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Indian corruption: CPM-CPI ties in Kerala strained over transport minister Chandy ouster

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It appears that the Communist factions in the ruling Left collation government are looking for opportunities to fight over them, washing dirty linen in public. This presents the leftism and their government in a shabby manner.

CPI (Communist Party of India) and CPM (Communist Party of India -Marxist) are major components of the ruling coalition in Kerala State in South India are still in conflict over their  self importance in Indian politics though their presence is now reduced to just two states: Kerala and Tripura.

CPM broke away from CPI along Soviet-China lines of conflict over leadership of Communist International. After the death of Stalin, Chinese communist party demanded the leadership but Soviet leader President Khrushchev denied that, leading to severe strains in Russo-China relations. CPI followed the footsteps of Soviet Russia while China became the icon of CPM. Although both Russia and China have discarded communism in favor of mixed capitalism, Indian communist wings still toe the same old lines of attachments.

That is the real cause of continued tension among communist factions in India, though many local issues further complicate the discord. CPI blames CPM of showcasing its ‘big brotherly attitude’ and wanted the leader CPM with more MLAs and MPs to consider CPI as equals.  

The non-ideological divide between the CPM and CPI in Kerala over former transport minister Thomas Chandy’s resignation over his partial occupation of a lake in his home town with his own construction activities, deepened last week with senior leaders of both parties publicly criticising each other over the fiasco, affect the strength and unity of the LDF.

CPI was demanding the ouster of a corrupt minister in the Left government while CPM, the leader of the coalition indirectly sought to shield him. Then the court judgment found Chandy culprit forcing him to give in after presenting a bold stand of defiance, refusing to resign. For the minister, perhaps, the strong people have the right cum privilege of looting the public resources. As a minister he only tried to protect his ‘private interests’.

The minister Chandy belonging to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – an LDF coalition partner – resigned but the communists, instead of putting an end to the issue, continued to fight over the issue. Possibly they think this way they can catch the attention of the public. CPI did not attend a crucial meeting of the left parties held in the capital, Thiruvanathapuram.

The blame-game began with CPI mouth-piece Janayugom publishing an editorial on its front page with a string of arguments in support of the CPI ministers’ decision to boycott Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.

Sources in both parties said the reactions by state leaders were with the knowledge and approval of their respective central leaderships who have also joined the issue. Though criticism levelled by both parties was sharp, both parties said the crisis won’t blow up to affect the strength and unity of the LDF.

CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan then convened a news conference to counter CPI’s arguments and CPI deputed its assistant secretary K Prakash Babuto pick holes in Kodiyeri’s arguments. Kodiyeri, it is learnt, convened the news conference as directed by the party’s central leadership. In the morning, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who attended the party’s available politburo meeting in New Delhi, appraised the leadership about CPI’s extraordinary mode of protest. The chief minister also told the leadership about past incidents too in which the CPI tried to score a point by playing to the gallery. “If someone thinks that by boycotting the cabinet meeting, he had tried to take the credit behind transport minister Thomas Chandy’s resignation, he can’t be blamed,” said Kodiyeri who termed the boycott as an ‘immature step’, ‘improper act’ and a ‘breach of coalition ethics’. He said CPI’s act only helped the UDF, under fire over the solar scam commission’s findings, save its face.

The cabinet meeting had started after making sure that Chandy resigned. “We cannot find fault with anyone who might think that the CPI tried to take the credit at the last minute. A government might get both plaudits and brickbats. Taking the credit for praiseworthy acts and accusing the allies for criticisms amount to breach of all coalition ethics,” said Kodiyeri.

This argument was refuted by Prakash Babu who said the CPI never received any communication regarding the resignation of Chandy till 9am on Wednesday. “Neither the party leadership nor the parliamentary party leadership were informed about the understanding on Chandy’s resignation. Our stand was clear and it was not to sit in the cabinet meeting along with a minister who had approached the high court against the same cabinet in which he is a member. Our ministers decided to boycott the cabinet when Chandy claimed after holding talks with the CM in the morning that he would attend the cabinet meeting,” Babu said. He said the CPI didn’t want any credit regarding Chandy’s resignation. “The positions taken by CPI would only strengthen the LDF,” he said. Replying to Kodiyeri’s criticism that CPI’s act helped the opposition, he said if Chandy quit as soon as the legal advice on collector’s report came, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala would have to stop ‘Padayorukkam’ (his yatra across the state) mid-way.

The CPM-CPI ties in Kerala are passing through a rough patch after four ministers of the CPI boycotted Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting as they wanted Minister Thomas Chandy to be sacked. The boycott caused embarrassment to the CPM and the government. Another issue that had strained the relationship was the decision of the revenue department to cancel the title deed of CPM-backed Joice George, MP, whose father had illegally acquired reserved land from Tamil laborers in Kottakamboor in Devikulam taluk in Idukki.

The revenue department went after encroachers in Munnar which included CPM legislator S Rajendran. This had led to transfer of daring Sub-Collector Sriram Venkataraman. But the new person in his place, VR Premkumar, was given instructions by the Revenue Minister to go after the encroachers. This resulted in the issuing of summons to Joice after failing to appear before officials.

The revenue department cancelled the ownership right of 20 acres of Joice and his family members. An inquiry found that his father had made fake documents in the name of six Tamil laborers to ‘acquire’ the land distributed by the government to landless Scheduled Tribes.

Kerala High Court, emphasizing the need for protection of the fragile ecology of Devikulam, provided the much needed vigor to the revenue department. Former Principal Secretary Nivedita P Haran in her inquiry report had indicted Joice for encroaching in five villages through fake documents.

The CPM has set up a body to fight eviction of people from encroached land, keeping the CPI out.

The unnecessary rift

The rift between the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), which leads the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), and the Communist party of India (CPI), the second-largest constituent of the front, has widened after it has come to power in Kerala 11 months ago. Even though the bickering between the two parties has been quite common with the CPI charging the CPM with ‘big brotherly attitude’, this time, it is all over the functioning of the government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The differences of opinion between the two parties that cropped up after the killing of two Maoists in the Nilambur forests in Malappuram district in November last year have now become more acute with the CPI coming out openly against the state government’s stand on key issues.

The CPI party has been most critical about the handling of the police by the chief minister, who controls the home portfolio. The party trained its guns against Vijayan after he consistently justified alleged police excesses. He had backed the police in the Maoist killing case by endorsing police chief Loknath Behera’s version that the Thunderbolt men had fired at the Left rebels — Kuppuswamy Devaraj and Ajitha — after they had attacked his men during an encounter.

The CPI, which refused to buy the argument, however, stopped pursuing the case after the state government ordered a magisterial inquiry into it. However, the party raked up the case after the government termed Naxal Varghese, who was killed in police custody 40 years ago, as a hardcore criminal and dacoit.

The home department took this stand in an affidavit filed in the high court in response to a petition filed by the relatives of Varghese seeking compensation for his murder in the wake of the conviction of the police officer responsible for the murder.

CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran viewed the affidavit as contrary to the position taken by the Left in the sensational case. But what has dismayed Kanam was a series of instances, in which home department departed from the Left’s stated positions.

They include the arrest of several people, including writers and social activists, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in various cases. The CPI leader wondered how the Left government could use this law which they had described as draconian while they were in the opposition. The police action against the family of engineering college student Vishnu Pranoy, who died in suspicious circumstances in his college hostel on 5 January, and the subsequent arrest of four social activists, angered the CPI further.

The CPI secretary, who took the initiative to end the fast launched by the mother and sister of the deceased student in the wake of the police action at the police headquarters, has viewed the action as one of the most glaring instances of the government’s departure from the Left’s positions. The party has seen this deviation not only in the handling of the police but also in several other issues, which include the government’s refusal to reveal information under the Rights to Information Act (RTI) and the move to revive various projects opposed by the LDF while in opposition on environmental grounds.

Rajendran felt that the judicial intervention sought by the government to back its decision not to reveal certain Cabinet decisions was contrary to the Left stand on the RTI Act. He felt that the step would erode Left’s credibility as it had worked tirelessly to get the Act passed.

The CPI is also unhappy with the lack of support from home department to the drive launched by the revenue ministry headed by a party minister against encroachments in the state’s tourist hotspot of Munnar. The issue reached the boiling point when the local CPM activists physically blocked Revenue officials from evicting the encroachers, that too in front of police officials.

Though the Revenue department launched the drive as per a collective decision of the LDF, the Idukki leadership of the CPM opposed it, saying that it could affect the poor, who were given land in the picturesque hill town to build houses.  Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan clarified that the action was against the resort mafia, who have grabbed huge tracts of land and erected multi-storey buildings in violation of the rules, but the CPM continued to obstruct the drive.

Curiously, the police remained a mute spectator when activists manhandled the Revenue officials who tried to demolish a shed built on an encroached land in the heart of the town. Though sub-collector Sreeram Venkatarman directed the police to stop the activists, the police acted only after he asked them to give in writing if they did not wish to act.

Unhappy

The CPI plea to the chief minister to take action against the police officials and to restrain the party men from obstructing the anti-encroachment drive has fell on deaf years. The CPI is apparently unhappy with the silence maintained by Vijayan.

On the contrary, the CPM has tried to put the CPI in the dock. While CPM former general secretary and politburo member Prakash Karat accused the CPI of behaving like an opposition, senior leaders of the party in Idukki, including Power Minister MM Mani have been firing barbs at the Revenue Minister and the CPI secretary. While Mani asked the party not to take the revenue department as their fiefdom, local MLA S Rajendran threatened the officials involved in the anti-encroachment drive. “The officials should not remain under the impression that they would be able to continue with the drive by targeting the common man. Don’t blame the government if people start dealing with you directly,” he warned.

Rajendran also attacked the Revenue Minister saying that he was intervening in needless issues. He has asked the minister to restrain the sub-collector, who, he said, was trying to become a hero with the help of media.

The CPI state executive that met at Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday came down heavily on the CPM for the attack on the party. Party secretary Kanam Rajendran pointed out that the CPI has been pointing out the wrong-doings of the government in order to strengthen the LDF and the government. “We have been speaking as a Left entity and not as a party in the opposition. We have only stated the positions taken by the LDF at the national level on various issues. Any attempt to deviate from these positions will weaken the government,” he said. He said that his party’s attempt was to thwart attempts by certain quarters to weaken the government. However, political analysts feel that the open spat between the two parties would affect governance, which is already hit by a standoff between the IAS and IPS lobby.

Charges against notorious Chandy

The problem began when the CPM leadership, including CM Pinarayi Vijayan, has made it clear that the minister will be protected at any cost even as many in the ruling alliance want Thomas Chandy’s ouster. It has been alleged that Vijayan’s rapport with Chandy goes beyond immediate political considerations. A section in the CPM thinks of Chandy as a reliable source for party fund-raising.

Kerala transport minister and businessman Thomas Chandy is caught in a firestorm of allegations —he has encroached upon lakeside land to build a resort and allotted Rs 28.5 lakh of government fund to improve its approach road. But Chandy, the nominee of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the ministry, is not new to such scandals. What’s new is the response of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government. Given their history, who would have ever guessed that the LDF or the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would try to protect Chandy?

Sixteen years ago, Chandy was the subject of a hot political debate allegedly initiated by the CPM. In 2001, Kairali TV, the Malayalam television channel launched by the party, sent its then New Delhi bureau chief John Brittas to Kuwait to work on a two-part investigation story titled Neru Thedal (In search of the truth). The investigation accused KP Mohanan, then head of rival Asianet News television channel in the state, of embezzling Rs 420 million from the Indian School at Salmia in Kuwait and named Chandy as the co-accused. Kairali claimed Chandy could evade arrest because he paid a huge fine to authorities.

Today, Chandy is the richest MLA in Kerala with over Rs 920-million investments. Brittas is now an official advisor to the Kerala government and Kairali TV is a fierce defender of Chandy, who is embroiled in a series of allegations, including land encroachment, violation of wetland protection laws and corruption.

Kairali TV is now claiming all allegations against Chandy are false and are part of a political conspiracy to destabilize Kerala’s Left government.

The main allegation is that Chandy’s Lake Palace Resort encroached upon Marthandam Lake and that its parking area was constructed illegally. Further, in the case of Vembanad Lake (of which Marthandam Lake is a part), Chandy is also accused of using buoys to shut off direct access to his resort. This means the often-poor residents of tiny islands in the backwaters can’t use their country boats to get anywhere near the resort. After the allegations surfaced, the buoys have been removed but cases are pending. Chandy is also accused of constructing a road to it by illegally reclaiming paddy land. And that tarring was done in August by Harbour Development department after Chandy allegedly diverted Rs 28.5 lakh worth of development fund of two Rajya Sabha members.

The allegations began doing the rounds since July first week, a few months after Chandy became transport minister. By September, the district collector TU Anupama was asked by revenue minister E Chandrasekharan to conduct an inquiry. On September 22, Anupama submitted the report. Sources in the revenue department say Anupama compared satellite images of the area prior to construction with present images. The collector’s public report says, “Reclamation of land without permission is an offence according to the third section of Wetland Conservation Act. Thomas Chandy has flouted this rule. The approach road to the resort was also built illegally. The direction of the stream near the resort has been redirected without permission. Examination of satellite images proves reclamation of land.”

Since the allegations became public, the NCP has been deeply divided over Chandy retaining his ministerial position. A sizeable section led by the NCP’s national general secretary TP Peethambaran wants him to stay on, a rival group led by AK Saseendran (the former transport minister who had to resign because of a sex scandal) has demanded his immediate ouster. The student and youth wings of the party have already adopted resolutions seeking his resignation. Saseendran and Chandy are the only NCP members in the state assembly.

Also working against Chandy is a clear paper trail. The current DC’s report says that a previous DC, Veena N Madhavan, had instructed the revenue divisional officer to restore the paddy field, after learning about the encroachment. Though the collector sent the instruction on November 12, 2014, it was not executed. As the land encroachment scandal was heating up in August, further documents surfaced in the media accusing Chandy of hiding significant investments — Rs 150 crore in Lake Palace Resort — in his affidavit to the Election Commission.

Meanwhile, the tax rebate granted to the resort by the municipality has been withdrawn. And on September 15, the Alappuzha municipality suspended four of its officials (pending inquiry) in connection with the disappearance of files pertaining to the resort. This had come into focus when the district collector asked the municipality to submit all the rebate-related documents granted to the resort and permission given for the construction of several structures.

Opposition anger

The opposition has been continuously demanding Chandy’s resignation — it had strong reservations against him being made minister because of his alleged dubious record. The Congress has approached the Kerala Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau demanding a case against Chandy. “He has no moral right to continue in office. The CM fears Chandy and his money power. So he is ignoring voices even within his party to sack Chandy,” said leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala at a press conference.

Naturally, there is discontent in both the CPM and the LDF. What makes matters more complicated is the fact that the revenue department is controlled by CPI’s E Chandrasekharan who has taken a clear position on the scandal. “We have ordered for a detailed probe after the collector’s initial report indicated that there were violations. The government requires more facts to know who did the violations. What I can say now is that the investigations are impartial and are progressing fast. We will not tolerate any encroachment on government land and natural resources,” Chandrasekharan said.

Earlier, the Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said that transport minister Thomas Chandy should be expelled from the Cabinet in the wake of the Vigilance Court order for quick verification against him in the land encroachment case. The report of the district collector has confirmed that there is land encroachment in the resort of the minister, and hence he has no right to continue as minister, he told reporters at Sreekandapuram, after a reception to the campaign, Padayorukkam, on Saturday. If Chandy is not ready to resign, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan should expel him from the Cabinet, he said, adding that the minister is clenching to power with the support of the chief minister. Alleging that there is a nexus between the CPM and the BJP, the Opposition leader also said that the CBI’s decision not to move appeal against the High Court verdict in Lavalin case is the result of the secret pact between both the parties. The stand of the Kerala faction of the CPM that the party should keep away from the national alliance led by the Congress against the BJP is also the result of this pact, he said.

Repeating the stand that the UDF will be forced to take up the protest against the GAIL pipeline project if there is no effort to solve it through talks, the Opposition leader also alleged that Pinarayi Vijayan is trying to make another Nandigram out of Mukkam in Kozhikode, where the people are protesting against the GAIL pipeline project.

The BJP state leadership has demanded a probe into the allegations that Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) funds of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman and Congress leader PJ Kurien and CPI Rajya Sabha member KE Ismail were used for constructing the road. “Chandy wanted to construct an illegal road to his resort. He gets MPLAD funds for the private road from none other than top Congress leader Kurian. Ismail is a top leader of the same CPI that claims probity and accountability. It is ironic that both Congress and CPI are now turning against Chandy,” said BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan at a press conference.

Rise of Kuwait Chandy

Chandy began his political career as an activist of the Congress’s student wing, the Kerala Students Union (KSU) in Kuttanad in Alappuzha district in the 1970s. He suddenly vanished from the scene to re-emerge as Kuwait’s most influential entrepreneur with high stakes in hospitality and education sectors. Better known as ‘Kuwait Chandy’ in NRI circles, in the 1980s, he limited his political enthusiasm to Pravasi Congress (its NRI wing), as a highly influential powerbroker in Kerala for the Malayali community in Kuwait. He enjoyed a warm rapport with then chief minister K Karunakaran. Chandy’s adversaries allege that it was his association with Karunakaran that helped him expand his business empire in Kuwait and Kerala.

The evolution of Chandy as a politician with significant clout since his relatively recent electoral debut is quite evident in the strong support he enjoys from Vijayan. Chandy became active in politics during the 2006 assembly elections, when he filed a nomination on behalf of Karunakaran’s now defunct breakaway Congress outfit, the Democratic Indira Congress Karunakaran (DICK). Though DICK had the support of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the election, only Chandy was able to win. He was then re-elected from the same Kuttanad constituency in 2011 as the NCP candidate after the DICK merged with the Pawar’s party. This brought him into the LDF fold and he became the transport minister in April.

All through Chandy has denied allegations. The minister told HT that he had neither encroached on government land nor the lake. He also alleged a high-level political conspiracy. “All these allegations are politically motivated. If they can prove any of these allegations, I am ready to quit. Vested interests are plotting against me and my party. Nobody would believe that I am an encroacher on government land or lake. The road was constructed using funds from MPs only to help those poor families living close to the resort,” he said.

When asked about the recent findings of the revenue department, Chandy claimed that the collector filed the report without hearing his arguments.

Like many other stakeholders in this scandal, Kerala’s environmentalists want action again Chandy. But at the same time they want the government to not stop with Chandy. “The allegations against Chandy are just the tip of the iceberg. A whopping 40 percent of the lake was encroached upon by private parties and most encroachments happened in the past 15 years,” points out social worker Jacob Lazer, quoting from a study conducted by the People’s Commission on Vembanad Ecosystem (PCVE), constituted by the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad. “If the government acts tough on Chandy, other encroachers would feel the heat too. The backwaters of Kuttanad are vital to the fragile local ecosystem,” he said.

Fellow environmentalist Purushan Eloor says they are “waiting and watching the government’s move over the issue. Since the area around Vembanad lake was declared as a Ramsar site [wetland of international importance], even minor encroachments would invite strict action.” “The defence put up by Chandy about the allegations levelled against him for land encroachment has fallen flat with the preliminary report submitted by the district collector indicating that land has been usurped,” says Kochi-based environmental activist and lawyer Harish Vasudevan. “By defending Chandy and ignoring the evidence piling up against him, the CPM leadership is creating a bad precedent. The CM, who asked two of his former ministers to resign in the face of allegations, is now afraid of the money power and influence of Chandy,” says Vasudevan.

On September 9, the administrators of the Mathoor temple in Kuttanad have approached the government accusing Chandy of encroaching upon land belonging to the temple, located close to Chandy’s resort. On September 21, after the TV channel Asianet did a 20-part series on how Chandy used his money, power and influence to escape legal hurdles after his involvement in the land encroachment, its Alappuzha office was attacked. According to a petition that Asianet filed with Alappuzha police, the goons were hired by the minister. The police is investigating the attack.

Observation: Can corruption be ended in India?

Kerala as well as India is infested with many Chandys that first use the government to make and increase their wealth and then become a part of the government to loot the public resources and to decide the fate the state and nation.  

Rise of an ordinary Chandy to become a top neo-capitalist of Kerala is phenomenon but not exclusive. Unfortunately, India system provides for all loopholes for the strong people to manipulate and swindle the state cum alien resources. There is an apparent steady helping hand from the government to those that seek illegal wealth. Many rich and corporate lords are the beneficiaries of this process and they use their media to divert the attention of the people from their corrupt practices. Many people share the corrupt booty. Obviously this arrangement has promoted mafias in all fields around.

Chandy’s troubles are not exclusive but prevalent across the state of in Kerala and India s a whole and it does not look like going away any time soon.

Corruption and nepotism are rampant and all pervasive in India in all states and only by degree and level they differ from one another. It is very difficult to root out corruption from Indian society as politicians and officials work for bribes and without greasing the dirty palms in offices – top to bottom – nothing gets done in India.

Bribery seems to be the birth right of greedy Indian politicians and so Indian Parliament should consider making bribery-corruption, public cheating, stealing, etc by political class non-punishable offense.

Under the circumstances when corruption has become a part of Indian system, as the political class is the main culprit in making corruption rampant state wise and nationally it is worthwhile to  consider making corruption a permissible crime and no punishment could be awarded to the registered politicians. 

Politicians pay bribes to the people during the poll and spend huge resources to get elected and once they win and become the ruling party or in the opposition they demand to be given the right to loot the nation or state as the case maybe In fact that is reason why the politicians are engaged in wholesale corruption activities. The regime tries to trouble only those politicians who pose problem to their misrule of the regime/government.  .

Without politicians the governments, assemblies and parliament cannot be run and without extra earning by bribes, politicians won’t be interested in entering politics at all. .

If, however, officals and other mafias are engaged corrupt operations they must be dealt with the worst possible punishments.

If political and officals cannot punished for their crimes, the law must be amended suitably to provide them the necessary relief.

Hide and seek principle won’t work. 

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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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South Asia

From Ancient Era to Imperial Era: Indian Ocean in Historical Lenses

Rana Danish Nisar

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“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters,” Alfred Mahan

Authors: Rana Danish Nisar & Ali Nagri*

Among the oceans of the world, The Indian Ocean is third largest covering 70,560,000 km that is approximately twenty percent of the water on the earth.  This is bounded by Asia on the north, Australia in the east and Africa in the west and the Southern Ocean which is situated in the south.  Its borders were defined in 1953 by Hydrographic Organization.  The average depth of Indian Ocean is 3741 m and the Sunda Trench (earlier known as java trench) is the deepest point of it that has a maximum depth of 7906m.  The important points are Bab el Mandeb, Strait of Hormuz, the Lombok Strait, Strait of Malacca and the Palk Strait.  Its seas are Gulf of Aden, Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Great Australian Bight, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and Red sea.  It is artificially connected to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal. The whole Indian Ocean is lies in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is the warmest ocean of the world and its warming is the largest among the tropical oceans. This essay attempts to discuss the history of Indian Ocean from ancient period to imperial period.

Prehistoric and Ancient Era

It is not easy to date back the human history of the world; same is the case with the Indian Ocean. Early rock art in India as in other places like Africa and South East Asia is very difficult to date to a specific period.  The rock art designs found in caves are believed to be 10,000 and 6,000 years back. This art shows a row of animals outlined in red ochre crayon and filled with crisscross lines. According to scientists, around 8000 years ago the first modern humans left Africa and it was through Indian Ocean. They were originated from a single woman from East Africa and therefore named ‘mitochondrial Eve’ as she was ancestor of many Africans tribes and groups of migrants who populated the rest of the world. Bronze Age is some 3500-1100 BC named after a durable metal made by combining copper and tin together.  In southeast Asia bronze spearheads, bells, axes and jewelry have been discovered and some archaeologists argue that Thailand bay have been one of the first centers of Asian bronze industry. Cowries shells (small, oval mollusks, found in many varieties) are very smooth sea shells only found in Maldives, a chain of islands in Arabian Sea, became very important in world trade as these were used as money around the Indian Ocean.  Cowries have been found in ancient Harappa and in tombs in China in second millennium and later. These were not only used in Asia but also found in West Africa where these were used as money. These also provide proof of seagoing Indian Ocean Trade networks and their connection to land routes. Monsoon Winds blow in Indian Ocean in a regular pattern and are playing its important role in sea trade.  Since the beginning of trade and travel monsoon are very important as in one season a ship could sail from Arabia or East Africa towards coast of India and in other season when the wind change its direction this ship will sail back. Merchants are using monsoon winds roughly since 2000 BC and these winds encouraged regular trade, communication and migration across the Indian Ocean.

Classical and Medieval Era

By the end of Classical Era Sugar was very wonderful luxury for cooking and sweetening in Persia. During the next few centuries, sugar spreader widely in the world through Indian Ocean trade. The Isthmus of Kra is a narrow strip of land that connects the Malay Peninsula to continent of Asia. It separates the Indian Ocean form the China Sea.  Traders of Indian reached the rest of Southeast Asia by crossing the Isthmus of Kra rather making the longer and more difficult journey around the entire Malay Peninsula.  By the first century CE, traders from Arabia and Africa regularly transported across the Indian Ocean, overland through the Isthmus of Kra and up to China.  Merchants even continued to use this trade route when political disputes made land travel dangerous throughout the second and third century.  Muziris was also an ancient port city in today’s Indian state of Kerala.  It was famous trading market for Roman-Indian merchants in India. Around 100-200 CE, in Roman Empire pearl jewelry was very popular.  Pearls which were produced by oysters and fished out of sea were very favorite of wealthy Romans.  Pearls were very ideal trade good because it takes very little room on ships but were very precious and commonly used for jewelry and decoration.  These were also used for medicine.  The world’s best pearls came from the water of the Persian Gulf, near Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Oman.  

The pearling industry was very important to these countries as to export to Roman Empire. Ibn Battuta a very famous traveler and historian also contribute towards Indian Ocean. He tells a lot about Maldives Islands of Indian Ocean and their exchange of unique resources of their islands that directly lie on the Arabian Sea for necessities and food, metals and brass goods and textiles.  Two products were particularly important one was coconut fiber rope very important for shipping industry and second was cowrie’s shells used as currency at that time.  Cowries are known to have been used as money for Indian Ocean trade from the earliest periods to the 19th century. Ivory was another important product highly traded at that time from India and Southeast Asia but African ivory was highly prized because of shapes and very large tusks of African elephants. These were also very soft for carving.  Greek and Roman geographers reported the trade of ivory from East Africa as early as 4th century BC. 

As trade with east Africa expanded, gold rhinoceros horn, mangrove poles with ivory tusks from the Africa were goods traded through Swahili cities of East Africa.  Interestingly, Bananas have been cultivated since 6000 BC or even earlier in Southeast Asia, and were spread to Indian and China and major sea routes of Indian Ocean by 1000CE. As Islam spread and its contact along the land and water routes, bananas were also spread across the Mediterranean, in Palestine and Egypt, and from North Africa it moved to Muslim Spain and to the West Africa.  Bananas could not be grown in Europe, but later in the 1500s, the Portuguese carried the banana to the New World, where it has been grown since the 1500s. Biruni a very famous historian and geographer contributed a lot with the efforts and help of Caliph al Ma’mun to measure the meridian in the 9th century.  Al Biruni advanced the technology to determine the positioning and coordination of earth and different places. An advanced form of this is known as Global Positioning System (GPS) today.  He also writes a book “The Determination of the Coordinates of Positions for the Correction of Distances between Cities in 1025 CE by using the mathematical geography.  Al Biruni work was very accurate at that time and modern measurements confirm it.

Global Era 1500 to 1770 CE

Among the famous explorer of this era a famous name is Ferdinand Magellan from Portugal born in 1480.  When he was younger he worked as a helper in the Queen’s palace where he heard the fantastic adventures of great sailors like Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus and Bartholomew Dias, and their discoveries.  Magellan sailed under the Portuguese flag form years until he got a dispute with the Portuguese King.   After it Magellan approached the Spanish King join his fleet with an idea to find a western passage to Spice Islands and to compete with the Portuguese trading system in Indian Ocean.  At the time explorers believed that the Strait of Magellan only opened up into a bay rather than the Pacific Ocean but Magellan believed otherwise.  He sent a small crew to explore the western parts of the strait.  Magellan named the strait as Estrecho de Todos los Santos (the Strait of all Saints) but the Spanish King renamed it in the honor of Magellan as a Strait of Magellan.  Magellan set sail from South American coastline into Pacific Ocean; he named it Pacific as he found it very calm as compared to the Atlantic where he spent the most of time. 

The crew continued the journey for three months without fresh food and many died but ultimately reach to eastern Asia.  This era cannot be concluded without mentioning the Captain Cook.  James Cook is probably the most accomplished European mariner of the 18th century.  He went on three official voyages and spent over a decade at sea from 1766 to 1778. His first voyage was scientific in nature to Pacific Ocean in 1766 to observe and record the transit of Venus across the sun. After his return from first voyage Cook was commissioned to lead another scientific expedition on behalf of Royal Society to search the Terra Australia.  His last voyage was to locate a Northwest Passage around the continent of America.  The purpose of the voyage was to find a Northwest route that many believed led back to Europe.  In 1778 captain James Cook became the first European that has formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Cooked named this archipelago the “Sandwich Islands”.  Captain Cook was also murdered in 1779 on a Hawaiian island by local villagers on his final voyage when Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians.  His voyages are best known for their contributions to geographic discovery, science, and the arts.(Rumely. d, 2007) He brought back plants, animals, and collections of art along with maps he made of his South Pacific voyages.

Captain Cook is credited for mapping New Zealand, some Polynesian islands, the eastern coast of Australia and was the first to circumnavigate Antarctica while searching for a southern continent. Captain Cooke was among the first to use the newly perfected chronometer on his Antarctic voyage, a device which allowed him to measure his longitude with precision. The Dutch East India Company also known as The United East Indian Company was founded in 1602 as a charter company by Dutch Government granting it monopoly over Dutch spice trade business. This company came Indian Ocean later than the Portuguese but it dominated the spice trade of Indian Ocean by taking complete control of cloves, nutmeg and mace. On the other hand, although pepper was most important good of trade for this company yet company failed to control the pepper its sale and shipment as it grew in many places and Dutch East Indian Company could not control ever source of pepper.  According to a rough estimate Europeans, in the seventeenth century, carried out almost seven million pounds of pepper shipment from Indian Ocean to Europe every year. In addition to spices, printed fabrics with fantastic flowers of many colors were very important goods of trade. These were originally printed in France. But during the 17th and 18th centuries, Indian style chintz fashion was very popular. 

These were hand painted on smooth cotton fabric with fast color dyes and imported from the India from Gujarat province and were sold in France by British East Indian Company.  Their demand was so high that French lawmakers were afraid that it would hurt French weaver industry so they banned it by law to import and forbidden to wear it. But amazingly, they continued to be popular, even though the French law included the death penalty. The reason was that the Mediterranean port of Marseilles was exempted from all such laws and it became the heaven for smugglers of Indian cottons and from here it was imitated into other parts of France and people wear these cloths secretly in their homes instead of public places.  Ultimately on the pressure of public these fabrics were made legal by lifting up all laws. During this era when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they established a center point for navigation for their territories around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.

The Ottomans were well aware of the growing competition from Italy and other European powers. The King, Sultan Mehmet, built a naval ship building arsenal on the Golden Horn, known as Halic in modern Turkey a waterway of Istanbul, and appointed a Commander of the Navy. At the arsenal, galleys, or ships with oars, were built, repaired and equipped with supplies. This arsenal was consisting of more than 200 buildings for preparation and repair of ships, ammunition depot, a mosque, a prison, kitchens for preparing food for working labor and to store on ships, water reserves for fresh water supply for voyage and administration buildings including studios for artisans related to shipping and outfitting.  There was no match Istanbul maritime Arsenal but only one in Arsenal of Venice.  A large Ottoman fleet which expanded in sixteenth century was built in the arsenal. Sultan announced that he would build 500 warships in addition to already existing hundreds of war ships to threaten other powers. They were already controlling the ports in Syria and Egypt, and wanted to hold major Eastern Mediterranean islands. Thousands of men from all over the Ottoman Empire were employed in Ottoman navy.  They were organized into Officers and crews.  The commanders and seamen who sailed and other were the workers and managers of the Arsenal, and both braches were headed by the Grand Admiral of the Fleet who directly reported to the Sultan.  The whole operation was highly organized and well financed. 

The Ottoman Navy kept it organized for centuries and ensure its presence it three major seas. The people living on the Malabar Coast of Kerala province of India are known as Mappilas. This community was grown by intermarriages of Arab traders and local Hindus on the coast of Malabar.  This community maintained peaceful trade relations for centuries with other communities of India and Indian Ocean.  These links with traders of Arab and Persia dated back to centuries.  According to a legend, the King Chera Manperumal Malabar had a vision during the time when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived and the king departed to visit Makkah. King Chera Manperumal embraced Islam and supported its spread on the Coast of Malabar. The Malabar mosque, built in 629 CE, is the oldest on the continent of India. It still exists today.   The community of Mappilas developed their own culture in dress, food music and in dance also.  They lived in a peaceful and beneficial way with other groups and communities and Hindu king of Malabar Coast treated them as a merchant caste, who gained wealth and status from their activities as traders.  Famous explorer like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo mention this community as a peaceful trader.  When Vasco da Gama entered the Indian Ocean he was amazed to know that Muslims were prominent merchants in Africa and Asia and Portuguese had fought against Muslims traders to gain control of trader routes.  They anchored on Malabar Coast with cannons and demanded the Hindu rulers to expel the Muslim traders from the coast. 

The Hindu rulers were stunned and refused to do so. Portuguese bombarded the towns and demanded the control of seas also authority to allow the passage by special permission.  This situation was very awful for Mappilas so they retreated inland and became farmers or involved into fishing business.  Others used their maritime skills and fought against Portuguese ships, captured them and continue trading.  To the Portuguese the Mappilas were pirates and smugglers. The Europeans used the Carracks to take the control of all trade in Indian Ocean.  They also armed these ships and attacked major ports of Indian Ocean for example Mombasa and Kilwa in Africa, and Calicut and Malabar Coast in India.  They also attacked on Arab merchant’s ships and other ships that have not trading permits form Portuguese government.  This was to take all the trade control of Indian Ocean trade and to control the ports. However, they only had limited success and they met a great resistance from Ottoman Empire Navy and from other Europeans.  Besides, the Indian Ocean was too large to control by this way.

The Opium became also an important product for trade. Opium poppies are natively grown in Mediterranean region from thousands of years. From this it traveled to Greek, China and also to India by sea routes before 12th century.  Opium poppies were grown also in India and the Mughal Empire controlled the trader of Opium.  The Narcotic property of opium was used as a medicinal plant and its use can be found in Greek and Arabic manuscripts.  When Muslim medical work was translated in European languages it also became known to Europeans.  The trade of opium increased extensively after the entry of Europeans into Indian Ocean region in 16th century. It was imported to Europe as a popular medicine.  Portuguese also trader the it from India to China and the Dutch brought into China and Japan the practice of smoking opium through tobacco pipes.  After the weakened the Mughal Empire the British gained power in India and British East India Company gained complete control of trade also of opium and started taxing the sale of Indian Opium. European also gave very importance to opium by using it as an exchange commodity for trading of tea, silk and porcelain instead of gold and silver.  They expectant Chinese merchants to buy opium they bought in India as an exchange for trade. Soon the Chinese became addicted of it and by seeing all this situation Chinese government banned its import and use. But on the other hand British started its smuggling and increased opium production as it was most profitable crop. This all situation leaded to Opium Wars between China and British East India Company.

Industrial and Imperial Era         

During 19th century the Royal Geographic Society of Britain announced a prize competition to find and chart the Nile’s source.  Two explorers Captain John H. Speke and Captain Sir Richard F. Burton found this in 1858. Captain Speke named the lake after the Queen Victoria. James Bruce a Scottish explorer also claimed to be the first from Europe to reach to Nile source.The people working on ships of British were known as Lascars. The word Lascar is drawn from the Persian language that means army.  This term was used by the East India Company for the persons who were working on their ships.  These persons were skillful seamen, rope makers, ship carpenter and other crew needed on the board belonging from different regions of coastal areas of Asia.  These were free men who sold their services for wages mostly came from Indian Ocean region. These people were later settled.  There life was not easy and they had to do all the chores of the shipping life.  The Lascars worked long shifts in the dark, hot, dangerous engine rooms and coal furnaces that powered the ships. By 1928, there were more Lascars employed on British ships. Slave trade was common in regions associated to Indian Ocean. Slavery in the Indian Ocean was consisting of a wide variety of peoples of scattered cultural and backgrounds. 

Peoples were involved in different capacities as slaves, slave traders and owners of slave’s form regions of Africa, Arab, Asia and Europe. Male slaves were indulging in the business of pearl divers, ship crew, employed into trade, working in agricultural fields and as soldiers of wars while female slaves often worked in homes as maids, nannies and nurses.   In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries African slaves demand was rapidly increased because of less price and hard working.  British worked hard to end slavery. British Empire declared protect zone for slavery. But unfortunately, till to date, slavery is persisting is some sorts of forced labor, especially involving women, children and poor population of third world countries and refugees. Suez Canal was also built during this era. This is the artificial waterway is 163 km long, running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in northeastern Egypt and shorted the distance between the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea. This canal is one of most important water ways of the world.  This is also known as crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia because it is interlinking these three continents. It was built in 1856 by a French company after ten years’ hard work.  This made trade easy as traders had not to sail around the Africa or carry goods overland and gained its importance to European Imperial powers. in combination with the expansion of the American transcontinental railroad, the canal permitted the world to be circled in record time. The Suez Canal was not initially a financial success for Egypt, nor for France. Due to the growing debt required to finance it, Egypt was forced to sell the canal to Great Britain in 1875.

The English controlled the Suez Canal until shortly after Egypt regained its independence from Britain and nationalized the canal. Steamships changed the Indian Ocean trade by opening new routes that were not dependent on the winds.  By the mid to end of the 19th century, the British Empire had the largest and most successful naval force in the world powered by steam. Steam power allowed for expanded exploration of the continents, the mass movement of people around the world, and caused great changes in the trade system. During the period of the steam engine ships grew larger and faster, but they had to refuel often. The ships were first used for short and regular service, like mail and wealthy passengers. These first ships had a huge advantage over sailing ships, in that they were much easier to navigate upstream and this made rivers and canals more accessible. Steam-driven railways also transformed the British Empire, and the Indian Ocean region, increasing business activity, and giving consumers access to cheaper goods. In 19th century the most important and the busiest port of Arabian Peninsula was the city of Muscat in Oman. Being an international port, the city was heavily populated, having different religious, and multi-ethnic. Muscat was the crossroads of trade between East Africa, the eastern shores of the Gulf, and western India. In the 19th century every kind of merchandise could be found, silk and linen, spices, dates, coffee brought across the desert by caravans, pearls, grapes, bananas, figs, butter, fowl, and many more. Muscat was known for being supreme in trade and military power, and the city produced a lot of wealth for the Omani nation. Omani rulers carried out careful associations with customary Indian Ocean trading partners and with the European powers. They even concluded a trade treaty with the Americans.

*Ali Nagri, PhD Candidate, School of Politics and International Studies

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