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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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South Asia

Can India Balance Between Beijing and Washington?

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On October 10, 2018, a Senior Chinese Diplomat in India underscored the need for New Delhi and Beijing to work jointly, in order to counter the policy of trade protectionism, being promoted by US President, Donald Trump.

It would be pertinent to point out, that US  had imposed tariffs estimated at 200 Billion USD in September 2018, Beijing imposed tariffs on 60 Billion USD of US imports as a retaliatory measure, and US threatened to impose further tariffs. Interestingly, US trade deficit vis-à-vis China reached 34.1 Billion USD for the month of September (in August 2018, it was 31 Billion USD). Critics of Trump point to this increasing trade deficit vis-à-vis China as a reiteration of the fact, that Trump’s economic policies are not working.

Ji Rong, Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India said that tariffs will be detrimental for both India and China and given the fact that both are engines of economic growth it is important for both to work together.

The Chinese diplomat’s statement came at an interesting time. US President, Donald Trump on October 2, also referred to India as ‘tariff king’. Even though the India-US strategic relationship has witnessed a significant upswing, yet the US President has repeatedly referred to India imposing high tariffs on US exports to India (specifically Harley Davidson motorcyles).

It also came days after, after India signed a deal with Russia (October 5, 2018) for the purchase of 5 S-400 Air Defence system, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Chinese envoy’s statement also came days before India attended the China dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Significantly, India and China also began a joint training programme for Afghan Diplomats on October 15, 2018 (which would last till October 26, 2018).

Trilateral cooperation between India, China and Afghanistan was one of the main thrust areas of the Wuhan Summit, between Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and Indian PM, Narendra Modi, and this is one of the key initiatives in this direction.

There are a number of factors, which have resulted in New Delhi and Beijing seeking to reset their relationship. The first is difference between New Delhi and Washington on economic ties between the former and Iran and Russia. Washington has given mixed signals with regard to granting India exemptions from Countering America Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

US ambiguity on providing waivers to India

While sections of the US establishment, especially Jim Mattis, Defence Secretary and Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo have been fervently backing a waiver to India, there are those who oppose any sort of waiver even to India. NSA John Bolton has been warning US allies like India, that there will be no exemption or waiver from US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector. On October 4th, Bolton while briefing the press said:

“This is not the Obama administration … is my message to them (the importers),

Trump himself has not been clear on providing India a waiver, when asked about this issue, he said India would  know soon about the US decision (Trump has the authority to provide a Presidential waiver to India from the deal with Russia). A State Department Spokesperson also stated, that the US was carefully watching S-400 agreement with Russia, as well as India’s decision to import oil from Iran, and such steps were ‘not helpful’. With the US President being excessively transactionalist, it is tough to predict his final decision, and with growing differences between him and Mattis, one of the ardent advocates of waivers for India, it remains to be seen as to which camp will prevail.

US protectionism and New Delhi’s discomfort

Differences between Washington and New Delhi don’t end on the latter’s economic ties with Tehran and Moscow. India has on numerous occasions stated, that while strengthening strategic ties with the US, it was concerned about the Trump administration’s economic policies. This was clearly evident from the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the SCO Meet (October 12, 2018) held at Dushanbe, Tajikistan where she pitched for an open global trading order. Said Swaraj:

“We have all benefited from globalization. We must further develop our trade and investment cooperation. We support an open, stable international trade regime based on centrality of the World Trade Organization,”

Even if one to look beyond Trump’s unpredictability, there is scope for synergies between New Delhi and Beijing in terms of economic sphere and some crucial connectivity projects.

Economic Opportunities

For long, trade has been skewed in favour of China, and this is a growing concern for India. Trade deficit between India and China has risen from 51.1 Billion USD in 2016-2017 to 62.9 Billion in 2017-2018 (a rise of over 20 percent).

The imposition of US tariffs has opened up opportunities for China importing certain commodities from India. This includes commodities like soybeans and rapeseed meal. In a seminar held at the Indian embassy in Beijing in September 2018, this issue was discussed and one on one meetings between potential importers (China) and sellers (India) was held. India urged China to remove the ban which had imposed on the import of rape meal seeds in 2011.

Connectivity and Afghanistan

Another area where there is immense scope for cooperation between India and China is big ticket connectivity projects. During his India visit, Uzbekistan President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev invited India to participate in a rail project connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has welcomed this proposal, saying that this would strengthen cooperation between China and India in Afghanistan. India-China cooperation on this project is very much in sync with the China-India Plus Model proposed by China at the BRICS Summit in July 2018.

India and China can also work jointly for capacity building in Afghanistan. New Delhi has already been involved in providing assistance to Afghanistan in institution building and disaster management, and if Beijing and New Delhi join hands this could make for a fruitful partnership. The India-China joint training program for Afghan diplomats is a significant move in this direction. India and China can also look at joint scholarships to Afghan students where they can spend part of their time in China and the remaining time in India.

Both India and New Delhi for any meaningful cooperation in Afghanistan can not be risk averse, and will have to shed their hesitation. Beijing for instance has opted for a very limited ‘capacity building’ , where it will work with India in Afghanistan. While Kabul had expected that both sides will invest in a significant infrastructure project, Beijing with an eye on its ally Islamabad’s sensitivities opted for a low profile project.

Conclusion

New Delhi should not be too predictable in it’s dealings with Washington DC, and has to do a fine balancing act between Beijing and Washington DC. While on certain strategic issues are synergies between India and the US, on crucial economic and geo-political issues, there are serious differences, and India’s ties with Beijing are crucial in this context. New Delhi and Beijing should seek to expand economic ties, and the latter should give more market access to Indian goods. Apart from this, both countries should work closely on connectivity projects. If both sides build trust, the sky is the limit but it will require pragmatism from both sides. Beijing should not allow the Pakistani deep state to dictate it’s links with India (especially in the context of cooperation in Afghanistan). New Delhi on its part, should not make any one issue a sticking point in its complex but very important relationship with Beijing.

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The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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