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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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Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet

Sisir Devkota

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Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.

The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.

Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.

The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.

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Walking the tight rope: India’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Middle East

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India’s diplomatic corps have been resolutely articulating India’s stances and furthering its interests in the international fora where multiple challenges emanating from historical and contemporary contexts are being faced. One important factor which India’s astute foreign policy makers have faced is the complicated and crucial engagement with the Middle East. There are multiple facets to India’s engagement in the contemporary context that add to this complexity. One, India’s old adversary and neighbor Pakistan has upped the ante in its diplomatic blitzkrieg especially within the Muslim world. Second India’s has varied strategic interests in the warring Middle East factions. Third, the economic interdependencies and the crisis in the international trade in the Trump era has further complicated India’s position as an economic actor in the region. While there are various constituent elements of India’s Middle East outreach, the contemporaneous concerns relate more to its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey.

India and Saudi Arabia have historically engaged in deep and multi-dimensional political, economic, cultural, defence and strategic cooperation. Saudi Arabia has long been an important Indian trade partner; the Kingdom remains a vital source of energy for India, which imports almost a fifth of its crude oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. Enhanced security cooperation has added a new dimension in the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Riyadh. Recently, Indian PM Narendra Modi was conferred with the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even as the top leadership continues to send signals of deep comradarie and solidarity.

With the ascent of the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, various layers in this important diplomatic relationship have surfaced. This has happened in a particularly peculiar geopolitical and geostrategic context where both countries have faced tough challenges to their internal stability and international position. While Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still emerging from the consequences of the massive attack in its oil fields as well as the widespread criticism of humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the international fora, India is grappling with international criticism and discourse about the situation in Kashmir in context of dilution of its political autonomy as well as prolonged information and communication blackout.KSA has had a mediating role in the Indo-Pak tussle since Pulwama and how this hyphenation has led to competitive photo-ops of diplomatic support. Even as KSA has stood by Indian leadership’s vital interests. However, the Pakistani leadership has been relentless in its attempts to appeal to the leader of the Islamic world for vital economic and diplomatic support, especially in context of the Kashmir situation. Even as Saudi Arabia has managed this delicate equation with deftness, it has given in to Pakistan’s economic demands while making a symbolic gesture of closeness by offering the private jet to Pakistani Prime Minister for his visit to the West.  It doesn’t help that the Indian economy is going through a rough phase. However, the audacious announcement to invest $100 Billion in the fledgling Indian economy is a bold testament of the veritable and vibrant economic partnership between New Delhi and Riyadh. It is pertinent to note that in the contemporaneous challenges that the countries face, Iran as well as Pakistan emerge as key actors that affect the bilateral engagement in a pronounced manner.

Iran is India’s historic ally and third largest supplier of crude oil. However, the India-Iran relationship transcends oil. India, with an investment of $500 million, aims to develop Iran’s Chabahar port as a transit hub for Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, India is developing two gas fields, namely Farzad-B gas field located in Tehran and the South Pars field located between Iran and Qatar. These projects clearly highlight India’s long-term engagement with Iran. However, India’s muted response to US pressure has been causing slight tension in the bilateral relationship. Even though the top-level bilateral meeting between Indian premier Modi and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani was successful to diffuse tensions to an extent. The crisis in Yemen, oil trade and even India’s action in Kashmir continue to affect the relationship.

In this context, the challenges emanating from Turkey are also a sign of worry. Even as Turkey has remained an old ally of Pakistan and a supporter of the ‘Kashmiri’ cause, its open support for a rather lonely Pakistan should cause some worry in India’s strategic circles. This is because India has fine diplomatic relations with Turkey and has considerable economic and trade interests.

However, oil being an important consumer and agricultural good in India’s economy, it is important to secure its interests to have access to reliable and affordable Iranian crude oil. The trade negotiations and engagements with the US haven’t had any headway even as the threat of sanctions for buying oil from Iran continues. India could emerge as a trouble-solver in this context especially since this KSA-Iran conflict in oil supply context has global implications. PM Modi’s personal chemistry with the US leadership could be useful in this context.

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