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India: Rahul Gandhi set to become Congress President

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Putting to rest all speculation and debate, Rahul Gandhi, MP, now the youngest member of Nehru dynasty that ruled India for years since its independence in 1947, is all set to take over as the president of Indian National Congress party from his mother Sonia Gandhi.

The high powered Congress working Committee in its meeting on November 20 has decided to make Rahul the new president of the party.

 Sources said Sonia Gandhi would remain a figurehead and could continue as chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Sonia has held the post of Congress chief since 1998, and is now the longest-serving president of the party. The delay in convening the CWC and the suspense over Rahul’s elevation has been the subject of much debate in the party. It was in November last year that the CWC unanimously asked Rahul to take over, but he wanted to follow the election route.

But while the election process began months ago and went largely as per schedule, the last leg — the election of the party chief — had been delayed. Though this was attributed to the leadership’s preoccupation with the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections, most senior leaders were of the view that Rahul should be elevated before the Gujarat polls.

The announcement followed months of speculation that the 47-year-old scion of the Gandhi dynasty would soon take over from his mother.  Party chief Sonia Gandhi has convened a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Monday to approve the schedule for election of the Congress president. The process of election — from the date of notification to nomination, withdrawal, scrutiny and actual election — will take 12 to 14 days.

Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister, was the party’s front man in the last general election. But his 70-year-old mother Sonia remains its president. She has not publicly announced a decision to stand down as Congress president, but party official Mullappally Ramachandran said after a meeting of senior leaders on Monday that an election would be held next month for the purpose of elevating Rahul to the new top post. .

On Monday, the party set a December 4 deadline for nominations for president and said any vote would be held on December 16. It held its last leadership election in 2010, when Sonia Gandhi stood unopposed.

Rahul, who entered politics in 2004, was appointed the vice-president of the party in 2013. He has been virtually running the party for some time since ill-health forced Sonia to take a back seat. Lately, he has also led the Congress campaign in Gujarat from the front, and has been strident in his attacks on the Narendra Modi government.

Rahul Gandhi was elected vice-president of the Congress party in 2013 and has long been his mother’s presumed successor. He was strongly criticised for a lacklustre campaign that led to a defeat by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 general election. But few inside the party, which has since suffered a series of state election defeats, have been willing to publicly criticise the family that has been at its helm for generations.

Rahul has long had the reputation of a reluctant leader, although some analysts say he has displayed greater political acumen since the 2014 election defeat. “Earlier, he was too young and didn’t have a lot of experience, so he used to make mistakes sometimes. But now, he has become more seasoned,” veteran party leader Virbhadra Singh told AFP ahead of Monday’s announcement.

Congress has ruled India for most of the period since independence in 1947 and has almost always been led by the Nehru-Gandhi clan, beginning with the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is up to the working committee to decide the time frame, but sources in the party said Rahul is expected to take over before the first phase of polling in Gujarat, on December 9. A senior leader said he could take over by the end of November itself.

Sonia Gandhi took over as Congress president in 1998 after the dramatic ouster of two successive party chiefs – PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri. She inherited a weakened party that was in power only in four states and had been reduced to 114 seats in the Lok Sabha. She guided the Congress to power in 14 states within a year of taking over and subsequently steered it to victory in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls after successfully stitching up alliances with a group of disparate political parties.

Rahul Gandhi is taking charge of the Congress when its numbers in the Lok Sabha have dwindled to 44, its organisation is in poor shape and its footprint across the country has shrunk to a couple of states. Clearly, the new Congress president has a tough task at hand, faced with the challenge of strengthening the organisation, re-establishing the party’s credibility and reversing its electoral fortunes.

Unlike her son, who has had the luxury of a 13-year apprenticeship, Sonia Gandhi was a novice when she entered politics. But she proved an adept learner and soon emerged as a leader in her own right. She was well aware of her limitations in managing a complex party like the Congress and was equally conscious of the growing Opposition campaign against her because of her foreign origin. Instead of taking unilateral decisions, Sonia Gandhi adopted a system of extensive consultations with the senior leadership to the extent that she was branded a status quoist. She was so conscious of her inexperience that she hesitated in taking decisions in case she upset anyone. Sonia Gandhi deliberately kept a low profile, never veered from the written script and avoided making any off-the-cuff remarks either in public or in private conversations with party workers. She converted her handicap to her advantage by presenting a carefully cultivated image of an enigma.

Congress led government became  an insensitive dispensation that promoted rampant corruption and nepotism as state cum party policy. That ruin the party and nation.

On the flip side, Sonia Gandhi allowed the party organisation to slide in the decade that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was in power. Instead of using this opportunity to strengthen the Congress organisation and build a second rung of state leadership, she chose to overlook the drift in the party. The Congress Working Committee was rendered virtually redundant as it met infrequently and never held any honest brainstorming sessions that could have enabled the leadership to get inputs from the ground. The upshot was that the gap between the party and the people widened as Congressmen were busy running after power and positions during the United Progressive Alliance regime. Rahul Gandhi admitted as much on his trip to the United States in September, when he pointed out, “Around 2012, arrogance crept into the Congress party and we stopped having conversations with people.”

Currently, Rahul is busy canvassing for the general poll in Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi and there is a report that BJP might lose the poll there which would be a disaster for the federal government run by Modi. .

As Rahul Gandhi gets ready to take over as Congress president in the coming weeks – with Sonia Gandhi having promoted her son to that post feels elated. The Nehru-Gandhi scion’s elevation has been so long in the coming that now that it is round the corner, the enthusiasm among the cadre is outweighed by growing uncertainty about how the party will shape up under his leadership.

Congress party is a weak structure now one unable to stand even when the ruling BJP is gradually falling following wrong steps through disastrous demonetization and GST. Whether Rahul taking over the party would make any difference to the fortunes of the Congress in the next general poll s remains to be seen.

Rahul Gandhi will be inheriting a party organisation that is in far worse shape than it was when Sonia Gandhi took charge as Congress president. He is not weighed down by any major corruption charges (except the National Herald case, in which he and Sonia Gandhi are accused of conspiracy and cheating with the aim of acquiring properties and assets owned by the National Herald newspaper) As in the case of Narendra Modi, nobody can charge him of promoting his dynasty… he has a family and, at the same time, he does not.”So far there are no reports that his family runs the government.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are also temperamentally different. She was a hard worker, a consensus builder and known to be accommodative as she gave party workers a patient hearing and never took hurried decisions. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, is impulsive, believes he knows it all and is inaccessible to party workers. Another difference between the two is that while Sonia Gandhi was happy to continue with the party’s old and established style of functioning, Rahul Gandhi has made it clear he is not impressed with it and that he wants to change the existing set-up and usher in greater inner-party democracy. In fact, he made no effort to hide his disdain and distrust of established party leaders and workers, convinced they had a vested interest in maintaining status quo in the party.

Despite misgivings about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership capabilities and his style of functioning, news about his imminent elevation has come as a relief to Congress workers as it will provide greater clarity about the chain of command in the party. Congress leaders hope now that the uncertainty over his elevation is over, Rahul Gandhi will become more accessible to the party rank and file to enable him to get feedback from grassroots workers. They also expect faster decision-making and a revamp of the party organisation.

Rahul Gandhi is in dire need of a credible and effective political apparatus, which the Congress is sorely lacking at present. Rahul has surrounded himself with inexperienced and non-political players who have little or no grassroots knowledge.

Importantly, Rahul Gandhi has to start winning elections. So far, his track record on this front has not been encouraging. The party’s win in the last Punjab Assembly elections earlier this year after a string of defeats over the past two years was a morale booster for the Congress vice-president, even though it was widely acknowledged that it was Amarinder Singh who led the party to victory.

All eyes are now on the Gujarat elections, the next battleground that will see a face-off between Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. While the Modi-Shah duo cannot afford to lose their home state, the Congress is putting up a spirited fight, encouraged by growing public anger over the poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, the economic slowdown, the agrarian crisis and atrocities against Dalits. The BJP is fighting with its back to the wall as it has far more at stake in Gujarat than the Congress.

Recently, Rahul Gandhi has shown the signs of maturity as a senior leader of the party and he is no longer considered a ‘reluctant leader’ and many find him a lot more dynamic now. He has apparently made BJP a little bit nervous on the ‘poor condition of the economy’, lack of sufficient job creation, and ‘faulty rollout of goods and services tax (GST)’ and demonetization. Rahul Gandhi and his team members have managed to use social media effectively to create a discussion around these issues.

Rahul Gandhi needs to pick issues that he can drum up right now and create enough buzz to dethrone NDA during the general election. But, neither the Congress party nor its leader Rahul Gandhi has really picked up such an issue.

 Voters want to hear how Congress party plans to change the scenario. Now, this is going to be difficult as any statement by Rahul Gandhi would invite BJP’s wrath questioning what steps Congress party took when it was in power.

Rahul Gandhi is fully aware of the infighting Congress party is battling in many states. Rahul faces the uphill task of energising the organisation and making the members go out and meet people, and sustain their efforts till Lok Sabha elections 2019.

Rahul’s future journey requires him to negotiate and enter into agreements with other political parties to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Lok Sabha Elections 2019.

If Congress hopes to come to power at the Centre, the party has to do make serious efforts to improve its performance in Uttar Pradesh

Rahul can learn from BJP on this front. While Narendra Modi is the face of the government, there is Amit Shah who is leading the show from behind and providing all kind of organisation support. Amit Shah is constantly meeting party workers and party leaders to keep them motivated and plug the loopholes that could cost them dearly during the polls. BJP has consciously made efforts to nurture the second line of leadership knowing fully well that one tall leader can pull crowds but winning elections is beyond being a mass leader. He must choose and promote those leaders who have mass appeal and shown strong leadership qualities. Rahul needs to invest his time and energy with young leaders and that should start immediately.

Since he as the leader at the helm of affairs would be held responsible for all the wins and losses, Rahul has to not only steer clear of unnecessary controversies but provide a vision to the party that would enthuse its supporters to rally behind him.

Congress must evolve a strategy to get the party people rid of corrupt mindset that has collectively caused serious setback to the party’s image. Also, more importantly, he must   ensure that his party people do not nourish Hindutva ideology in any manner, thereby helping the BJP and governments. Tolerance for Hindutva promotion is not good for the Congress party that claims to be secular Democratic Party. Already, wrong policies being pursued by Congress party ostensibly to defeat the BJP have alienated Muslims and other minority communities. 

Not many people now trust Congress party.

The end of a fascinating day of two innings 5 days test cricket between guest Lankans and host Indians in India as from a winning position Sri lanka moved on to an almost defeated one but for  poor light  it would have lost to India. Lankan decision to offer a quick 100 to Indian leader Kolhi indeed cost the win of the Lankans. The game was meant to be a draw but Lankans almost helped India win it. India tried tooth and nail in the final session to win this but could not. In the end, the light dipped pretty quickly and India did not have enough time to wrap it up.

Already in a happy mood to violently celibate the victory, Indians are totally disappointed with the shocking lose towards the end.  Rahul is among those top Congress leaders who promoted a school dropout and fake sportboy Sachin tendulkar to the position of Bharatratna. He insulted the honor of India’s highest civilian honor by recommending for a cricketer in order to appease the corporate mafia.

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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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