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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

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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South Asia

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis and Taliban’s obsession with women’s rights

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A mother and her child in the Haji camp for internally displaced people in Kandahar, Afghanistan. © UNICEF Afghanistan

The Taliban’s latest move to restrict the rights of women points to an obsession with women’s rights. This is in stark contrast to the neglect the regime is showing in addressing an ever worsening economic and humanitarian crisis. With Afghan’s facing poverty and starvation, the Taliban needs to focus on rebuilding the country, and this can only be achieved by respecting the rights of women.

This comes after the Taliban ordered all women to cover their faces in public, making it the latest restriction on the rights of women by the oppressive regime. The Taliban has previously forbidden women from travelling long distances unsupervised or working outside of the healthcare sector. The Taliban also faced international outcry earlier this year when they backflipped on a decision to allow women and girls to attend secondary school and university, making it impossible for women to receive an education.

The Taliban’s treatment of women is not a new development. During the regimes previous reign, between 1996 and 2001, it was described as the least feminist movement in the world. The Taliban forbade education, employment and access to healthcare delivered by men, while also making the veil mandatory and forbidding women to leave the home unless accompanied by a male family member. This was seen as the strictest interpretation of Sharia Law.

Contrary to claims made by the Taliban, the latest iteration of the movement is now attempting to do the same by systematically removing women from public life.

The difference this time is that, since the US withdrawal, the country has experienced an economic and humanitarian crisis. This is largely due to poor governance, the freezing of central bank assets by the US and the withdrawal of foreign aid in response to the Taliban takeover.

The situation is dire. Half the population, approximately 20 million people, are facing acute food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger. Healthcare is notoriously difficult to access, and poverty is widespread, with women, persecuted minority groups and former government employees refused work and unable to provide for their families. The crisis is so critical that families are resorting to selling their children to delay starvation.

This raises the question of why the Taliban is so obsessed with restricting the rights of women when Afghanistan is falling apart around them. Strict adherence to Sharia Law aside, this attack of women’s rights is clearly to the Taliban’s detriment and the detriment of the people of Afghanistan. This position must change for the country to rebuild.

First and foremost, the actions of the Taliban and the humanitarian crisis is making the situation of women much worse, as women are one of Afghanistan’s the most vulnerable groups. The restriction of their rights has resulted in a lack of income and education, making women reliant on their families for food, water and sanitation products. This is meant that women are not only facing poverty and starvation, but they are also increasingly at risk of exploitation by family members and their communities.

Second, the removal of women from the workplace also affects Afghanistan as a whole. While the Taliban has allowed women to work in the health sector, many have not returned to work, dramatically reducing the number of doctors and nurses able to treat other women, particularly in rural areas. On top of this, women that have returned have not been paid, and are reliant on aid agencies to feed their families.

Outside of healthcare, women have been completely removed from the workplace, including in government, the judicial system, charities and aid agencies. Under the Karzai and Ghani governments the wages of women played an important role in providing for families through their increased workplace representation. With their right to employment suddenly removed, this has played a fundamental role in the causing poverty levels to rise throughout the country.

Third, the Taliban is desperate for international recognition, and that recognition and the aid that comes with it is tied to respecting human rights. The Taliban’s abhorrent treatment of women means that the frozen assets held by the US, and aid from the international community, will continue to be out of arms reach. This will leave the country short of much needed funds to avert the current crisis, leaving those most vulnerable, particularly women, at risk of starvation.

While the international community shares some blame for the humanitarian crisis by withholding assets and restricting the flow of aid, it is also the Taliban’s responsibility, under international law, to treat its citizens as per their human rights.

For this reason, if the Taliban is interested in allowing Afghanistan to rebuild, then it must realise that economic relief is directly tied to the human rights of women.

Allowing women to participate in society, through attending school and participating in the workforce, will have a net benefit for Afghan society by increasing education levels, workforce participation and, in the short term, reduce poverty levels.

Respecting the rights of women will also allow aid to flow into the country, helping alleviate the worst effects of the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country and will allow aid agencies to monitor human rights throughout Afghanistan.

This creates an opportunity for the international community to pressure the regime into respecting the rights of women. This will help to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and will go a long way to improving the lives of women and girls by giving them an opportunity to get an education, enter the workforce and participate in society.

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