner.

The Delhi BJP was on a high this year after they won a resounding third term in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The MCD win balanced the scales in favour of the BJP after AAP’s 2015 sweep. But with the Bawana by-poll result, the AAP has stamped its authority on the National Capital. The BJP, which was buoyant after the MCD polls, had to settle with No 2 position.

For BJP’s Delhi unit, winning Bawana seat was important as well as challenging, because it had to keep pace with the spreading dominance of the party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in other parts of the country.

Keeping an eye on the Purvanchali voters, who account for almost 35 percent of the total electorate in Bawana, Delhi BJP Manoj Tiwari was placed at the forefront of the battle to woo the segment. Here too, BJP failed to anticipate the growing acceptance of AAP in the unrecognized colonies and JJ clusters, where a large number of residents belong to Purvanchal. “Many Purvanchali voters no doubt voted in the favour of BJP, but not all. Considering the body of developmental work done by Kejriwal in this area, a large section voted in the favour of AAP. Instead of favoring regionalism, they chose to go for the development of the area,” a resident of one of the unorganized colonies said.

Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari’s ‘Poorvanchali’ identity, which had worked during the local polls,  failed this time to win all the Poorvanchali voters, as AAP emphasized on ‘development for all the residents of Bawana’.

In an astute move, the Delhi BJP fielded ex-AAP MLA Ved Prakash, who had quit AAP just before the MCD elections. Following its impressive victory in the MCD elections, the BJP was confident that its strategy of welcoming Opposition rebels in its fold and rewarding them with election tickets would pay dividends. But, it didn’t.

In fact, the strategy badly backfired. Somehow, BJP managed to end up in the second spot — during the initial rounds of counting, Congress was in the second position — in Bawana, thereby saving itself some acute embarrassment.

AAP’s victory has proved that the voters of Bawana have rejected BJP’s strategy of giving tickets to deserters and win. The message is clear from the people of Bawana — ‘if you are a detractor, we won’t accept you’. The strategy applied by BJP has miserably failed,” said an AAP observer.  

Observation: Back to people

AAP’s win in Delhi by-poll has put the BJP and Congress in tight stop and they will have to reschedule their anti-AAP program.

Huge defeat suffered by AAP and Kejriwal forced them to relink themselves with the people of Delhi as mere rhetoric  of Kejriwal cannot match the high profile talks of PM Modi.

More importantly, the impact of GST has been felt by the people gradually as process of food and other essentials are sky rocketing with  heavy taxes.

Bawana has recast the AAP and Kejriwal in limelight, their importance in Indian politics beyond Delhi, is stressed once again. A post-poll internal survey conducted by the Pradesh Congress Committee had predicted AAP’s victory in the Bawana by-election. The survey stated that AAP’s gaining margin over Congress and BJP would be due to the development work carried out by the Delhi government in the unrecognized colonies and villages in Bawana.

The Bawana by-election was seen as a crucial test of CM Kejriwal and his AAP’s popularity in the only state the party rules, after several setbacks since it swept the Delhi assembly elections in 2015.

The spectacular win by the ruling AAP in Delhi’s Bawana constituency by-election has saved the party from the embarrassment it faced after the defeat at local polls and also stop any future defections by selfish MLAs, if any left in the party.  In fact, no MLA would dare quit party and join BJP or Congress because they lose their MLAs seat while the AAP candidate would win the by poll convincingly. So the CM Kejriwal and his team can concentrate on development projects and serve the Delhiites to their full satisfaction. Take the people into confidence in whatever the government does or does not.  Whatever deficit in faith, trust and confidence people have not must be erased. 

Delhi’s victory of AAP has to do with more than Kejriwal because Delhiites want a change in the politics of Delhi but he is centre of popular change in the capital. Delhiites supported the anti-corruption movement as people are fed with corruption groomed and pampered by both the top and richest national parties Congress and BJP and AAP for their own sake and better future of their children.

Winning back the Bawana means Kejriwal is a shrewd leader Delhiites have found from among whole lot of corrupt political rats. His decision to reconnect with the people won him the Bawana seat.  However, whether or he would be able to overcome the Modi effect remains to be seen. 

However honest Kejriwal maybe, his honesty cannot survive in politics without kindness. Arrogance with fellow leaders may not win votes for ever. Defeat of the popular AAP in the parliamentary poll and local polls while the AAP rules the capital state has a vital message for Kejriwal and AAP.

Apparently, Kejriwal is a powerful tool the Delhiites use to bring the necessary changes in their lives. They trust him more than anybody else. But Delhi CM should not take the Bawana victory for granted and accept it as a game of Delhiites and should try to accommodate the leaders with varying views on governance but opt for consensus policy to pursue the AAP objectives successfully.

Remember, both the Congress and BJP are after the blood of AAP!

Delhi’s victory of AAP has to do with more than Kejriwal because Delhiites want a change in the politics of Delhi but he is centre of popular change in the capital.

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South Asia

Pakistan PM’s Saudi affair likely to backfire

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Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia flourished during the previous government headed by Nawaz Sharif, primarily due to his personal business interests in the Kingdom and friendly association with members of the Saudi royal family. Despite the criticism at home, Sharif never missed an opportunity to eulogize the Saudi rulers and support their wrongs.

During Sharif’s tenure as Prime Minister, while Pakistan’s ‘love affair’ with Riyadh blossomed, relations with Tehran plummeted. When the ambitious gas pipeline project was shelved by the Sharif government in 2015 under the Saudi pressure, some experts couldn’t resist the temptation of reading the obituary of Iran-Pakistan friendship. It seemed game over.

But the political transition in Islamabad this year rekindled hopes of a new foreign policy taking shape in Islamabad under the populist premier Imran Khan.

In his victory speech, Khan made it categorically clear that he would like to strengthen ties with allies in the Middle East, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. During his first meeting with the Iranian envoy to Islamabad, Khan reiterated his desire to bolster ties with Tehran and revive important projects that had been put on the backburner by the previous political dispensation, including the gas pipeline.

Experts termed it a “significant shift” in Pakistan’s foreign policy as his predecessor was seen overtly inclined towards stronger Pakistan-Saudi relations than Pakistan-Iran relations. Writing in The New Arab, Dr. Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui, a fellow at Indian Council of World Affairs, said with the exit of Nawaz Sharif, Saudi Arabia had lost a reliable ally who never concealed his affection for the Gulf states in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular “for both personal and strategic reasons.”

It was widely believed that Khan’s approach will be different from Sharif and he will not yield to covert pressures from Washington or Riyadh. At least that is what appeared.
When Khan embarked on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, keeping alive the tradition set by his predecessors, he sought to underscore that Riyadh will remain a priority for Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pertinently, it was President Hasan Rouhani of Iran, not King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who first extended an invitation to him.

But the faith in his leadership or his vision for ‘Naya Pakistan’ (new Pakistan) was not yet dented. The massive army of his followers on Twitter ensured that the public opinion, or at least the opinion of netizens, was firmly in favor of his leadership and policies.

As the country’s fiscal deficit inflated to 6.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the 2017-2018 financial year, Khan panicked. He boarded the plane to Riyadh again, this time to seek funds. To woo the Saudi rulers, Khan said Riyadh had “always stood with Pakistan in difficult times and the Pakistani government and its people highly acknowledge it.”
Speculation had been put to rest. Khan was walking in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Following his second visit to Riyadh, Saudi regime announced $6 billion in financial support to Islamabad. It corresponded with the international outrage over the cold-blooded murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even as many world leaders boycotted a Saudi investment conference, the so-called ‘Davos in the desert’, over Khashoggi’s death, Khan attended the event.

On asked why he attended the conference when many other world leaders had turned down the invitation, Khan said Pakistan was “desperate” for Saudi loans to shore up the flailing economy.

“Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF, we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment,” he was quoted saying by the Middle East Eye.

Khan conceded that his immediate foreign policy priority was maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia despite unprecedented outrage over Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi officials or the outcry over Saudi’s horrendous war crimes in Yemen.

Pakistan, which had previously maintained a neutral stance on Yemen war, might now be forced to support the Saudi onslaught there, some observers fear. If Khan can ignore a reprehensible crime like the killing of Khashoggi because of Saudi petrodollars, it can be expected that he will support the Saudi war crimes in Yemen also, although he has so far resisted doing that.

While Khan has adopted a strong and unwavering stance against the US, he seems to have succumbed to the temptation of being subservient to the Saudi Kingdom, for funds. That is where he risks losing the goodwill he has earned back in Pakistan and in the international community.

At a time when the world is saying ‘no’ to Saudi Arabia, Khan is part of a tiny minority that is going against the tide. This approach will only isolate Pakistan and it has isolated Riyadh and Washington.

Being subservient to Saudi interests also means that Khan will be forced to toe his predecessor’s line on Iran. If that happens, Islamabad will again be forced to shelve the gas pipeline project, which is being described as critical to Pakistan’s energy requirements.

Khan is walking a tightrope. Wisdom lies in taking informed decisions in the best interests of Pakistan keeping in view long-term goals. In the cricketing terminology, the cricketer-turned-prime minister could do well by playing the forward defensive shot rather than the mistimed stroke in the air.

First published in our partner MNA

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Pakistan a peace loving nation

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Muslims when meeting each other greet “Peace be upon you”. Islam is the religion of Peace and Love, Islamophobia is the creation of a few minds only. There is no doubt that there exists few criminals in every society, every religion, and every country, but such exceptions, may not be used to blame the whole nation, religion or country. Since its independence Pakistan has been promoting peace and stability around the world. Pakistan’s Peace-keeping missions have been playing important roles around the world to maintain peace in troubled areas. We are major contributor to Peace-Keeping Force and have been part of almost all of UN Peace-Missions, during the history of 7 decades. Pakistan is supportive of any efforts by any nation towards promotion or maintenance of peace.

Recently, UNGA’s Disarmament Committee adopted Pakistan’s resolutions with an overwhelming support, in New York on 9th November 2018. Three resolutions proposed by Pakistan were adopted by the UN General Assembly’s First Committee with an overwhelming support. The whole world supported Pakistan’s resolution while India was the only country to oppose them.

In fact, the resolutions highlight the importance of regional approaches to disarmament, which complement global disarmament efforts and stress the need to promote confidence building measures for enhancing regional and international peace and security. The resolution on conventional arms control was adopted by a large majority of 179 countries. India was the sole country to vote against the resolution.

Earlier, a big victory for Pakistan came, on November 1stwhen the Committee also adopted Pakistan’s resolution on assuring non-nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by 122 votes. The First Committee of the UN General Assembly which meets annually deals with disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community and is mandated to seek solutions to global security challenges by considering all disarmament and international security matters within the scope of the UN Charter. Pakistan’s role in disarmament was admired and non-proliferation of uranium. We strongly condemn biological and chemical weapons and strictly adhere to UN decisions.

Pakistan is a responsible country and always exploring the opportunities of peace. Pakistan has always initiated the peace process with India and sincerely tried best to resolve all issues with India, including Jammu and Kashmir, by a peaceful dialogue. Pakistan respects UN, Respect UN mandate, Respect UN Charter, and wants others to do the same. It believes in diplomacy, and there is precedence that some of the more complicated issues around the world, has been resolved by diplomacy, then why not Pakistan-India issues be resolved by dialogue too.

We support the supremacy of UN and all nations must respect the UN. We always stand with the oppressed and raise voice for the victims. Our struggle for justice and righteousness is always admired. We keep on struggling for global peace and be part of any peace process around the world.

The Indian opposition to Pakistani resolution and persistent refusal to leave Kashmir has exposed the true Indian face. The recent International Amnesty report on Human Right violation in Kashmir was a big blow to India. Indian atrocities against its own minorities and lower caste Hindus is condemned widely. Indian opposition to the UN resolution on Palestine is also an example of India’s international position.

It is time that serious notice is taken by the UN, International Community and all conscious individuals to stand up for International Peace, Justice and Human Rights.  We all should keep on struggling for a better world for our next generation. We should be united for “Peace, Stability and Prosperity” for humanity globally.

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The Making of Modern Maldives: A Look at Maumoon Gayoom

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh

Former Maldivian President Maumoon Gayoom occupies an important place in Maldivian political history largely because he guided this equatorial island nation to unprecedented levels of economic growth and also through tough times when democracy was challenged. Gayoom has a national as well as international reputation that made his name familiar to the rest of the South Asian countries. It was after his return from Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University as a lecturer, Gayoom commenced his political journey as a close aid of prime minister Ahmed Zaki in mid-70’s and later as a cabinet minister under Ibrahim Nasir. Gayoom’s leadership embarked on a more reformist approach in the first two terms during his presidency. He was able to take credit for the rise of the tourism sector and an increase in the fish productivity. In Male, as well as in the rest of the Maldivian islands, building of small fisheries harbors were accelerated under the rapid development programs initiated under his presidency. When one looks at the Maldivian foreign policy, Maumoon was credited as one of the key founders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 1985. Hence, he raised global awareness on climate change on the international arena. In this context, especially the awareness on small island nations facing rise in sea water levels which affects the livelihood of the islanders was a key theme which brought international attention. On the development side, the Hulhulemale reclamation project and the upgrading of roads and other infrastructure initiatives that he implemented are highly credited for by the Maldivians. In fact, the people’s president who visits the islands regularly was named as “A Man for All Islands” by the famous author in his book about Gayoom’s biography.

Early in his administration, former president introduced socio-economic experiments in reawakening the islands. His administration accelerated the economic growth in the twenty Atolls from Northern Haa Atoll to Southern Seenu Atoll instilling a degree of optimism and enthusiasm among the Maldivians. Yet another economic achievement in the tourism sector was the increase of luxury resorts from two in 1978 to hundred by 2008. Gayoom’s career is most relevant due to his performance and for changing the country’s political system to a multi-party democratic system where the power is vested on the citizens.

Another milestone during his tenure was to expand the average income of Maldivians from US$ 377 in 1978 to US$3,654 in 2008. However, towards the end of his presidency, the first signs of irreconcilable difficulties with the Maldivian opposition led by Mohamed Nasheed, the leader of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) started emerging in 2000. The Maldivian pro-democracy movement started in Male in 2003 and then moved to other Islands. As a result, Maldives adopted a multi-party political system and in 2008. In the same year the presidential campaign came to a climax where in the second phase of the presidential elections, the confident president had felt a constant sense of uncertainty since most of the opposition presidential candidates supported Mohamed Nasheed, the leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Gayoom lost the election and Nasheed the opposition leader assumed presidency.  The courageous former president Gayoom transferred the presidential powers to the newly elected president smoothly.

In fact, the reformist former president Gayoom formed the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party and later, he was one of the key founders of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) where his half-brother, Yameen Abdul Gayoom shared powers within the party. Hence, Qasim Ibrahim, a former finance minister under Nasheed’s government and also close confidant of president Gayoom led the Jumhooree Party (JP) which combined with PPM in 2013 presidential elections.

Unfortunately, in 2012 the overthrow of president Nasheed one of New Delhi’s closest allies in South Asia shocked the diplomatic circles on both sides of Asia as well as in the west. It took more than five years for Gayoom’s PPM party under the presidency of Yameen to return to power. However, due to widespread corruption and authoritative rules under Yameen’s presidency, many of the opposition party members such as former Maldivian president Nasheed, Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim and many other political leaders who opposed the undemocratic rule were prisoned through unlawful means.

During the darkest period of the Maldivian politics from 2017 to September 2018, the lone voice of the public opposition belonged to a few opposition leaders such as, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih cannot be forgotten. In the same period, former president Gayoom, Nasheed and several opposition members created a united opposition to unseat president Yameen and his majority party rule through democratic non-violent means. One of the major reasons for this change by Gayoom in Yameen’s leadership was the widespread corruption and the authoritative rule. Finally, president Yameen prisoned former president Gayoom and his son, Faris Maumoon. This was one of the main reasons where large number of Gayoom supporters broke away from PPM led by president Yameen. This reason influenced the 23rd September 2018 presidential elections where opposition common candidate Ibrahim Solih saw a massive victory margin against president Yameen.

One could argue that, Gayoom, the president who guided Maldives to economic prosperity was the same charismatic leader who guided the South Asian Island nation towards democratic maturity. Maumoon Gayoom has been the most unpredictable political influencer in the modern political making of Maldives.

*Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.

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